The Who facts: Members, songs, films, break-up and reunion of the mod icons

22 March 2022, 11:23 | Updated: 6 October 2023, 15:27

Pete Townshend speaks to Gold

By Mayer Nissim

From mod and Maximum R&B to Britrock, rock opera and power pop, The Who were one of the biggest bands of the 1960s and '70s.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The Who are in the top tier of British bands of the 1960s, rubbing shoulders with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

After a storming run of R&B-powered mod singles, the band expanded the horizons of pop with rock operas like Quadrophenia and Tommy.

They're still very much active. Roger Daltrey plays intimate solo shows and The Who still tour together.

Here we celebrate The Who in all their rock 'n' roll glory.

When did The Who form and who has been in all their lineups?

The Who
The Who. Picture: Getty

The Who's founding members Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar) and John Entwistle (bass) all grew up in Acton in London together, and all went to Acton County Grammar School.

Townshend and Entwistle formed a jazz group together, and Entwistle switched from French horn to guitar, and then to bass, building his own because he couldn't afford to buy one.

Daltrey was in the year above but got expelled by the time he was 15 and formed The Detours in 1959, with him actually being the group's lead guitarist rather than the singer.

The Who - I Can't Explain

He signed Entwistle up on the street after seeing him hauling his bass about, and Entwistle suggested Pete Townshend as another guitarist. Harry Wilson on drums and Colin Dawson on vocals rounded out the lineup.

Dawson and Daltrey fell out, and after a brief run with Gabby Connolly as the singer, Daltrey took over on vocals and Pete Townshend became the band's sole guitarist, and after finding out about ANOTHER band called The Detours in 1964 they changed their name to The Who.

Harry Wilson was soon sacked and replaced by Doug Sandom, who was in turn replaced by the Wembley-born Keith Moon (drums), who had been playing with The Beachcombers.

The Who - Substitute

After Keith Moon died in 1978, he was replaced by Kenney Jones of the Small Faces/Faces, and then Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey.

Entwistle died in 2002, and was replaced on stage first by Pino Palladino, and then Jon Button.

Over the years, other touring members of the band have included Simon Phillips on drums and Steve Bolton on guitar, and various keyboard players, including John Bundrick, John Corey, Frank Simes, and currently Loren Gold.

How did The Who get their name?

The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again (Lyric Video)

As we already discussed, the band were originally called The Detours, but when they found out about Johnny Devlin and the Detours they needed a new name.

Guitarist Pete Townshend and his housemate Richard Barnes thought up a few gag names like No One, The Group and The Hair, before Daltrey picked The Who from their list the next day.

They actually had a brief name change under manager Peter Meaden, who tried to capitalise on the burgeoning mod scene by renaming the group The High Numbers and having them release the single 'Zoot Suit' / 'I'm The Face', knocking off 'Misery' by The Dynamics and 'I Got Love If You Want It' by Slim Harpo respectively.

It flopped, and they were back to The Who for their next single.

What are The Who's most famous songs (and albums)?

The Who - Baba O'Riley (Shepperton Studios / 1978)

Like many bands who started their career in the early 1960s, The Who were best known for a run of hit singles before moving into more album-focused territory towards the end of the decade and into the 1970s.

After their first singles, The Who released the concept album The Who Sell Out in 1967, followed by Tommy in 1969. The group abandoned their planned sci-fi rock opera Lifehouse but salvaged maybe their best album Who's Next from the ashes in 1971.

Their last album with their classic lineup before Keith Moon's death was 1978's Who Are You.

They split up in 1983, but later reformed and have since released the albums Endless Wire in 2006, and WHO in 2019.

Their biggest songs include:

  • I Can't Explain
  • Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
  • My Generation
  • Substitute
  • The Kids Are Alright
  • Happy Jack
  • Pictures of Lily
  • I Can See For Miles
  • Pinball Wizard
  • The Seeker
  • See Me, Feel Me
  • Won't Get Fooled Again
  • Behind Blue Eyes
  • Baba O'Riley
  • 5:15
  • Love, Reign o'er Me
  • You Better You Bet

Who wrote The Who's songs?

The Who - Love, Reign O’er Me (Lyric Video)

While Roger Daltrey was the driving force behind The Detours and remains so in The Who after their early days performing covers, it was Pete Townshend who emerged as the band's main songwriter.

Pete wrote the vast, vast majority of the band's songs, with a healthy smattering of John Entwistle songs, and a much smaller sprinkle of tracks written by Roger Daltrey and, during his lifetime, Keith Moon.

Why did The Who split up? And when did they reform?

The Who accept award at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum inductions 1990

The lineup of Pete Townshend/Roger Daltrey/John Entwistle/Keith Moon stuck together through the '60s and '70s until Keith Moon's tragic death from a drug overdose in 1978. He was only 32.

The band pledged to continue, and Phil Collins even got in touch asking to join having just left Genesis. But the band had already recruited fellow mod Kenney Jones and got back on the stage and in the studio.

But tensions rose in the years that followed, with Townshend wanting the band to stick to the studio and Entwistle wanting to keep touring. They had their last tour in 1982, and a year later Townsend quit, meaning the end of the who on December 16, 1983.

The Who - My Generation (Live Aid 1985)

The group were on good enough terms to guest on each other's solo records, and they got together to perform live pretty often after that.

They played at Live Aid just two years later in 1985, and even did a full reunion tour in 1989. They were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and a year later recorded a cover of Elton John's 'Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting'.

The Who - Behind Blue Eyes (Lyric Video)

They got together again in 1996 to play Quadrophenia in concert, with Townshend, Entwistle and Daltrey backed by Zak Starkey and the film's star Phil Daniels providing narration.

More shows followed in 1999, and they've stuck together ever since, despite Entwistle's death in 2002 at the age of 57.

Who have The Who influenced?

Elton John - Pinball Wizard - 1975 (Audio HQ)

Like those other top-tier 1960s British rock bands, it'd be easier to ask who The Who haven't influenced.

Their explosive, guitar-smashing live performances have provided a template for so many bands who followed, while their use of power chords and that Townshend "windmill strum" have become rock staples.

They used synthesizers when many in hard rock considered them taboo, and pioneered the concept album with The Who Sell Out and rock opera Tommy, while Ken Russell's 1975 movie adaptation of the latter featured the likes of Elton John, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton.


Their influence on punk is obvious: The Clash supported them, Sex Pistols covered them, and The Jam, MC5, Ramones and The Stooges all owe a clear debt. Sting popped up as Ace dace in the movie version of Quadrophenia.

They also inspired the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd with their innovative use of feedback, while Queen's Brian May is on record as being a big fan.

Their embrace of the Union Flag had a clear impact on Noel Gallagher's Britpop guitar, and you can hear their sound in Blur, who also collaborated with Quadrophenia star Phil Daniels on 'Parklife' and 'Me, White Noise'.