Roger Daltrey Says He Nixed a Rap on The Who's New Album

The Who
Rick Guest

The Who

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend haven't exactly been prolific as The Who during the past 37 years -- just two studio albums during that time, and a 13-year gap between the new WHO and its predecessor, Endless Wire. But with WHO charting high on both sides of the pond, Daltrey is not ruling out the possibility of another Who recording project to come.

"I'll work with Pete any time," Daltrey tells Billboard. "But I would like to do an album where we work together -- not necessarily in the studio together, but on the project. It seems to me that Pete cooks up projects on his own that are narratively tricky for the general public to get into. By working together I think some of those problems might be solved. We could come up with something really good." But he's certainly chuffed about the way WHO turned out, and how it's been received; it went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, equaling its career best, and No. 3 in the U.K., its highest showing since 1981.

"I think it's some of our best work since the '70s. I really do," Daltrey maintains. "It's really good stuff. It shows that Pete hasn't lost his bite as a songwriter, which is important. It's not just a product and stuck in the '60s; He's very much a man of today, and (the songs) reflect that."

The making of WHO was, however, a separate, parallel enterprise for Daltrey and Townshend. It was inspired by the early 2018 pitch for the Who's current Moving On! orchestral tour. "I made it a condition I would tour only if we had a new album out," Townshend says. He submitted about 15 tracks, both new compositions and some "rescued from ancient history," to Daltrey in September of that year, but it took a few months for the singer to respond and the two to come to terms with what the WHO album would be.

Though Townshend says that he "wrote songs that I hoped Roger would love...and I thought he would get inside," it was a different experience for the singer. "I felt the original songs were kind of singing at me rather than to me, and it felt like a Pete Townshend solo album for that reason," Daltrey recalls. "It was like Pete singing at me rather than a Who album that sings to you. I thought the material was great; I was just unsure whether I could get into it and turn it into what the public would accept as a Who album."

Daltrey adds that "Pete always gives me loads of freedom on the top-line melody, which I arrange to suit myself," and he made some other alterations to the tracks as well, including changing some lyrics in "I Don't Wanna Get Wise" so it was less 'I' and more about the 'us.'" Daltrey also rejected a rap Townshend had written into the opening track, "All This Music Must Fade." "I ain't going there," he says with a laugh. "I love people that do that. It's incredibly clever. It's incredibly technical and they're brilliant, but if I did it, it would be laughable. I could probably do it, but it would be pastiche. I had to convince (Townshend) to cut it out; I said, 'You're welcome to leave it in if you do the rap.' Obviously he didn't feel comfortable doing it, either."

Daltrey is also pleased that WHO features a song, "Break the News," written by Townshend's younger brother Simon, who tours with both the Who and in Daltrey's solo band. "I’m so fond of Simon; He's like the brother I’ve never had, and it was great to be able to do one of his songs," he says. "It's very tender, and I think it's good we can have all those qualities there at this age. We can have the anger and the venom that we had in our youth in certain songs, and we can do things like this that are really tender and show that we are human and have all those strengths and frailties and vulnerabilities."

Daltrey and Townshend also recorded for WHO separately, Townshend working with co-producer Dave Sardy and the musicians -- including Who touring members Pino Palladino and Zak Starkey and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Daltrey, meanwhile, did his vocals with longtime Who sound engineer Bob Pridden and Dave Eringa, who worked with Daltrey on his 2018 solo album As Long As I Have You and his 2014 collaboration with Wilko Johnson, Going Back Home.

"It was wonderful. I had all the freedom in the world," Daltrey says. "They chose a producer (Sardy) who I wasn't given the choice of, and it takes me ages to get used to working with a producer when I do vocals. (Eringa) knows me. We get along. He's a fabulous producer. He knows how I like to work. He gets a great sound on my voice, and I don't have to wait around for him to fuck around with the sound and get what I need to hear. I just didn't want to work with anyone else, and as I wasn't given a choice of a producer I thought, 'Fuck you, I'll use my own!' (laughs)."

Happy as he is with WHO, Daltrey could do without the bonus tracks -- a pair of demos, "This Gun Will Misfire" and "Danny & His Ponies," that weren't chosen for the final album and a pair of mid-60s tracks, "Sand" and "Got Nothing to Prove," featuring some newly added parts by Townshend. (The latter was rejected by Who co-manager Kit Lambert and was subsequently offered to Jimmy James & the Vagabonds.) 

"This bonus track shit, I don't get it," Daltrey says. "To me it just makes a perfect album imperfect. Putting demos on a finished record is an absolute joke. It's not the Who; They're just abusing our name putting on what are not Who songs on a Who fucking record, and I don't get it. I get quite angry about it to be honest."

The Who is currently on break, with Daltrey on vocal rest and Townshend continuing work on The Age of Anxiety, a multi-media project he launched with his first-ever novel that was published this fall. The group returns to the road during March in the U.K., then comes back to the U.S. during April and May to make up shows postponed by Daltrey's bronchitis and also play April 23 at Northern Kentucky University -- the Who's first show in the Cincinnati area since December 1979, when 11 people died as the crowd rushed to get into Riverfront Arena. The concert will be a benefit for P.E.M., which provides scholarships for arts students at Finneytown High School, which lost three students in the 1979 tragedy.

"We've been involved with these people for a long time," says Daltrey who, along with Townshend, was interviewed for a recent documentary about the event by WCPO TV in Cincinnati. "You have to understand we've had 40 years of mourning. The shock...has stayed with us all this time, and it's nice after 40 years have it out in the open that we have been in contact with some of the friends of the people that were lost, and we are now able to do something positive in their memory -- hopefully way into the future, long after we've gone."

As for what the Who might do after the tour wraps with six May shows at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Daltrey says it's anybody's guess. "We're obviously coming to the twilight of our live career," he acknowledges. "It's always very difficult getting us to do anything. Pete's on different projects and everything else. I just want to get this tour done as well as we've done the (2019) leg. I'd like this leg to be even better, and let's see where we are once we've done that."