The Who Were Almost an R&B Group Called “The High Numbers”
By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
The Who have arguably the most awesomely simple band name in history. Just about any band, old or new, could not have possibly had 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 essentially a motown 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, on October 22, 1964 they received their rejection notice 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 big audition took place at EMI Recording Studios, and they played about three or four songs. But in an ironic 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 in the ’60s and ’70s. 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. Who fans can thank Mr. Burgess forever for saying no to High Numbers and encouraging them to make their own music. 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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