Rediscovering classic album that set music trends

The Who’s eighth studio album, “Who Are You” peaked at No. 7 on the U.K. charts Sept. 30, 1978. The album is significant because it avoided the trends of prog and punk, but most importantly it was the final album with the mad and brilliant Keith Moon.

The title track may be one of the most identifiable Who songs for non-fans, but there are multiple tracks of the record that hold their own.

As the album dropped in 1978 it was placed square in the golden age of U.K. punk, which had exploded in 1977. It was a critical point for bands like The Who that would determine if they could evolve and avoid becoming a rock band that would fossilize in the ‘70s. The Who succeeded in weathering the trends by staying true to themselves, by proving they had the energy to match the most powerful figures of the punk scene.

Roger Daltrey’s vocals on “Had Enough” and “Who Are You” roar with a strength that any punk, metal, or hard rock vocalist should aspire to. He proved that he was still the undisputed master of the rock ‘n’ roll battle cry. On the track “Music Must Change” he was also able to showcase his talent at hitting notes with precision and going from growling to soft pseudo-falsetto with ease.

The Who had two primary song-writers. The guitarist, Pete Townshend wrote most of the Who’s more recognizable tracks and was responsible for the composition and direction of the band’s numerous operatic concept albums. The bass player, John Entwistle wrote many songs that may not have received as much radio play, but stand as some of the strongest built songs in The Who’s impressive catalogue. On “Who Are You,” Entwistle wrote three of the nine songs.

Although Townsend wrote the title track, which probably earns him more in royalties than any other song, Entwistle’s three songs outweigh the rest of the album. Pound for pound, Entwistle’s stylistic influence really provided the backbone for the album. It is no secret or contested fact that Entwistle stands as the greatest bass player in the history of rock and roll. The Who were at their best when Entwistle’s bass parts challenged Townshend, who is no slouch, to play harder.

One of Entwistle’s contributions that fails to get the recognition it deserves, is his talent for horn arrangements. The original horn arrangements to the song “Had Enough,” as originally written by Entwistle can only be heard on the album “Hooligans.”

“Hooligans” was a double compilation album released by MCA Records in 1981. It is a rare record to find, but the original horns were much richer, brighter and complex than the version heard on “Who Are You.” Your best bet at finding a copy is to find a Who fan with an original vinyl collection.

Townsend proved once again on numerous tracks on the album that he was seldom rivaled at power chord mastery or at owning his trademark feedback style. Many of Townshend’s songs on the album such as “Guitar and Pen,” “New Song,” “Sister Disco” and “Music Must Change” feature the complex use of synthesizers and feature music as a metaphor for life as a lyrical theme. That particular amalgamation is reminiscent of his “Lifehouse” concept project.

The Who also explored territory and themes that influence progressive rock. It is no secret that the members of the Canadian proggressive rock band Rush are massive Who-fanatics. The heavy use of synthesizers and lyrical motifs about disenchantment with the music industry as well as the Townshend “Lifehouse” concepts on albums like “Who’s Next” and “Who Are You” certainly influenced Rush’s 1980 album “Permanent Waves.” The influence can especially be heard with tracks like “Spirit of Radio.”

The final piece that made The Who so unique and unrivaled was Moon’s drumming. This was the last Who album that “Moon the Loon” played on. He was simply irreplaceable. I still love The Who’s next album, “Face Dances,” but “Who Are You” marked the end of the real Who. They still rock and I would drop everything to buy a ticket to a Who concert, but there is no denying that nothing could replace the exalted influence of any individual member of The Who.

The album cover is particularly fitting as a tribute to Moon’s place in the band. Moon is featured front and center sitting backwards in a chair with stenciled white spray paint letters that read “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY”