Why Pete Townshend Almost Left The Who in the ’70s + Why He Stayed
The Who are one of the most iconic bands in rock history, but that history might have been much shorter if one of Pete Townshend's decisions played out as he intended. During a recent discussion on Audible's Music + Words, Townshend revealed that he was set to exit the band for good in the late '70s only to reverse his course after the death of drummer Keith Moon. Moon actually played a role in both decisions, according to Townshend.
The latest episode recounted the time between Moon's death and the death of bassist Jon Entwistle in 2002, which included the band's retirement, reunion and stepping out for various solo projects.
Within the chat, Townshend explained that he had planned to exit the band after witnessing Moon's performance during the making of the Who Are You album in 1978.
The guitarist revealed that Moon's drug addiction issues had started taking a toll on the band, and his performance was declining during the making of the record. He recalled an incident recording the song "Music Must Change," and how Moon was unable to perform to a simple melody.
According to Townshend, the group just gave up on their idea for the song, creating a soundscape that used footsteps and tossing a coin on the ground instead. He added that he could even see a difference in how Moon had played on the album's title track which had been recorded earlier in the sessions as opposed to "Music Must Change."
“He played the most fantastic drums [for Who Are You], which was only recorded about six months before,” Townshend said (as transcribed by Guitar.com). “I went back and realized that Keith was just not going to cut it really, at all, ever again. We sort of lost him. I decided to quit.”
Moon died on Sept. 7, 1978, just a few weeks after the Who Are You album was released, and his death ultimately changed Townshend's plan to exit the band. The musician explained that he felt as though he needed to honor the drummer by carrying on with the band. In addition, it also provided an opportunity to do something new with the band as a new drummer would be needed to continue.
“[Moon] wasn’t a conventional drummer. He was an embellisher, a decorator, almost like an orchestral drummer, but he certainly wasn’t a Kenney Jones who laid down a really good beat,” said Townshend of making the change.
The Who would go on to release two more albums with Jones on drums – 1981's Face Dances and 1982's It's Hard – before the band announced a farewell tour in 1982. Townshend initially started writing for another Who album in 1983, but ultimately bought out his own contract, leaving the band and bringing about their split.
In the time since, Townshend pursued a solo career, but also later reunited with The Who. As the only living original members, Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey have issued two more Who albums since their supposed 1982 finale. They currently remain together as the modern lineup of The Who is currently on the road as part of their "The Who Hits Back" trek. See dates and get ticketing info here.