#633: Call Me Lightning by The Who
The Who are an English band who emerged in 1964 with singer Roger Daltry, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon. The band enjoyed popular singles, such as “I Can See For Miles,” “Pinball Wizard” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” In Vancouver the band had eleven Top Ten hits, while in the UK they charted fourteen singles into the Top Ten, but in America they only charted one single, “I Can See For Miles,” into the Billboard Hot 100. The band were innovators of new genres in rock n’ roll with their rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia. The Who early on were known for outlandish antics on stage. At the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone, England, in June, 1964, Peter Townshend destroyed his guitar on stage and smashed it into other instruments. The Who stand alongside The Beatles and The Rollings Stones as among the most influential rock bands from Britain. They had their first Top Ten single in the UK and in Vancouver in 1965 titled “I Can’t Explain,” which peaked at #8 in the UK and #2 in Vancouver.
Roger Daltry was born in East Acton, a suburb of London, in 1944. He learned how to play guitar and became the lead singer and lead guitarist for a skiffle band called The Detours, in 1959. He worked as a sheet metal worker by day and musician by night. After their first hit single Daltry’s bandmates in The Who kicked him out of the band after he beat up Who drummer Keith Moon for providing drugs to Pete Townshend and John Entwistle. Daltry had to assess his strategy for dealing with conflict with others. Seven days later, Daltrey was allowed to return to the band, but he had to be put on probation. Daltry swore that he wouldn’t be physically violent anymore. He later reflected, “I thought if I lost the band I was dead. If I didn’t stick with The Who, I would be a sheet metal worker for the rest of my life.”
Peter Townsend was born in West London in 1945. Born into a musical family, Townshend learned to play guitar at the age of eleven. He and a schoolmate, John Entwistle, formed a traditional jazz group called the Confederates where Townshend played banjo and Entwistle played horn. John Entwistle joined Roger Daltry’s band, The Detours, in 1961. And soon after suggested Pete Townsend join the band. In 1964 there was another regional band named The Detours and so Daltry’s band came up with a new name, The Who.
John Entwistle was born in Cheswick, a suburb of London. From the age of seven be began to learn piano and then went on to learn the trumpet, French horn and guitar. He played with Pete Townsend in the Confederates and later joined Roger Daltry’s band, The Detours, in 1961.
Keith Moon was born in 1946 in Central Middlesex and grew up in the Greater London suburb of Wembley. He initially learned the bugle while in Sea Cadets at the age of twelve, but soon moved on to learn the drums. He was part of a band in the early 60s called The Escorts, but by the end of 1962 Moon had moved on to join the instrumental band, The Beachcombers. At age seventeen he auditioned for and got the position as drummer for The Who.
The Who were one of a number of classic rock ‘n roll bands from the UK who were part of the British Invasion. Others who were part of that wave include The Yardbirds, The Kinks, Cream, The Hollies, The Troggs, Manfred Mann and the Small Faces.
“I Can’t Explain” was the first single released by The Who. Their next single, in the winter of 1965 was called “My Generation.” It peaked at #2 in the UK, but only climbed to #74 in the USA, but made the Top 20 in Vancouver peaking at #18. Several more singles that did well in the UK failed to make a dent on the Vancouver charts until the release of “I’m A Boy.” The song had been released in the UK in July 1966 and climbed to #2 on the British charts. In Vancouver the song managed to peak at #4. Later in 1967, The Who had their first Top Ten hit in the USA, “I Can See For Miles” which made it to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in Vancouver.
The Who went on to chart another 14 singles into the Top 20 in Vancouver into the 1980’s. One of these was “Call Me Lightning,” a hit in the spring of 1968.
“Call Me Lightning” was a non-album single B-side to the UK release of the A-side single, “Dogs.” However, in the USA and Canada, “Call Me Lightning” was a track on a compilation album from 1968 called Magic Bus: The Who on Tour. The song was written by Pete Townsend and concerns a guy who sees a good-looking girl who is smiling and dancing. He isn’t frightened and there’s a reason why his nickname is lightning. When he strikes out to meet a girl he’s as hot and fast as lightning. In addition, the guy who’s trying to entice the gal in the song drives a Jaguar XK-E. The XKE was manufactured in Britain between 1961 and 1975. Its combination of beauty, high performance, and competitive pricing established the model as an icon of the motoring world. In 1961, when the car was first displayed, Italian motor racing driver Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful car ever made.” “Call Me Lightning” was one of three singles from Magic Bus: The Who on Tour. “Magic Bus” and “Pictures of Lily” being the other two.
The Who’s official video for “Call Me Lightning” was created at an abandoned warehouse in Hollywood on February 27, 1968, by British producer and graphic artist Austin John Marshall. In the video the bandmates find a Keith Moon-in-a-box wearing a helmet with an antenna. Moon runs around the warehouse evading capture, even when the bandmates pursue him in a car. At the end of the video, when Keith is caught by his bandmates, Keith kisses lead singer Roger Daltry.
“Call Me Lightning” reached the Top Ten in Hamilton (#9), Toronto (#6), Vancouver, WA (#5), Salt Lake City (#6), Cleveland (#7), Sarasota, FL (#4), Quincy, IL (#3), and Canton, OH (#6). It peaked at #40 in the USA and #5 in Vancouver.
Drummer, Keith Moon, died in 1978 and was replaced by Kenny Jones through to 1988. The Who have released eleven studio albums, their last in 2006. They continue to perform in concert and appeared at the Rogers’ Arena in Vancouver on May 13, 2016.
October 29, 2018
The Story of The Who, The Who.com
Pete Townsend, Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy: Pete Townshend on the Who’s ‘Tommy’, Rolling Stone, December 9, 1971
Andy Greene, The Who Bio, Rolling Stone.com
Jaguar XK-E, Wikipedia.org
Robin Denselow, Austin John Marshall obituary, The Guardian, November 14, 2013.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.