However, no other band may have relied on its combustive internal chemistry as much as The Who. Crank up “Baba O’Riley” and the separate elements would be potentially wimpy: piano, synth arpeggios, an Irish jig at the end. Taken together, the result isn’t just more than the sum of its parts; it’s an atomic bomb. Indeed, after drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, the remaining members released an album titled It’s Hard, with the guys looking a tad shell-shocked on the cover -- and wouldn’t record another for 26 years.
Every original member of The Who was as crucial as the next to their unique power, which means the band’s solo albums are just that much more fitfully rewarding, distracted or just-plain-strange. Here are six of them.
1971: John Entwistle Heads Into Darker Territory, Fills Album Sleeve With X-Rays & Sonograms
Who bassist John Entwistle was a notoriously eccentric character behind the scenes. A lifelong Freemason, he had an expensive affinity for horror themes and the macabre, even constructing a pub in his country mansion called The Hammerhead Bar where stuffed sharks hung from the ceiling. Naturally, his commitment to the weird extended to his death-obsessed solo album, Smash Your Head Against the Wall, which explored a heavier direction than the art-damaged Townshend would be inclined to take. On the cover: an X-ray of a terminal heart patient; on the rear sleeve, the X-ray of a pregnancy test.
1975: Keith Moon Cooks Up Boozy Pop Standards With Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr
Perhaps the only human being in history with “exploding toilets” as an entire subsection on their Wikipedia page, Keith Moon was the living embodiment of rock ‘n roll’s outrageous, boyish innocence. Unfortunately, his Peter Pan syndrome lent itself to an appetite for drugs and alcohol, which put him right at home in ‘70s rock’s odious party scene. His only solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, is mostly a reminder of that, with endless guest stars (Joe Walsh, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, more) egging on Moon’s dilapidated versions of “Don’t Worry Baby” and “In My Life.”
1975: While Portraying Franz Liszt on Camera, Roger Daltrey Releases Quickie Album With Himself as a Centaur
Daltrey spent most of 1975 portraying the flamboyant 19th century composer Franz Liszt for the Ken Russell movie Lisztomania. Naturally, embodying the role of the first rock star would inform the songs he recorded during this time, released as Ride a Rock Horse. The results are pleasant enough, with the single “Come and Get Your Love” hitting No. 68 on the Hot 100, but the album is mostly infamous for its cover sleeve, in which Daltrey, with his lower half replaced with a horse's, stretches out in his heavenly abode.
1976: Pete Townshend Cleans Up, Releases Star-Studded Tribute to His Spiritual Guru
In 1968, Townshend was tipped off to the teachings of Meher Baba, who preached a mixture of Sufism, Vedantism and Mysticism, by a friend in art school who slipped him the book The God-Man. Suddenly, his entire outlook changed, shunning psychedelic drugs and writing songs with titles like “Faith in Something Bigger.” He later channeled his beliefs into classics like Who’s Next, Tommy and Quadrophenia, in which he faced down autobiographical themes of child abuse, mental illness and depression through a spiritual lens. With help from members of Yes and The Small Faces, Happy Birthday was an album of thanks to Baba.
1982: Townshend Gives Himself ‘Stupid Title of the Year Award’ For All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes
It’s hard to imagine what Townshend was thinking when he titled his third solo album, even as he over-explained it to Rolling Stone: “I just had this image of the average American hero -- somebody like a Clint Eastwood or a John Wayne. Somebody with eyes like slits, who was basically capable of anything -- you know, any kind of murderous act.” Regardless, Eyes is a nifty mix of new wave synths and strange poetry. Townshend went on to regret the head-scratching title, saying on the Pete Listening Time promotional LP that he “should have won the Stupid Title of the Year Award.”
1985: Mourning the Loss of Moon, Daltrey Releases Somber Tribute
The Who would go on to have a long and rewarding career even after the deaths of Moon and Entwistle, with auxiliary members like The Small Faces’ Kenney Jones and Oasis’ Zak Starkey carving out their own legacies in the band. That said, Moon and Entwistle weren’t just essential, they were irreplaceable, and the band took Moon’s passing hard. This is captured on Daltrey’s soul-baring solo album Under a Raging Moon, in which the singer roars about his elemental loss with lines like “The wild man/ He laid the thunder down!” and “After the fire/ The fire still burns.” One only need to pull some chills-inducing YouTube footage of Moon at his prime, absolutely having the time of his life, to prove that description as Scripture.