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TV’s Most Surreal Music Performances: The Who

It’s been said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And the Who made quite a bang of their first one when they made their American network television debut on Sept. 17, 1967, with a performance on ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.’

The British mod-rockers were coming off a somewhat underwhelming set at the Monterey Pop Festival three months earlier — their first high-profile U.S. performance was stymied by technical difficulties that prevented the band from unleashing its full sonic fury — and they wanted to make up for it with an unforgettable TV performance. Mission accomplished.

The Who played two songs on ‘Smothers Brothers,’ and the first one went off pretty much without a hitch. Opening with ‘I Can See for Miles’ from that year’s ‘The Who Sell Out’ album, Pete Townshend and the boys turned in a pitch-perfect rendition of the tune – helped, obviously, by the fact that they were miming along to a prerecorded version (because of its complex rhythms and vocal harmonies, the Who rarely played ‘I Can See for Miles’ live at the time).

It’s when the Who ripped into my ‘My Generation’ that things really got interesting. Again, the band was miming its way through — this time around it was little more obvious, thanks to the stuttering cadence of Roger Daltrey’s delivery — and they had some fun with it. By the second verse, Keith Moon was tossing his sticks up in the air during a lull in the drumming and catching them in time to keep the beat.

But it wasn’t long until things descended into chaos. As the song fell into a free-form noise jam, Townshend went from using his mic stand as a slide, to stabbing his guitar into his amp, to throwing it around, to raising it over his head and smashing it. Moon knocked over his kit as Daltey grabbed a cymbal stand and swung it around; John Entwistle just stood there, plucking away on his bass and looking bored.

A series of pyro explosions filled the set with smoke, culminating with one massive boom that was so big it singed Townshend’s hair and sent shrapnel flying (rumor has it that Moon bribed a ‘Smothers Brothers’ stage hand to load up his bass drum with three times the amount of explosives the band normally used onstage).

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, they did. As Tommy Smothers returned with an acoustic guitar strapped around his shoulder for the segment outro, Daltrey grabbed the instrument and proceeded to smash it to pieces, much to the obvious annoyance of Tommy. “Hey Dick, I’d like to borrow your bass for a minute,” Tommy joked to his brother offstage. “I don’t have a bass, but I have a band aid,” Dick mocked back.

Next Surreal TV Performance: Radiohead

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