To eliminate any confusion from the outset, I should limit my definition of pop stars to the select few in today’s music industry who are not managed by Simon Cowell or Louis Walsh. Indeed, the remaining are those with the ability to play their own instruments and who are not reliant upon Auto- Tune (other vocal-tuning technologies are available).
However, I fear that I digress slightly. This is an article expressing my intense dissatisfaction at how under-rated The Who are, not one designed to take cheap shots at certain artists in the charts today. Though there is some relevance in the above paragraph with respect to the following- many of The Who’s contributions to the music industry were in fact technological.
The universally iconic Marshall Stack amplifiers used by guitarists worldwide today were first created by Pete Townshend and John Entwistle- Who guitarist and bassist, respectively. At gigs, John ran a Marshall JTM45 head through two 4x12” cabinets, where Pete ran a Fender Bassman head (with a schematic modelled on the JTM45) through one of these cabinets. In September 1965 when The Who’s van was stolen, and all live gear (including these amplifiers) was lost, they personally approached Jim Marshall of Marshall Amplification who agreed to manufacture a new prototype ‘stack’ with more electrical power than the JTM45. The result was a Marshall Super Lead Model 1959- an exceedingly powerful 100w head paired with a massive 8x12” cabinet, which was necessary to lay down the demands for live power from the band. Unsurprisingly, Entwistle and Townshend complained that the refrigerator-sized 8x12” was too bulky, after having understandable trouble transporting the amps between gigs. Marshall listened, and subsequently created the accompanying 4x12” cabinet for the same 100w head- a set-up briefly used by the band, still modified by Marshall and extensively used by artists today, making it one of the most popular amplifiers in history. It was such powerful gear that enabled The Who to become the loudest rock band ever.
In 1966, Entwistle approached Rotosound regarding his dissatisfaction during a pursuit for bass guitar strings ‘which vibrated properly’. After spending an afternoon with James How of Rotosound, trying a variety of strings comprising different gauges and wires made by on-site technicians, John eventually found a combination that he was happy with. In exchange for a lifetime supply of Rotosound strings, John endorsed the retail of these newly created ‘Swing Bass 66’ strings with a black-and-white picture of himself and James taken that day in the factory, which was subsequently enclosed in every packet of Swing Bass 66s sold. Entwistle continued to use these strings without exception for the next 23 years, alongside bass guitarists across all styles and genres (including myself) who today continue to purchase them religiously.
Surprisingly enough, The Who also made a massive musical impression on the industry at the time. Their second single, 1965’s My Generation, can only be described as revolutionary. Featuring rapid and aggressive pentatonic licks supporting lyrics of a similarly aggressive nature, the song was a fresh and stark juxtaposition to the Beatles’ somewhat prettier Yesterday released the same year. Keith Moon’s innovative and exuberant drumming style with Entwistle’s fluid bass lines, perhaps more appropriately commended as countermelodies in their own right, created a wall of sound entirely dissimilar to that of the McCartney-Starkey and even the Wyman-Watts partnership. Incidentally, My Generation featured one of the very first bass guitar solos in the history of rock music, and was indeed one of the first bass lines recorded using a plectrum.
Just a year later, The Who’s second studio album A Quick One was just as inspirational. The band’s management and Townshend’s creative vision culminated to take The Who in an all new direction. A Quick One featured incredible musical variation, with songs composed by each of the band members (two each from Entwistle, Moon and Townshend, and one from Daltrey), and brass instruments played by each musician. In addition, this album also paved the way for the pioneering production techniques continually developed by the band throughout their career. According to Chris Stamp, A Quick One featured experimental brass and percussion recordings taken with musicians both in the bathroom to ‘enhance echo’ or marching in the street and back again. Kit Lambert, pre-empting future production techniques, insisted the band moved to and fro past a mono microphone mid-take to create a stereo-image in an age that did not allow digital manipulation of recordings. Continuing this tradition, The Who’s 1973 album ‘Who’s Next’ currently features on the A-Level Music Technology syllabus for its ground-breaking recording methods.