Never Had a #1 Hit… The Who

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

First up, probably just the biggest and most famous act never to have had a number one single… The Who!

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Yup, they’ve come close on plenty of occasions. 14 Top 10 hits between 1965 and 1981. Here are the five that came closest:

‘My Generation’, #2 in 1965

Part of the sixties canon, but a world away from both the optimistic pop of the Merseybeat days and the Summer of Love; The Who were angry young men. Banned by the Beeb because they thought Roger Daltrey’s delivery might offend stutterers, not, as I always thought, because it sounds like he’s about to drop an F-bomb. I’ve attached this live version for some brilliantly pointless guitar and drum smashing at the end. ‘My Generation’ was scandalously kept off the top spot by The Seekers snooze-inducing ‘The Carnival Is Over‘!

‘I’m a Boy’, #2 in 1966

My name is Bill and I’m a head-case… Just as anarchic as ‘My Generation’, though gentler sounding. Bill has four sisters and his ma is hell-bent on having five. He wants to ride his bike, climb trees, come home covered in blood – you know, regular 1960s boy stuff… But mum’s not having any of it. I’m a boy, I’m a boy, But if I say I am I get it! Power pop brilliance.

‘Happy Jack’, #3 in 1966

Happy Jack is a man who lives in the sand on the Isle of Man. Apparently, a real person from Pete Townshend’s childhood, kids bully him, laugh at him, chuck things at him… But nothing stops Jack from being happy. Not my favourite Who song in any way, but a worthy inclusion just for Keith Moon’s drumming.

‘Pictures of Lily’, #4 in 1967

I think people’s impression of The Who leans more nowadays to the hard rocking, stadium band that they became in the 1970s. But as this run-through is showing, their biggest hits came earlier, and were much quirkier. ‘Pictures of Lily’ tells the tale of a young lad who can’t sleep, until one day his dad gives him an old picture of a lady named Lily. Suddenly the boy can sleep the whole night through… Pictures of Lily, Solved my childhood problem… ‘Tis “merely a ditty about masturbation, and its importance to a young man” (Pete Townshend’s words, not mine). When the boy asks his dad if he can meet Lily, he is crushed to find out that she died in 1929…

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(Actress Lily Langtry, who died in 1929… This could well be the actual ‘Picture of Lily’.)

‘Pinball Wizard’, #4 in 1969

Last but not least… a song about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. From the rock-opera ‘Tommy’ this, along with ‘My Generation’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, has to be The Who’s signature song, and still a feature of their live shows to this day.

My personal favourite Who single, ‘Substitute’, only made #5, while their big seventies hits like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Who Are You’, made #9 and #18 respectively. But, no number one! And that’s why I wrote this post.

Up tomorrow, another hard-rocking, hard-living band, with a member who died too young, this time from the other side of the pond.

10 thoughts on “Never Had a #1 Hit… The Who

  1. Interesting topic! I always liked “My Generation” even though my generation is 2 after theirs. 🙂 Can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s post is, I’m curious.

  2. This band to me is second only to the Beatles. Thanks for concentrating on the brilliant 60s singles. If they would have had smooth productions in the 60s perhaps they might have got a number 1…but that was part of their appeal.

    They also represented Britain more than most with their Pop Art clothes and with the Mod image. The band closest to them would be the Kinks in my opinion.

    The Who Meaty Big and Bouncy was released in 1971…that is when I think America really found out what they missed out on. A great album full of the 60s singles.

    The best rhythm section in rock and roll…more exciting than any other.
    “My name is Bill and I’m a head-case”…I wish I could have come up with that line.

    Great Post!!!!

    • Thanks. To be honest, I picked these singles just because they charted highest… Can’t believe ‘Substitute’ didn’t make it.

      And yeah, listening though these, I was struck by how eccentric and Kinks-like they are. Even though I knew all these records really well, I’d never thought about it… Boys made to dress like girls, a man who lives happily in the sand on a beach, a boy ‘relaxing’ to pics of a dead silent movie star… And a deaf, dumb and blind pinballer. Not a ‘love’ song among them!

      • You picked some good ones. Others like The Kids Are Alright is really good and like you said Substitute.

        There was not a typcial Who song back then. I like how they used feedback and Moons drums on them. Pete has said they were playing with the knobs recording things.

  3. The weirdest part about The Who in America is that despite their popularity at the time in rock music they only had one Top 10 hit with I Can See For Miles peaking at #9 in 1967. Younger people like me would think Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again, or even My Generation as big hits but Baba O’Riley didn’t chart, Won’t Get Fooled Again peaked low in the Top 20 and My Generation peaked very low on the Hot 100. Still great band! Family played them a lot growing up. Saw them at Madison Square Garden Labor Day weekend with Roger and Peter and a full orchestra and they still put on a show.

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