The year 1970 was a roller coaster for The Who. The success of Tommy, both in record sales and in touring revenue, were making them rich. Not just doing OK, but rich. However, the year started with a real tragedy, and probably marked the beginning of the end of the band, but no one knew it at the time.
Actually, there were two events that presaged the decline, but the one on 19700104 was the actual tragedy. What I find interesting is that this event, which really happened, is not nearly as well know as the one about Moon driving the car into the swimming pool at the Holiday Inn the previous year, which as we discussed last week, never happened.
Before we start, however, since it is Christmas Eve eve, let us have a bit of Christmas music:
For one thing, Moon did not drive and never had, including the car in the swimming pool affair. He had a driver, Neil Boland, who took him everywhere except when they were touring. He was to open a new club and went with Kim, a couple of friends, and of course Boland. As they were leaving they were accosted by a crowd of malcontents who started throwing sharpened British pennies at them. British pence at the time were almost as large in diameter and as heavy as current US half dollars, so being hit with a razor edged penny was not trivial (don’t you just love the way I work in Geek stuff?).
Boland went to get the rabble out of the way so they could depart, and apparently Moon panicked and got behind the wheel to get through the crowd. Unfortunately, Boland was trapped underneath the car and was dragged to death, being pronounced DOA at hospital. The police investigated, and the incident was officially closed as an accidental death.
Moon never fully recovered from being responsible for killing Boland (who was also his personal friend), and I strongly suspect that this contributed to his accelerating use of drink and drugs. Whilst there was no criminal culpability, feelings of personal guilt are not absolved by the justice system, and he never got over it. He actually did face some charges, such as DUI and operating a vehicle without a license and plead guilty, but because of the tragic circumstances he never paid any fine or serve any time. These days he would have been in prison, but in 1970 drinking and driving was looked at differently.
The band spent the rest of the winter doing some European tours and mixing the material for what would become Live at Leeds. The first single that was released for the year was “The Seeker”, with the “B” side “Here for More”. Released in the UK on 19700320 on Track, it charted at only #19. The US Decca release, on the market 19700425 only charted at #44. That is a shame, because “The Seeker” is really a good song, and has a rare Chuck Berry style of guitar for Pete.
I do not know where this evidently live version has its origin, but it is pretty good:
You do not often hear “Here for More”, so here is the studio version:
That spring they played numerous gigs in the UK and recorded some material for the BBC whilst they finished mixing Live at Leeds. This album was released on Track in the UK on 19700522 where it charted at #3. The album was released (unusually) earlier by Decca in the US on 19790516, and it charted at #4. Eventually, this record earned them over a million pounds, and added to the 5 million pounds from Tommy, their money worries were over.
With the success of Tommy and the strong showing of Live at Leeds, The Who began another North American tour, as far as I can tell their seventh one. It started with them playing Tommy in its entirety in two shows at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This was on 19700607, and to my knowledge was the only date that a rock band played the Met until recently, say around 2000 or so.
On 19700710 Track released “Summertime Blues” with the flip Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell”, where it charted to #38. Decca released the same record the next day in the US, and it charted at #27. Think about the ramifications of the chart positions of the single of “Summertime Blues” compared with its parent album Live at Leeds. Leeds charted at #4 in the US, but the single only at #27. I believe it is because fans of The Who did not have any favorite song, but rather appreciated the entirety of their work. Those are two really great songs, so here they are:
This version of “Summertime Blues” is not the Leeds one, but it is pretty good. To illustrate how well The Who perform this song, compare it with the original Eddie Cochran (who wrote it) version:
Here is “Heaven and Hell” from the wonderful Tanglewood series:
After the end of the North American tour in early July, the band returned to the UK where they performed live throughout the UK and and also had some European appearances. In the meantime, Townshend was writing new material for his very ambitions Lifehouse project, which never materialized. We shall discuss that next time for the 1971 installment.
Decca released a single in the US on 19700926 “See Me, Feel Me” and “Overture” and it charted at #12, and Track released the same record in the UK on 19701009, where it failed to chart. Mind my analysis about singles versus albums presented previously.
Track recalled the single and released an EP in its place on 19701006, containing in addition to the two songs just mentioned “Christmas” and “I’m Free”. It failed to chart, and was never released in the US. The Who explained that because of the price increases in singles, they wanted to provide more music for the same money.
Track released several compilation albums by various artists in their barn in the UK, but none were ever released in the US. The only other record issued containing their material was the soundtrack for Woodstock, issued by Cotillion in the US on 19700511 where it charted at #1. The same album was released in the UK by Atlantic (actually Cotillion was an Atlantic subsidiary) on 10700529 where it charted at #35.
All in all, 1970 was by far the greatest year for the band to date in a commercial sense, but because of the almost continuous touring, little creative work was done. The Live at Leeds content was pretty much all previously written and performed material, and except for Townshend writing new material no new contributions were made. That would change radically in 1971, when their commercially and critically highest performing album would be released, along with a solo effort by Entwistle.
This wraps up 1970, and once again I did not embed a whole lot of material in this piece, since the links that I provided have all of the content for Live at Leeds, thus making embeds to that material redundant.
Please allow me to close by wishing all of my readers a very Happy Christmas, and I mean this term to be inclusive of people with other faiths, or no faith at all. Celebrations and festivals at this time of the year predate all modern religions, so it is indeed a magical time. Be sure to tell someone that you love them, especially if it has been a while since you have! You never know when the opportunity to tell them may not come again.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith