The Who is one of the best rock bands of all time with many great songs and singer Roger Daltrey revealed in an interview back in 2002 with Uncut Magazine the band’s 20 greatest songs and explained why.
The 20 best The Who songs according to Roger Daltrey:
“I Can’t Explain”
“Well, it’s that thing – ‘I got a feeling inside, I can’t explain’ – it’s rock’n’roll. The more we try to explain it, the more we crawl up our own arses and disappear! I was very proud of that record. That was us, y’know – it was an original song by Pete and it captured that energy and that testosterone that we had in those days. It still does.
“Yeah, it was very Kinks derivative because we were huge fans of theirs, we supported them on so many shows. But as a producer, Shel Talmy just stood and watched a lot; he didn’t communicate with the band. When we turned up to record it there was this other guitarist in the studio – Jimmy Page. And he’d brought in three backing vocalists, which was another shock. He must have discussed it with our management. But not with us, so we were thrown at first, thinking, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’
But it was his way of recording. We were in that studio for no more than two hours. A-side, B-side, played the thing four times and that was it. Obviously, if we’d had to do our own backing vocals that would’ve meant overdubs and more studio time, so that was how Shel worked. Pete could’ve played the lead but in a way it was a privilege having Jimmy Page on one of our records… he ain’t a bad guitarist, y’know?”
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
“We were doing this feedback stuff, even before that. We’d be doing blues songs and they’d turn into this freeform, feedbacky, jazzy noise. Pete was getting all these funny noises, banging his guitar against the speakers. Basically, the act that Hendrix is famous for came from Townshend, pre-‘I Can’t Explain’. ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ was the first song when we attempted to get that noise onto a record and that was a good deal of time before Hendrix had even come to England. The American pressing plant sent it back thinking it was a mistake. We said, ‘No, this is the fucking noise we want. CUT IT LOUD!’” Roger Daltrey said.
“I have got a stutter. I control it much better now but not in those days. When we were in the studio doing ‘My Generation’, Kit Lambert came up to me and said ‘STUTTER!’ I said ‘What?’ He said ‘Stutter the words – it makes ⌦it sound like you’re pilled’ And I said, ‘Oh… like I am!’ And that’s how it happened. It was always in there, it was always suggested with the ‘f-f-fade’ but the rest of it was improvised. But… it’s a fucking great record, it really is.”
“I still couldn’t find that voice on songs like ‘Substitute’. I found it very, very difficult to sing pop. My voice was very gravelly. I couldn’t identify with it, whatever the hell it was. Pop was alien to me. I didn’t really find my voice until we got to Tommy,” Roger Daltrey said.
I’m A Boy
“It seemed to me as though Pete was being guided into these big ideas about rock operas by Kit Lambert because Kit’s father was Constance Lambert, the founder of Sadler’s Wells and a very famous English composer. Kit was very aware that music didn’t have to be a three-minute single. He was very respectful of the importance of the three-minute single but he was determined to make it expand from that, that rock and pop was a much bigger thing than just three minutes. On ‘I’m A Boy’, I tried to sing it like a really, really young kid, like an eight-year-old. Not the voice of an eight-year-old but the sentiment – and I think that came across.”
“I remember when I first heard ‘Happy Jack’, I thought, ‘What the fuck do I do with this? It’s like a German oompah song!’ I had a picture in my head that this was the kind of song that Burl Ives would sing, so ‘Happy Jack’ was my imitation of Burl Ives!
“But listen to Moon on that track – in those days he was so distinctive. Even from the very first night he played with us. We got Keith, this kid we didn’t know out of the audience, on the drums and it was like this fucking jet engine starting. I was like, ‘What the fuck’s THIS?!’ It was such instant chemistry. Really, we couldn’t have had any other drummer. He was incredible.
“The funny thing about Keith, though, he was a total Beach Boys nut. Even in the ’70s, if The Beach Boys had asked Keith to join them and leave The Who, he’d have left us. He was an absolute fanatic. That first night he joined us his hair was bright ginger ’cos he’d gone out and bought a bottle of peroxide to become a Californian bleach blond – but with his jet black hair and the peroxide he’d gone like a bloody carrot,” Roger Daltrey said.
Pictures Of Lily
“When Kit and Pete came in and said this is the next single, yeah, straight away I saw the words and knew what it was about. So I deliberately thought I’d sing it the opposite way, with complete innocence. So instead of it being something suggestive, it tweaks it the other way and gives it a little bit more intrigue. But ‘Pictures Of Lily’ never sat well on stage for some reason.”
I Can See For Miles
“I think it’s one of the best-produced singles we ever did. We spent literally a whole day putting down layer and layer of harmonies on the ‘miles and miles’ section. I always loved that song and you listen to the drumming on it, it’s extraordinary – like a steam engine. That time, though, psychedelia, it was ⌦a bit too spongy for me. I found it pretentious and I didn’t like it – I couldn’t wait to get back to a good bit of Otis Redding.”
“We did get into it in some ways but the difference between The Who and all these other bands getting into psychedelia was that, though we were all into the anti-war movement, every time we went on stage we were showing them what war was really like! At Monterey they’d come to hear all this peace and love music, not see us smash up our gear and blow things up. That’s what we did – woke them up a bit! That was all part of our success, though. The Who were the odd men out, totally different,” Roger Daltrey said.
“ ‘Dogs’? Oh… [buries face in hands]… shit! That’s just bizarre. Actually, I’ll tell you what it is, it’s just Pete’s tribute to Ronnie Lane. He was such a lovely geezer, Ronnie, they were great guys, The Faces, all of them. But I think it’d have been better if Pete had just given the song to Ronnie in the first place. As a Who record, it was all a bit frivolous for me.”
“D’you know I can’t even remember recording ‘Magic Bus’. I must have been stoned on something! I don’t have a lot to say about that song but it’s strange, the fans love it because it’s a Bo Diddley riff, and that always worked. But I know John did find it very tedious,” Roger Daltrey said.
“Kit’s production on ‘Pinball Wizard’ is absolutely tremendous. The whole montage of sounds he got in emulating the pinball machine is extraordinary. I don’t think he got enough recognition for his work on that. Not necessarily the sound he got – because most of the time making Tommy we were out of our boxes, God knows what we were doing – but the actual arrangements and the ideas, the harmonies and the structures.”
“I was never ever fond of ‘The Seeker’. To sing that song, to me, was like trying to push an elephant up the stairs. I found it cumbersome, the first song we’d ever done where I thought, ‘Nah, this is pretentious.’ I haven’t heard it for so long that, to be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what it sounds like,” Roger Daltrey said.
Won’t Get Fooled Again
“That big scream I did on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ was totally instinctive, but it became kind of the focal point of the song. It pisses me off because I don’t get any royalties for it! But I hated it when they chopped it down. I used to say ‘Fuck it, put it out as eight minutes’, but there’d always be some excuse about not fitting it on or some technical thing at the pressing plant. After that we started to lose interest in singles because they’d cut them to bits. We thought, ‘What’s the point? Our music’s evolved past the three-minute barrier and if they can’t accommodate that we’re just gonna have to live on albums.’”
Let’s See Action
“Pete was going through a terrible bitterness about the fact that Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp hadn’t got behind making Lifehouse as a film. But the reason they didn’t get behind it was because they couldn’t get to grips with the narrative.
I still feel to this day – even though Pete’s done his Lifehouse Chronicles box and done it as a radio play – well, I’m sorry but though there’s some incredible music in there and some sparks of theoretical and theological ideas, I think the narrative thread of the story is about as exciting as a fucking whelk race! But I always liked ‘Let’s See Action’. It’s got that texture of explosive rock’n’roll bits mixed in with a laid-back, almost country feel. I still love the sentiment behind it, too,” Roger Daltrey said.
“I remember when Pete came up with ‘Join Together’, he literally wrote it the night before we recorded it. I quite like it as a single, it’s got a good energy to it. But at that time I was still very doubtful about bringing in the synthesizer. I just felt that with a lot of songs we’d end up spending so much time creating these piddly one-note noises that it would’ve been better just doing it on a guitar. So I mean, I’m a guitar man. I love the guitar; to me it’s the perfect rock instrument. I don’t think Pete did much with those sequencing things that he couldn’t have done on the guitar anyway.”
“Ah, ‘Waspman’. Keith’s wonderful creation! That was hilarious. There’s a long story behind that track. It all happened on a flight from Copenhagen back to London. We hit some bad weather and, my god, I’ve been in some planes that have done some things in my time but this fucking plane was like a rollercoaster ride, it almost flipped over.
“We’d got through this weather and it all sort of levelled out and everybody was puking and sitting in almost total silence. Now, meantime, Moon’s disappeared. He was sat with this groupie bird who had this tiger-skin coat which he’s taken, and her bra. Needless to say this girl had very large mammaries.
So he disappears up the back of the plane to the bog. Everybody’s still puking and the captain’s come out and he’s standing there apologising, saying it’s the worst weather he’d ever been through.
“Then from the back suddenly there came this ‘bzzzzzzzzz!’ We looked round and it was Moon stood with the two bits of her bra over his eyes like big fly eyeballs and he’s got her tiger-skin coat tied round his neck like a cape. And he shouted, ‘Don’t worry, folks – Waspman’s here to save you!’ And he did this thing up and down the plane buzzing away as Waspman, kissing all the women and just fucking around in general. By the end of it everybody was just rolling about laughing. He’d taken the edge off that hairy situation and cheered everyone up.
“So that’s how ‘Waspman’ was created. We’d already done ‘Batman’ a few years before so we said, ‘OK, we’d better write a theme for Waspman!’” Roger Daltrey said.
“I was much more comfortable as a singer by Quadrophenia. Jimmy I found a really easy character to sing, but my main regret on that album is the recording process. Ron Nevison, who was the producer at the time with Pete, recorded it with echo on the vocal which can never be removed now. It just makes the vocal sound thin. It was the biggest recording mistake we ever made. The echo diminishes the character as far as I’m concerned.
It always pissed me off. From day one I just fucking hated the sound of it. He did that to my voice and I’ve never forgiven Ron for it. That brass on ‘5.15’, though, is all John. He played everything. Really, it was the only single on Quadrophenia we could have released.”
Who By Numbers is very dark because Pete was going through some terrible agonies, but I didn’t realise this at the time. He was also starting to write himself into a very cosy situation where nothing was shared, which put the rest of us in a very difficult position because you don’t want to upset a working apple cart. We thought, if he wants space, we’ll give him some space – when what we should have done was been there saying, ‘You all right, Pete?’
But that’s just the way he was and still is. There’s a side to him that is like a stone wall and what he really wants you to do is knock down the fucking wall and come through it, which takes a lot of effort all the time. I understand it now but I didn’t understand it then. So it led to this brooding, deep, introspective album. He was boozing a lot and I think he was having problems with his marriage, trying to balance that family life with rock’n’roll. Cos they don’t balance. But I love that album.
“What’s great about ‘Squeeze Box’ is that it’s so refreshingly simple, an incredible catchy song. A good jolly. I’ve never had a problem with that song because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and I love it for that. Live audiences love it. Nothing wrong with a bit of ‘in-and-out’, mate!” Roger Daltrey said.
Who Are You?
“We were getting incredible accolades from some of the new punk bands. They were saying how much they loved The Who, that we were the only band they’d leave alive after they’d taken out the rest of the establishment! But I felt very threatened by the punk thing at first.
To me it was like, ‘Well, they think they’re fucking tough, but we’re fucking tougher.’ It unsettled me in my vocals. When I listen back to ‘Who Are You?’ I can hear that it made me incredibly aggressive. But that’s what that song was about. Being pissed and aggressive and a c***! It was only a few years after that I realised what a great favour punk did the business. We toured with The Clash in 1982, we took them to the US with us, and I used to fucking love watching ’em. I’m still a huge Joe Strummer fan.”
You Better, You Bet
“A wonderful, wonderful song. The way the vocal bounces, it always reminds me of Elvis. But it was a difficult time, yeah. The Moon carry-on was much harder than carrying on after John, because we’re more mature now. I hate going over this but, in retrospect, we did make the wrong choice of drummers. Kenney Jones – don’t get me wrong, a fantastic drummer – but he completely threw the chemistry of the band. It just didn’t work; the spark plug was missing from the engine.”
“The first tour Kenney did with us, though, he was absolutely fucking brilliant. But after that he settled into what he knew, which was his Faces-type drumming, which doesn’t work with The Who. In some ways I’d like to go back and re-record a lot of the songs on Face Dances, but ‘You Better, You Bet’ is still one of my favourite songs of all,” Roger Daltrey said.