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Backstory: Who Are You?

By on May 9, 2021

“Who Are You” is based on a day in the life of Pete Townshend. This song was one of the band’s biggest hits in North America and is the title track on The Who’s 1978 album, Who Are You. It is the last album released by the group before Keith Moon’s tragic death in September of the same year. On August 20th, 1978, “Who Are You” by The Who entered Billboard’s Hot Top 100 chart at position #70; and on October 29th, 1978 it peaked at #14 {for 2 weeks} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100. The documentary, “The Kids Are Alright” shows The Who in a studio recording this song.

“Who Are You” isn’t a question, it’s a statement.

Legend says that Pete Townshend departed from a long, grueling meeting, months in the making, finally freeing The Who from the clutches of super-group manager, Allen Klein at ABKCO. They’d already been screwed by their previous manager, Peter Meadon, and the band consensus was that Klein was screwing them too, a common practice during the period with extraordinarily little recourse. Their instincts were confirmed in 1977, when Klein and ABKCO’s former head of promotion, Pete Bennett, were each charged with three felony counts of income tax evasion for 1970, 1971, and 1972. The result of this particular meeting made the entire band solvent millionaires for the first time and secured a financial future that insulated them from those particular sharks.

Townshend wandered from the meeting into SOHO and preceded to get drunk at a well-known club. Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, who thought highly of him for paving the way for punk rock music, were also at this club. Townshend started to preach to them from the voice of experience and the loose lips that go along with alcohol. There’s a picture of this supposed evening memorialized HERE.

Cook and Jones quizzed Pete about sports cars, exotic birds, flying first class, and all the other extravagances that being a rock star affords a person. Sources (probably Cook and Jones) insist that Townshend, deep in his cups, continued after numerous corrections to call them both “Johnny” and “Rotten” assuming he was speaking to John Lydon, who might have been more interested in taking over the metaphorical torch from Townshend’s generation.

Maybe, after finally being paid what he was worth compared to the new, gritty, punk bands like the Sex Pistols, he felt like a sell-out after his million-dollar meeting? Maybe he was mad at all the crappy management and game playing in the music industry? Maybe he was frustrated that he was trying to share valuable insight and the punks were acting like, well, punks? For whatever reason, Pete Townshend had enough of the Sex Pistols that night. There is no definitive information on whether they came to blows, but Townshend let his obvious disappointment be known, and “Who Are You” was born.

The Who were Original Punks. There would be no, Sex Pistols. No, Clash. No, insert name, if Pete hadn’t smashed up guitars while Moon beat the shit outta those drums, Roger screamed, and John kept plucking.