A Band with Built-In Hate
The Who from Pop Art to Punk
Distributed for Reaktion Books
A Band with Built-In Hate
The Who from Pop Art to Punk
“Ours is music with built-in hatred,” said Pete Townshend. A Band with Built-In Hate pictures the Who from their inception as the Detours in the mid-sixties to the late-seventies, post-Quadrophenia. It is a story of ambition and anger, glamor and grime, viewed through the prism of pop art and the radical leveling of high and low culture that it brought about—a drama that was aggressively performed by the band. Peter Stanfield lays down a path through the British pop revolution, its attitude, and style, as it was uniquely embodied by the Who: first, under the mentorship of arch-mod Peter Meaden, as they learned their trade in the pubs and halls of suburban London; and then with Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, two aspiring filmmakers, at the very center of things in Soho. Guided by contemporary commentators—among them, George Melly, Lawrence Alloway, and most conspicuously Nik Cohn—Stanfield describes a band driven by belligerence and delves into what happened when Townshend, Daltrey, Moon, and Entwistle moved from back-room stages to international arenas, from explosive 45s to expansive concept albums. Above all, he tells of how the Who confronted their lost youth as it was echoed in punk.
280 pages | 40 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Music: General Music
"Eloquently framing their success as the only successful 1960s UK pop/rock group that didn't want to be either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Stanfield locates the Who (and crucially their peak years, during which they were, he writes 'not copyists but innovators') at a boundary-breaking intersection of pop and art-rock."
Tony Clayton-Lea | Irish Times
“There’s some very perceptive writing on the influence the Who had on the wider scene. . . . Essential reading for anyone who’s ever loved the Who, or wants an insight into the Sixties’ music scene that goes beyond greatest hits compilations and easy generalizations.”
Louder Than War
"If Roger Daltry's 2018 autobiography was a prosaic foot soldier's telling of the Who story, here is a view from the high plains. . . . The best parts of the book mirror the best of the Who, fizzing with ideas and connections. . . . This book vividly reanimates the nasty, transgressive, scene-shaping thrill of their beginnings."
"[An] ear for apt detail enriches Stanfield's stolid account. He plumbs archives for ephemeral magazines and forgotten interviews to reveal more than the standard recitals of the works."
“Stanfield uncovers the underpinnings of the Who. . . . He has masterfully identified the mod, pop art, and art rock stages of the Who’s career for rock fans and general readers alike.”
"[The book] brings together some significant criticism of the Who, connecting them with all manner of cultural references, and is a valuable addition to my ever-expanding Who library. That the Who continue to be so well-served by knowledgeable authors is a tribute to their importance."
Chris Charlesworth | Just Backdated
"A Band With Built-in Hate reaffirms the Who's importance to the rock and pop revolutions of the sixties and seventies."
Choice Magazine (UK)
"Stanfield examines how the Who took in disparate influences from outside the rock world—influences flying in from the fine and pop arts, youth culture, and so-on—and shipped them back out to be co-opted by everyone from the Creation to the Sex Pistols. It is the first deep, book-length look at an important aspect of the Who’s persona and art that is an integral portion of every book on the band."
"The best book on the Who. Stanfield understands that they were built entirely around opposition—they didn’t want to be the Beatles or the Stones; they didn’t even want to be the Who most of the time. He smartly states the case for peak Who as transgressive, how their clashing obsessions with primitive rock’n’roll and sociological statements made them so exciting. He also wisely concentrates on their peak years, before pop solidified as rock, when the Who were the closest thing to pop art British music has ever produced."
Bob Stanley, founding member of St Etienne and author of "Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop"
"With impressive eloquence, A Band with Built-in Hate situates '60s Britain's most volatile and incendiary group at the heart of pop's wild vortex, its sonic assaults on the class system and the cultural status quo. Stanfield digs brilliantly into the Who's transgressions, their upending of entertainment, their transmuting of pop music into art-rock and proto-punk. He can see for miles."
Barney Hoskyns, author of "Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits" and "Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion"
"That the Who’s image was constantly shifting according to whatever they thought would best promote their music in the moment is the focus of Stanfield’s new book A Band with Built-In Hate. Stanfield examines how the Who took in disparate influences from outside the rock world—influences flying in from the fine and pop arts, youth culture, and so-on—and shipped them back out to be co-opted by everyone from the Creation to the Sex Pistols. It is the first deep, book-length look at an important aspect of the Who’s persona and art that is an integral portion of every book on the band. . . . Fills in the gaps of an important area of Who history."
Mike Segretto, author of "The Who FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Fifty Years of Maximum R&B"
Townshend’s spleen, film-maker and critic Tony Palmer explained, ‘is directed against not only the social environment which sponsored and then grew tired of him, but also against the perverse snobbery which damns what he does to the oblivion of freakish irrelevance’. Across The Who’s first ten years of creative activity, the band repeatedly refused the limits imposed on post-war youth and on their chosen art form: pop music. In their mutinous stance The Who traipsed over the conventions of civility and restraint, and paid deference to no one. They were recusants for the new pop age.
The Who’s acts of sedition were especially apparent in the run of singles with which they altered the language of pop, first in maximized attitude with ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ and ‘My Generation’ in 1965, and then, just as concisely, in a more stylized manner with ‘Substitute’, ‘I’m a Boy’, ‘Happy Jack’ in 1966, and ‘Pictures of Lily’ and ‘I Can See For Miles’ in 1967. With their amplified assault on what a pop song should sound like and what it might express, The Who played out the roles of delinquent mischief-makers and radical aesthetes, practising an art that was impudent and violent, yet also tenderly disarming.
The Who existed in the contradiction that George Melly had named a ‘revolt into style’. Jazz man, raconteur and dandy at large, Melly, in his own words, had ‘left the waterhole for the hide in the trees’. From his place of concealment, in articles written for the New Statesmen, New Society and The Observer – which were later gathered together as Revolt into Style (1970) – Melly offered his views on the popular or ‘pop’ arts. His columns gave an intimate and at times sharply critical account of the pop events of the 1960s. Melly considered pop to be a subversive passport to ‘the country of now’ that was personified by The Beatles’ repudiation of old or new rules; a lack of deference more aggressively practised by the Rolling Stones. Into the space created by these two bands, The Who arrived like a malcontent younger sibling and ‘succeeded’, wrote Melly, ‘in making The Beatles sound precious and Stones old hat’.
A Band with Built-In Hate is about the new forms of cultural crimes The Who carried out; how their particular revolt into style took form and acquired its edge. In 1965 Townshend said it was ‘a hate of every kind of pop music and a hate of everything our group has done’ that motivated him. Melly’s book offers the immediate context within which to locate the band’s stance of a self-conscious disavowal of the pop ideal – an opposition they refined even as they chased and courted pop success. If Melly was one of the period’s best theorists on pop, its best critic was Nik Cohn, the ‘most respected and influential’ pop commentator on Fleet Street, according to his contemporary Jonathan Aiken. From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, Cohn wrote with an unrivalled acuity about pop style – and The Who were his finest subject. In tracing his critical take on the band and pop, I will return to the columns he wrote for Queen magazine and the New York Times, where he responded with succinctness and an immediacy to the pop ferment. This material, alongside the more considered ideas in Cohn’s fiction and books, will help to plot out what pop was and could be, and allow us to think again about how The Who slotted into and then reshaped that story.
Cohn’s view of the pop field was singular. Unlike most of his contemporaries in pop journalism, he had strongly held and voiced opinions; pop mattered to Cohn, it was his obsession. He promoted the view of pop as a series of style explosions and flash impressions that were continuously refiguring the everyday. He used pop as a means to inhabit the marvellous, to transform the drab and the boring, to imagine the limits of the possible. He considered The Who to be fellow travellers, young men who were equally fanatic in their obsession with style. The Who made pop into an art worthy of the consideration of a critic with a truant eye and a disposition for the outlandish.
When he described his pop ideal, Cohn invariably labelled it ‘flash’. The adjective had a peculiarly English application; it was not much used in the pop vernacular of the day by American critics. But it summarized the perfect pop attributes, suggesting in its two syllables the flaring, pulsing surge of the ephemeral pop moment: the splashy, garish display of the pop star; the sharp, concise impression left by the hit of a pop single; the sham, counterfeit emotion used in pop marketing; and the illicit, underworld attraction of flash-men, flash-coves and flash-Harrys who occupied the pop world, especially those trespassers who tunnelled under or climbed over the cultural and social borders of the suburban greylands that restrained others. To have ‘flash’ meant you lived in the moment, without regard for yesterday and without thought for tomorrow. You thrived in an accelerating world, ahead of the game, blazing brightly enough to leave an impression – to have made your mark with attitude and style.
As he wrote about the pop moment, Cohn was aware of the contradictions in the stance he struck, warning himself, as much as anyone else, against putting gild on gold and paint on the lily:
Rock ’n’ Roll, like all mass media, works best off trivia, ephemera and general game-playing, and the moment that anyone starts taking it more solemnly, he’s treading on minefields. As performance, it has been magnificent. Nothing has been better at catching moments, and nothing has carried more impact, more evocative energy. While it lives off flash and outrage, impulse, excess and sweet teen romance, it’s perfect. But dabble in Art and immediately it gets overloaded.
The persona of a pop intellectual, which Melly channelled into his journalism, was informed by the artists and critics of the Independent Group who met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in the early 1950s, among them Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton, John McHale, Lawrence Alloway, Magda Cordell and Reyner Banham. This group set the terms upon which an understanding and an articulation of the pop arts and, subsequently, British Pop art would be based. In the round, Melly acknowledged the role of this radical collective on his ideas; and The Who, in all their varied activities, engaged wholly and enthusiastically in the debate elucidated in Alloway’s essay ‘The Long Front of Culture’ (1959). Alloway argued that the traditionally educated custodians of the rarefied arts – the elite, with their vehement opposition to the popular – now had no choice but to contend with unruly, mass and industrial arts: the pop arts that clamoured for the public’s attention.
In the post-war context of austerity, Alloway outlined an aesthetics of plenty exemplified by American commercial imagery and products, and challenged the fixed binary of the low and the high. He championed an acceptance of the transformative impact of commercial products, arguing that consumers can develop tastes every bit as discriminating as those held by connoisseurs of the fine arts. This is not to say that the terms and criteria used in these acts of judgement will be the same, but that the times demanded an inclusive rather than exclusive approach to culture. The fine and popular arts are of equal interest; each, he argued, is worthy of critical consideration. Alloway called for the vertiginous pyramid of taste – the vulgar masses at the bottom, the refined elite at the top – to be reimagined as a horizontal continuum. The Who lived and worked on that line and made high art’s link with low consumer culture more visible and more familiar.
You can see the continuum being played out in a story told by The Beatles’ publicist, Derek Taylor: travelling with George Harrison, he was asked by an airline hostess if they were economy or first class? Harrison answered that they were travelling first class but as for being first class that was a matter for debate. The Beatles were both agents in, and symptom of, the dissembling of class barriers. Melly’s Revolt into Style documents the shifts in the reception and making of the pop arts that Alloway had identified; the questioning of accepted notions of good taste, and the collapse of class distinctions in life and art, that The Beatles, the Stones and The Who encouraged.