Behind the rather cheesy cut-out cover picture of The Who as they appeared on the front page of The Observer colour supplement on March 20, 1966, lies a workmanlike but fairly brief biography of the group that won’t tell you anything you won’t have been able to glean from previous books but which is literate, accurate and illustrated with an acceptable collection of properly-captioned photographs. In this respect it is far superior to the shabbily conceived and seriously flawed Official History that I slated on Just Backdated in October. This is to be expected of Mat Snow, a former NME man who, between 1995 and 2000, was the editor of Mojo, the UK’s foremost music monthly.
Nevertheless, it begs the same question I posed when reviewing Mark Blake’s excellent Pretend You’re In A War in 2014 and the Official History, namely what’s the point of another Who book when there are already so many good ones around? In my review of the Official History I drew attention to the commercial wisdom of publishing it at a time when The Who Hits 50 Tour would have been visiting the US (now rescheduled for 2016 since Roger Daltrey has happily recovered from viral meningitis), so I suppose it’s simply a question of another publisher jumping on the same bandwagon.
That said, this is a decent piece of work. Snow understands The Who and has done his research well, and his book benefits from the author’s own interviews with Pete Townshend, not least one in which Pete justifies The Who’s 1989 reunion by stating that he would do it only if he died first. “And what’s interesting is that I think I have died first,” states this most perverse yet perceptive interviewee. “The Who can only do it now because they are well and truly dead. We’ve got no new product, and we are creatively, clinically dead, so it’s just about history.” I missed that quote first time around and enjoyed reading it here.
The book also contains the best version of how Pete woke up in a bear pit in Berne in 1980, again gleaned from the author's own interview, and, more seriously, the most exhaustive and credible explanation I’ve read anywhere for the dilemma in which Pete found himself after accessing child porn on line in 1998.
The formation of the group, now a very well known tale, is dealt with well, though the roles of Kit Lambert and, more especially, Chris Stamp seem played down. Due credit is given to The Who’s greatest strength, their prowess on stage, and Snow has got the balance right with regard to the various aspects of their career, be it records, live work and films, not to mention extra-curricular material. He’s a fan and it shows in the respect he feels towards the group, all of which is reflected in the care he has taken to tell their story.
On the negative side, although Snow seems to have gleaned information from most of the reliable sources, he doesn’t appear to have read Dear Boy, otherwise he wouldn’t have described Keith’s first band The Beachcombers as ‘devotees of California’s cultish surf sound’, a myth long perpetuated by everyone expcept Tony Fletcher. Then again, I was guilty of the same error in my first Who book way back in 1982, as was my mate Richard Barnes whose Maximum R&B book came out the same year. I guess that, like Snow, we jumped to the same erroneous conclusion on the strength of the band’s name, but the more I think about it the more I conclude that it’s doubtful there were such things as surf bands in the UK in 1963/4. The Shel Talmy debacle is skimmed over without comment on how this affected the band financially or the great benefit it assured their former producer. As with the Official History, I also take issue with his assertion that Roger called Pete to tell him that Keith had died. It was the other way round, as Jackie Curbishley, manager Bill’s then wife who was manning the phones in the Trinifold office at the time, has told me on more than one occasion.
There’s a few other minor glitches: ‘I Can’t Explain’ didn’t appear on the original Live At Leeds, Keith didn’t move to Los Angeles with Annette until considerably later than is suggested here, and, contrary to a photo caption on page 158, Pete can’t have been onstage at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 1976, because The Who’s touring that year concluded on October 21 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, famously Keith’s last show before a paying audience.
Probably because they are free to use, the designers have chosen to illustrate the book with the covers of every Who album and also the labels and/or picture sleeves of all their singles too. Most of the pictures will be familiar to Who fans who already own large format books like this but aside from the mistakes mentioned above they are captioned well. I especially liked the photograph on page seven that features Cliff Townshend blowing his saxophone with the Squadronaires, in which he looks so much like his celebrated eldest son.
The book closes, more or less, with another strong extract from a reflective interview with Pete that Snow must have conducted fairly recently, and while this regrettably stresses his book’s bias towards The Who’s guitarist and principal songwriter, Snow has done his best to spread the laurels evenly, emphasizing Roger’s resilience which, by and large, is responsible for there still being a Who 50 years after ‘My Generation’, thus justifying the book’s title.