Long regarded as one of the pioneer groups in rock ’n’ roll, a brief glance through The Who’s catalog is enough to send even the best young musician toward a long look in the mirror. The Who just kicked off its North American Tour of Quadrophenia and continue to captivate audiences with an undeniable stage presence. Today we celebrate the impact that Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon have had on modern music by ranking their 20 best songs.
20. “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”
The Who’s second-ever single offers a brief taste of the experimentation to come from Pete Townshend with a mid-song breakdown that includes ferocious guitar slides and bits of Morse code.
19. “Pinball Wizard”
Perhaps the Who’s most recognizable track thanks to Townshend’s urgent opening guitar riff, “Pinball Wizard” has grown to embody a life of its own. Though it was a last minute addition to the sprawling rock opera Tommy, most Who fans will agree it was a worthy contribution to the album.
18. “The Song Is Over”
One of the softer tracks off of Who’s Next, “The Song Is Over” offers a poignant lament from Townshend on piano in a great juxtaposition to Roger Daltrey’s masculine delivery. Perhaps most memorable is a reference to the song “Pure and Easy” near the end of the track that hints at Townshend’s song-overlap techniques he would return to on Quadrophenia.
17. “The Seeker”
Continuing themes of spiritual and personal fulfillment, “The Seeker” is a slightly understated Who track that captures the spirit of the times in which it was written and rightfully ponders the true power of cultural icons.
16. “Pure and Easy”
In the aftermath of Townshend’s failed Lifehouse project, the song “Pure and Easy” arose to show just what might have been had the technology been advanced enough to allow for its creation. “Pure and Easy” speaks of the joy of music and features one of the most triumphant final stanzas of any Who song.
15. “Heaven and Hell”
Bass player John Entwistle proved on numerous occasions that Townshend was not the only capable songwriter in the group, and “Heaven and Hell” highlights his abilities beautifully. Often serving as the group’s live act opener during the Tommy years, “Heaven and Hell” rightfully moves Entwistle to the forefront highlighting both his vocals and stunning bass play.
Of all the memorable tracks off of The Who’s grandiose triumph Quadrophenia, the first track on side-B, “5’15” packs a particular punch by truly capturing Jimmy’s pent-up angst in a drug-induced train ride. Often a memorable highlight from the live show included an extended bass solo from Entwistle that never ceases to amaze.
One of the Who’s earlier singles, “Substitute” offers multiple clever lyrics from Townshend’s pen and a spectacular rhythm section from Moon and Entwistle. Daltrey also appears to be finding his niche as a frontman and puts forth a memorable performance.
12. “Amazing Journey / Sparks”
This two-song pairing is often grouped together due to the seamless transition between them both on Tommy and in the Who’s live show, and rightfully so. Featuring some of the greatest instrumental work by the band in addition to superb vocal delivery from Daltrey as the lead character, “Amazing Journey / Sparks” unite to create some of the most memorable moments from Tommy.
11. “Who Are You”
With a fabulous story behind its genesis (involving a night of heavy drinking and a moment of recognition from a police officer), one of the Who’s last major hits came in 1978 with “Who Are You.” Instantly recognizable for its chorus and Who-like breakdowns, this track has since grown into a crowd favorite.