The Who Were Almost an R&B Group Called “The High Numbers”
The Who have arguably the most awesomely simple band name in history. Just about band, old or new, could possibly have as simple a name and be nearly as catchy. But they weren’t always known by that name. Early in their career they were known as “The High Numbers”, and they didn’t even play rock and roll – they were an R&B group.
This was the band’s style when they got their first audition for a record label in the fall of 1964. But thankfully for rock fans everywhere, they got their rejection notice on October 22, 1964 and were forced to reinvent themselves.
As the High Numbers, they released one single called “I’m the Face”, and that was it. In fact, they barely recorded anything at all in 1964. No demos or audition tapes of them under that name are even known to exist. The mid-1960s “mod” trend in Britain was what led them down the R&B path in the first place, but it never really fit their sound or performance style. They were always a rock band at heart.
The band’s big audition took place at EMI Recording Studios, and they played about three or four songs. In a perfectly fortunate twist, Burgess was impressed but ultimately turned off by the audition because Keith Moon’s drumming was too relentless. “I remember Keith’s drums being far too loud, but they were very good,” he said.
One of the problems the band faced early in their career was that recordings didn’t really capture the spirit of their incendiary live shows, which at the time brought unprecedented levels of energy.
But the main reason Burgess turned the band down wasn’t a lack of talent or showmanship, but rather a lack of original material. As Pete Townshend put it in the book Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere: “They [EMI] said: ‘we think you’re a great little R&B band, but the Beatles have set a trend of groups writing their own material, you’ve just really go to do it.’ So away we walked and about eight to ten weeks later, a song I’d written, ‘ I Can’t Explain’ was in the charts.”
So, there you go. Fans of The Who can thank John Burgess forever for not falling in love with the High Numbers, and instead encouraging them to make their own material. He may have meant more R&B, so we can be grateful The Who stuck to what they did well and rocked out – loudly.
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