In the ’70s, music was characterized by an inner conflict that tore at ideals and hurled them against the blackest confines of the human psyche. As a seeker of truth, Pete Townshend surely would have a lot to say. The Who was always – always – there in times of need. The album The Who were to release after Quadrophenia was to expose Pete’s vulnerabilities like nothing else. It was him who needed someone. And the horrible realization that he was not finding that person or people within his band was what listeners were to come across on “The Who By Numbers”.
The setting in which the album was conceived was as troublesome as the ones in which “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia” came to the world. This time, Roger and Pete were playing verbal ping pong on the press, and their views on The Who (as entertainers and as artists) were never painted in such black and white terms before or since.
Pete’s already-manifested impression that the band was caricaturing itself had entrenched by this point. His new set of songs dealt with that in a tortured way. The one jovial tune on offer was to be “Squeeze Box”. It was to become a Top 20 hit, in fact. That was certainly disheartening – something truly akin to another brick in the wall of vacuity.
A sense of futility populates the album: Pete questions the relationships with his fans and friends at every turn, and the facades he always studied were becoming far, far too brittle. Everybody could see through disguises by this point. Continue reading