Pete’s new project was unveiled January 13 at the Young Vic Theatre in south London. He called it "Lifehouse" and it was set in the future at a months-long rock concert where all but the attendees would be connected via a kind of virtual reality within "experience suits." Those at the concert would have special music composed for each of them by a computer fed with their personal statistics. All of it would lead to "The Note" that would make everyone disappear. The Who would set up at the Young Vic and the project would begin.
The band was confused. Would they get to go home? Did Pete really think they were all going to disappear? Pete couldn’t get his ideas across to the band so they decamped for New York where manager Kit Lambert, who had straightened out the story of Tommy, would explain Pete’s idea to the band. However, when they got there, Pete discovered Kit was sabotaging Lifehouse behind his back, afraid Pete’s new project would threaten Kit’s ability to become writer and director of the Tommy movie. The betrayal caused Pete to have a nervous breakdown. He abandoned the project, flew back to England and presented his demos for Lifehouse to producer Glyn Johns.
Johns recorded The Who performing the songs, threw out the plot and pieced the tracks together into one killer album, Who’s Next, released in August. It was soon declared The Who’s masterpiece and provided three Who tracks, "Baba O’Riley," "Behind Blue Eyes," and "Won’t Get Fooled Again," that became the group’s best-known songs.
Meanwhile, John Entwistle, writing song after song and having no outlet for them, released the first Who solo album, Smash Your Head Against The Wall on May 14. It was the beginning of a sideline that would take up more of the Who’s members’ time as the group’s albums became less frequent.
After 1971, The Who began to slow down. An attempt to turn Lifehouse into an ordinary movie collapsed. A May 1972 album, again with Glyn Johns, was abandoned and a couple of the tracks were released as the singles "Join Together" (June 16) and "Relay" (November 25). For the first time since 1967, The Who did not launch an American tour. John released a 2nd solo album, Whistle Rymes [sic] November 3rd and Pete gathered some demos and tracks from the Meher Baba devotional albums he had worked on to release an album under his name, Who Came First, September 29th.
The year ended with an orchestral production of Tommy by the London Symphony Orchestra. As a lark, The Who were involved as vocalists. The success of the venture led the producers of the orchestral recording to start a push to get a film made of the opera.
Roger jumped on the solo bandwagon in the new year with the self-titled Daltrey, released April 20. Managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp belittled Roger’s album, leading the singer to wonder what the two were doing to earn their percentage. He initiated an audit of their books.
Pete, meanwhile, was working on a new piece. Originally a musical history of the band, the project turned into the story of a Mod fan of the Who in 1964 who undergoes a crisis of identity. Recording of the new work, Quadrophenia, began that May with Pete handling the production after Kit Lambert proved unequal to the task. The massive and complex work was recorded in quadraphonic sound in a brand-new, half-completed studio built for the band.
Additional pressures began to take their toll on The Who. Keith Moon’s stormy marriage collapsed right after the album’s completion and his wild lifestyle quickly escalated into self-destructive excesses. At the same time, Roger struck right at the heart of the organization that had made them all rock stars, presenting the band with evidence of malfeasance by their managers and demanding they be replaced. Pete, who still felt loyal to Lambert and Stamp, did everything he could to slow Roger down and tension began to build between the two.
photo: Michael Zagaris
Additional antagonism was caused by the new album, released October 26. Since MCA’s quadraphonic format was poor, Quadrophenia was reduced to stereo and Roger hated the result, feeling Pete had buried his voice under thick layers of synthesizers. Rehearsals for the tour turned violent as a drunken Pete got into a fight with Roger and was promptly knocked out by him. Nothing worked better once the band made it onto the road. The new work, performed onstage with elaborate backing tapes, proved unwieldy and songs were dropped with almost every concert. Then on the first show of the U.S. tour November 20, Keith passed out from PCP he had taken. A substitute from the audience, Scott Halpin, was brought up to play drums for the rest of the show. To top it off, the entire band was thrown into jail in Montreal after Keith and Pete destroyed a hotel room.
As soon as Pete returned from the tour, he had to begin work on the soundtrack for the movie of Tommy. Direction had been handed over to the radical English director Ken Russell who imposed his strong and often outrageous style on the opera. The problems mounted swiftly. Keith was not available for most of the soundtrack sessions as he was acting in another movie, so Pete had to bring in replacement drummers, most notably former Faces member Kenney Jones. Then, at the insistence of the director and studio, actors who couldn’t sing, like Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholson, were given roles and Pete had to coach them through their vocal performances. Once the production was finished, Russell demanded re-writes and re-recording of sections of the opera to fit changes in editing. It was enough to drive Pete to drink.
And drink he did, suffering memory blackouts by that summer. John and Keith were not far behind in booze consumption and it began to affect the quality of The Who’s live performances as was sometimes evident at their May 18 show at Charlton Football Stadium. The combination of alcohol and stress caused Pete to suffer a mini-breakdown during the first night of a four-night stand at Madison Square Garden June 10. For the first time, he felt he was just going through the motions onstage and began to wonder whether The Who had reached the end.
Looking back at what The Who had been was also the subject of that year’s Who album, Odds and Sods, a collection of Who outtakes assembled by John. Released October 4, it would be the last Who disc on Lambert and Stamp’s Track Records label.