A Band with Built-In Hate: The Who from Pop Art to Punk

Reaktion. Mar. 2021. 280p. ISBN 9781789142778. $22.50. MUSIC
Stanfield (Maximum Movies—Pulp Fictions: Film Culture and the Worlds of Samuel Fuller, Mickey Spillane, and Jim Thompson) uncovers the underpinnings of the Who. Basing his substantive scholarly narrative on the writings of rock journalist Nik Cohn and critic and singer George Melly, Stanfield begins with the Who’s initial identification with the mods, or modernists, a subculture of early 1960s British teens who focused on fashion, amphetamine-driven dancing to American rhythm and blues, motor scooters, and the need for constant change. Examining the period from 1965 to 1967, he characterizes the guitar-smashing band as the pop music commercialization of the pop art pioneered by visual artists like Andy Warhol, who used art to highlight and undermine a class-based, tradition-bound society. The author concludes by illustrating that the Who were part of the move toward art rock: They created the rock opera Tommy and then were more associated with the rock star establishment during the late ’70s, when the band became engrossed with their past in Quadrophenia and when punk rock eclipsed ’60s rock for teens.
VERDICT Though the preoccupation with Cohn seems unnecessary, Stanfield has masterfully identified the mod, pop art, and art rock stages of the Who’s career for rock fans and general readers alike.
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