Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend on May 19, 1945 in Chiswick, London, England
Known for his onstage trademark guitar windmill move and an array of smart, tuneful classic rock compositions for his legendary band, The Who, Pete Townshend has also sustained a lengthy and often underrated solo career. While most of his peak years of creative output undoubtedly fed into The Who's discography, Townshend used his solo career to showcase his more than competent lead vocals and his highly eclectic musical tastes. Releasing nine studio albums across the entirety of both the '70s and '80s, Townshend has also remained prolific and active into his senior years.
Townshend grew up in a musical family and found himself enamored with American R&B as well as rock and roll before his teen years even began. Just as the British Invasion was preparing to explode, Townshend hooked up with old schoolmates John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey in The Detours. Soon after, the group settled on The Who as its name, endured some mod music marketing ploys and then began its recording and touring career in earnest. For the next decade and a few years beyond, The Who operated as one of the hardest-rocking, critically revered bands of the classic rock era.
Two Disparate Decades as Solo Artist:
During the peak years of The Who, Townshend released some solo albums and collaborated with Small Faces/Faces guitarist and singer, Ronnie Lane. Still, none of these records created much commercial interest, partially because they seemed like mere side projects and partially because the shadow of The Who at the time was overwhelming. This began to change a bit at the advent of the '80s, as Townshend released Empty Glass in 1980, his first real solo album of substance. The brilliantly simple and moving "Let My Love Open the Door" made the U.S. pop Top 10 and has since become an established classic of the new wave era.
More '80s Solo Work During The Who Hiatus:
Following 1981's Face Dances and 1982's It's Hard, the depleted lineup of The Who (still reeling from drummer Keith Moon's untimely 1978 death) decided to pack it in. Partially for this reason, Townshend continued his focus on solo work, releasing 1982's All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes and then White City in 1985, his first solo concept album. These records didn't come close to matching the Top 5 album chart performance of Empty Glass, but they did keep Townshend more than relevant on the mainstream rock scene, both peaking at No. 26. "Face Dances, Pt. 2" and "Face the Face," respectively, made some noise as singles.
'The Iron Man' Musical & Beyond:
As leader of The Who during that band's '70s peak, Townshend showed a fondness for concept albums and rock operas, so it's little wonder that his penchant for the theatrical continued into his solo output as well. So for his final solo release of the '80s, Townshend pulled out all the stops to create 1989's The Iron Man: The Musical, a musical adaptation of poet Ted Hughes' 1968 novel that eventually would be adapted into the 1999 animated film The Iron Giant. There was pop/rock music on the album, though, namely "A Friend Is a Friend."
Legacy & Partial Reunions of The Who:
In the two decades since the end of the '80s, Townshend has continued to grow as a rock legend in terms of reputation and reverence. As a guitarist, he may have never been known as a technical wizard, but his influence has been prodigious on hard rock of various types. As a songwriter, Townshend is widely viewed as one of rock's most literate and tuneful composers of all time. When Entwhistle died in 2002, the band was reduced anyway to half of its legendary original personnel. That hasn't stopped Townshend from performing with longtime compatriot Roger Daltrey during the last decade as The Who, but mainly this accomplished artist has become a deserving and still vital rock and roll dignitary.