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Who Are They?

Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who and the subject of Monday’s Glory Road segment, is 68 — old enough to be your grandfather, even if you’re among our oldest viewers. If you know anything about the history of rock music, you already know that The Who is one of the most important bands ever to sell out a football stadium. But now that Daltrey is old, it may be tough to understand that almost 50 years ago, he helped define what it means to be young.

A late arrival in the British Invasion that conquered the American music scene in the 1960s, The Who brought a raw sound and a whirlwind energy to a pop scene that was changing like it never had before and never really has since. These days, most people think The Who and other groundbreaking bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are harmless. Every CSI series uses a theme song by The Who — it doesn?t get any more mainstream than that.

But decades ago, teens didn?t just crank The Who because they loved the music. They did it because they knew their parents were going to hate it. In a time when the “generation gap” was a hot issue, the music people chose to play was a powerful statement.

The Who didn’t invent being an angry teen. But they gave voice to the feelings that a lot of young people were having in a way that most bands weren’t. The Beatles winked at young people with their haircuts and their instruments, as if to tell them, “Hey, we’re on your side.” The Stones sang about desires and frustrations that used to be unacceptable to express. But The Who wanted to leave as little doubt as possible on where they stood in the cultural war that, coincidentally or not, was gaining steam along with their success.

Daltrey sang, “Hope I die before I get old,” and then the band would furiously destroy their instruments on stage.

In the end, they won. The society we live in now is, in part, the one the 1960s youth movement created, and The Who’s edgy music and attitude eventually became the norm. When the punk scene became the driving force in rock in the late 1970s, the new bands that parents hated both copied The Who’s early stripped-down sound and railed against the heavily produced stadium rock they had come to represent.

Despite his wishes, Daltrey didn’t die (though two of his band mates did, serving as a warning that too much rebellion can be very dangerous). Instead, that song, “My Generation,” lent its title to an official magazine of the AARP, the organization for people older than 50.

Even if you don?t realize it, you know The Who — you’ve heard them in movies, on TV, in their influence on your favorite band. Thanks to music services such as Spotify, it’s easier than ever to give them a listen. If you want to hear where it all started, go and do that. But you won’t just be getting a history lesson. Even after almost half a century, they still rock.

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