Universal // 2007 // 237 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // November 6th, 2007
"I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth." -- "Substitute," The Who
"The Who quite possibly remain the greatest live band ever. You can't explain Keith Moon or his playing. John Entwistle was an enigma unto himself, another virtuoso musical oddity. Roger turned his mike into a weapon, seemingly in self-defense. All the while, Pete was leaping into the rafters wielding a Seventies Gibson Les Paul, which happens to be a stunningly heavy guitar. As a live group, they created momentum, and they seemed to be released by the ritual of their playing." -- Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam
"More than any other band, The Who are our role models." -- Bono, U2
I vividly remember gathering around the TV in 1983 with some of my close friends, one of whom had first introduced me to The Who a few years earlier. The occasion? We were watching one of the greatest bands in the history of rock music take its final collective bow. At just 14 years old, little did I realize that I was witnessing the end of an era.
Since it's still one of my favorite bands as an adult, I'd be the first to recognize The Who's influences on some of my other favorites like The Police and The Jam. It's stunning to think that four lads from working-class families and humble beginnings grew into one of the greatest bands, rock or otherwise, of all time. As a fan of both music and film, I find myself mourning the fact that it seems that not only are there fewer great films now, but also fewer really amazing bands. All the more reason to acknowledge the legends of the past.
The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Who. Once referred to by Rolling Stone as the Holy Trinity of '60s-era British rock, there's no question that the three bands introduced North America, and ultimately the world, to a new sound and vitality they had never experienced before. Personally, I'd also add Queen to that illustrious list.
The mod, or modernist movement, began in the U.K. in the late '50s, peaking in the mid to late '60s. Fashionable clothing, dancing, motor scooters, and music characterized the mod movement. Mod music was an eclectic mix, with American rhythm and blues, and even country music influences. Formed in 1964, The Who hit the crest of the mod era and ultimately became one of the most popular bands within the mod subculture.
While still in school, Roger Daltrey formed a five-member band called The Detours that included Pete Townshend and John Entwistle. After playing as The Detours for a few years, the band members became aware of another band with the same name. An off-the-cuff brainstorming session resulted in several new name options, including "The Who." The name grew on them and within two weeks of the name change, The Detours had been forgotten and The Who had taken their place.
Like many things, The Who became much more than the sum of its parts, but it's impossible to even begin to understand the band without taking a close look at its members:
A young man who loved to fight, Roger Daltrey was a powerful and charismatic personality from the start. Pete Townsend remembers that when he first met Roger Daltrey, Daltrey's powerful and charismatic personality immediately reminded him of Elvis Presley. Over time, Daltrey realized his bandmates were musical geniuses, so he resolved himself to develop a singing style on par with the balance of their sound. I don't think anyone would argue that he succeeded.
Described by Roger Daltrey as having "puppy dog eyes" when they first met, Keith Moon was the kinetic driving force behind the music of The Who. Daltrey relates his memory that the band never felt quite right until the first time Moon took his place at the drum kit and everything just fell into place. Seeming to have no middle ground, Moon was either giving 150 per cent on stage or getting drunk after performances; he really had no off switch.
The Bass Player
Pete Townshend first met John Entwistle in 1959 at a west London boys' school; from the beginning, Townshend referred to John Entwistle as a "great musical ally." A quiet and somewhat sardonic figure, Entwistle was a fashionably dressed and brilliant musician. Growing up loving music and playing the French horn as a child, he was the only member of the band with any conventional musical training of any kind. According to Sting, "The Who wouldn't have been The Who without Entwistle. He would fill the sound up with the bass."
Born in the same hour that Nazi war criminal Albert Speer was captured by the Allies, Pete Townshend grew up listening to big band music and artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Probably best known for his songwriting skills, guitar smashing, and windmill playing style, Townshend was one of the founding members of the band. There are strong lyricists and strong musicians; Pete Townshend was both. Through his songwriting, he took the issues and angst of the mod culture and fused it with the musical genius of The Who. After tiring of performing cover tunes, 19-year-old Townsend wrote "Can't Explain," resulting in the band's first record deal.
Success resulted in addiction as the band began taking amphetamines. Daltrey was the first to realize that drugs were killing the band's sound and flushed the drugs down the toilet after a performance. Keith Moon blew up and attacked Daltrey, with the resulting fight ending in Daltrey being fired from the band. Both Daltrey and his band mates realized they needed each other, so Daltrey was asked back on a probationary basis. Shortly after reconciling, The Who was back in the studio recording "My Generation."
Realizing the band needed to make its mark in North America, The Who played a festival in New York City in March 1967 and, shortly after, played at another event in Monterey, California, impressing their early American fans with their energy and abandon. The Monterey appearance may sound familiar, as it included a legendary guitar destruction by Pete Townshend and a fiery performance by Jimi Hendrix. In 1967, The Who also made a memorable appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It was not only the first time the band had smashed gear on American TV, but was also notable for Keith's exploding drum kit. It's not to be missed!
For the next few years, The Who produced many Top 10 hits, but in Pete Townshend's mind, they were losing their edge and needed to explore new territory. That new exploration took the form of the rock opera Tommy, which led the way for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, Pink Floyd's The Wall, and others to follow. The project took six months to record as an album and toured opera houses for eighteen months with a final performance at New York's Metropolitan Opera House. Not only was the rock opera a new and amazingly successful project for The Who, but Tommy really took on a life of its own.
In 1971, shortly after the success of Tommy and out of the ashes of an abandoned Townshend brainchild called Lifehouse, Who's Next, The Who's most successful album was born. In 1973, The Who delivered their second rock opera Quadrophenia, a two-album story of the social, musical, and psychological climate in London and Brighton in 1964 and 1965, seen through the eyes of a teenager.
As the narrator says in "The Story of The Who," "As boys, they played dance halls and pubs. Less than a decade later, they were headlining stadiums. As The Who developed, so had the business." The power and adrenaline of huge live performances led to more drugs and excess, with Keith Moon overdosing, even during performances. "I thought if we kept doing what we were doing, Keith was going to die," says Pete Townshend.
After taking an eighteen-month break, the band returned to the studio and "Who Are You" was released in 1978. Keith Moon was found dead at 32 of an accidental overdose shortly after. Determined not to let their creation die, less than eight months after Moon's death, The Who returned to the stage with drummer Kenney Jones. While on its first tour with Jones, The Who became the center of "the deadliest rock concert in U.S. history." Young concertgoers were trampled to death trying to get down a staircase during a performance in Cincinnati; the band members weren't aware of the tragedy until after the show.
The Who returned to the studio with its new lineup, releasing Face Dances in 1981 and It's Hard in 1982. Both albums received criticism from fans and critics, and Townshend himself admitted he was finding trouble recapturing the original creative spark that drove The Who. In 1983, Pete Townshend officially dissolved the band, just months before Tommy was released on the new compact disc audio format.
The Who only appeared on stage two more times, once for a 20-minute set at Live Aid and again for an all-star tour commemorating the twentieth anniversary of "Tommy." At Roger Daltrey's urging, and in part to help John Entwistle out of debt, The Who reunited to tour "Quadrophenia" in 1996, with Ringo Starr's son on drums. Entwistle's tour earnings were spent as quickly as they were made. In 2001, The Who reunited one last time with just their basic lineup, and their music focused on their early material. To some extent, the original material renewed the magic and The Who were back, if only for a moment.
To fulfill a contract agreement in 2002, The Who was to play a concert in Las Vegas. The morning of the concert, John Entwistle was found dead in his hotel room, having snorted cocaine the night before. Despite the tragedy, Daltrey and Townshend continued the tour, performing just four days later at the Hollywood Bowl. It was indeed the end of an era.
I'll confess that as I watched the footage of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend performing "Tea and Theatre" in Long Beach this year, there were tears in my eyes. Not only are these two great artists, but at their core, they were the voice and spirit of The Who and they still are.
For a band with an initial career that spanned nineteen years, by 2006, The Who had released just ten studio albums (including two double albums). Looking back on the band's career, you can see The Who was more about quality than quantity.
To digress for a moment, as a fan of both The Who and two out of three of the CSI TV series, it's cool to note that you can't watch any of the various CSI incarnations without crossing paths with an iconic song by The Who. "Who Are You" has served as the opening theme for the original CSI since 2000, with "Won't Get Fooled Again" serving as the theme for CSI: Miami and "Baba O'Reilly" as the theme for CSI: New York when those shows premiered in 2002 and 2004 respectively.
The Who laid the foundation for a wide range of bands to follow, from Led Zeppelin to The Clash. More recently, bands like Oasis, Blur and even U2 have cited The Who as one of the core influences behind their development as musicians. You can even see some of the early swagger, attitude, and raw energy of the punk movement in The Who. This was a band which had something to say, knew how to say it, and didn't particularly care whether anyone wanted to hear them or not.
As strong as the features are individually, when considered together, it's difficult to imagine a more complete chronicle of The Who than the one you'll find on Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who. This release is actually two feature-length presentations and each DVD has its own set of extra features. It becomes a tad confusing that the overall release title is Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who, but that is also the title of one of the two full-length feature documentaries within the set.
On the first disc, "The Story of The Who" follows the band's forty-year history from beginning to end, covering all the details in between and includes relatively recent interviews with both Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. A variety of music icons and assorted other folks who were close to the band also weigh in, treating viewers to an insider's view of how The Who came to be, warts and all.
On the second disc, the feature "Amazing Journey: Six Quick Ones," gives viewers an intimate look at each member of The Who, through short films called, you may have guessed it, "Roger," "John," "Pete," and "Keith." These segments beautifully round out our understanding of the individual talents that came together to make The Who. There is a small amount of duplication in interview materials included elsewhere on the release, but the majority of the content, including performance clips, is new.
Rounding out "Amazing Journey: Six Quick Ones," are "Who Art You" and "Who's Back." "Who Art You" looks at the style and artistic sensibilities of the time, that became intimately entwined with the music, attitude and performance of The Who. The pop art look and visual style the band adopted, blended perfectly with their early pop sound. In "Who's Back," the sixth featurette on the disc, filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker was allowed to film The Who in the studio in 2003, recording "Real Good Looking Boy." The event marked the first time The Who had been together in the studio recording new material in twenty-three years.
Additional features include "The Scrapbook," an assortment of video clips recalling specific highlights of The Who's history, from the tragedy during the Cincinnati concert, to the performance in 2000 at Royal Albert Hall. "The High Numbers at the Railway Hotel" rounds out the extras, and is all that remains of the original footage of The Who performing as The High Numbers at the Railway Hotel in 1964.
The release also includes a collector's booklet with short summaries of the features included on the release, as well as a few selected pictures of the band throughout the years. Considering many DVD releases include little more than the disc itself these days, this was a nice addition.
A blend of archival footage and more recent interviews, the visual presentation on this release is a mix of black-and-white and color footage, as well as clean and more damaged source material. As a documentary, this is no surprise or grounds for criticism, as most fans will be delighted to have this material in any form. Sound quality is solid and as expected, comes across as more immersive during performance clips than in interview footage.
If you're a fan of The Who, or indeed a fan of any musical genre, you owe it to yourself to see Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who. From what I've seen, the average retail price on this release is in the $20 range, making it a solid addition to any collection.
Four musicians raised in post-war uncertainty fused culture, talent, and attitude into The Who. The rest is history. Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who is cleared of all charges.
Review content copyright © 2007 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 237 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 12-Page Booklet with Photos and Details about the Set
* The Scrapbook
* The High Numbers at the Railway Hotel
* Wikipedia: The Who