Peter Townshend Loyd Grossman - Essay

Loyd Grossman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[From the start the Who] established themselves as original talents and unflagging propagandists, visually and lyrically, of pop culture…. [They] began to record a string of Townshend-written songs which wittily and savagely (in both music and lyrics) dealt with generational hatred, masturbation, and other previously unarticulated subjects lurking in the back of teen-age minds yet ignored by previous rock songwriters. (pp. 53-4)

The Who were tougher and could be more distasteful than the Rolling Stones, even though their music and lyrics were rather more intellectual, because they knew how to use sonic brutality as a musical device. (p. 54)

The Who were talented and thoughtful enough to use some of rock's most unpleasant characteristics—its coarseness and primitivism, for example—in order to make sensitive and moving musical statements. As early as 1965 they were the heralds of rock's musical maturation, perhaps even more so than the Beatles. While the Beatles remained unbeatable for their eclectic virtuosity, as songwriters they were developing a stylistic versatility so completely successful that often the musical result was hardly recognizable as rock and roll. On the other hand, the Who were to make recordings of comparable sensitivity and musicality which remained undeniably rock-and-roll songs.

One might say that the Beatles were the first rock group to understand melody and its use in rock and roll, the Rolling Stones were the first to understand the social and political aspects of rock and roll as stylized and ongoing rebellion, while the Who … were the first to understand rock and roll formally, and to begin stripping rock music to its most essential elements, leaving an abstract musical and attitudinal framework within which there was room for almost endless invention and variation. (pp. 54-5)

Loyd Grossman, "The Coming of the New Rock: The British Ascendancy," in his A Social History of Rock Music: From the Greasers to Glitter Rock (copyright © 1976 by Loyd Grossman; used with permission), McKay, 1976, pp. 51-60.∗