Ranking All 12 The Who Studio Albums

The Who

“The Who” are still one of the greatest bands ever to grace this earth with their presence. They are famous for being uncompromising in every aspect of their lives, whether on stage or off. Their music is no exception. It is loud, aggressive, almost always challenging and experimental. With the release of Tommy, “The Who” would not only forever change what rock music was but also open new doors for its future. And throughout their career, no matter how musically diverse they were, they maintained a specific sound unique to them. Their first album is very much a piece of the early Sixties Mod music, which is generally considered their weakest work. The rest, however, is quite remarkable and unique in its own right. They evolved from a generic blues/mod sound into something much grander and encompassing without ever losing their original take-no-prisoners style. So, it only makes sense that there would be some discrepancies in the quality of some of the material they put out. Some albums are filled with their best songs, while others make you wonder how it could even be considered a great album in light of lesser tracks. This article is my ranking of all their twelve studio albums.

12. A Quick One (1966)

 

At twenty-one songs, it’s an ambitious effort. But does it live up to its ambitions? Well, not really. There are some great tracks here, like the single “Run, Run, Run,” the bluesy “So Sad About Us,” and the superb B-side “See My Way.” But for each of those gems, there are at least three duds like “Don’t Look Away,” the repetitive “Whiskey Man,” and the horrendous “Now I’m a Farmer.” There’s simply too much inconsistency here. It would easily go up at least 4-5 spots if they trimmed down the album to maybe ten or eleven songs. Favorite Track: So Sad About Us

11. It’s Hard (1982)

 

Not many know about this album, mainly because it’s regarded as The Who’s return to form after the widely hated Face Dances. But is it? Well, maybe if it had more memorable tracks. With some exceptions, this album is relatively weak compared to their other seventies releases. Although it has its moments, with songs like “Athena,” “Dangerous,” “A Man Is a Man,” and “It’s Your Turn,” some of the tracks on the album are pretty forgettable, primarily because of bland melodies, occasional missteps in production, and recycled ideas. But I still consider this an improvement over “A Quick One,” so let’s appreciate that one positive for now. Favorite Track: Athena

10. ‘Who Are You (1978)

 

This album is loaded with hits. You can’t go wrong with songs like “Trick of the Light,” “Had Enough,” and the title track, which, on a side note, was initially intended for Quadrophenia. However, the said album already had its fair share of hit singles (“The Real Me,” “5:15”, “Love, Reign O’er Me”). So it’s understandable why Townshend would want to shift the focus of the next Who LP in that direction. Favorite Track: Had Enough

9. My Generation (1965)

 

It’s no secret that this is considered by many (including me) to be the definitive album of The Who’s early days. It has all of its best-known songs like “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “My Generation,” “Substitute,” and “Happy Jack.” But what makes it special is its energy, which goes beyond the lack of production values and even Kenney Jones’ work behind the kit. It’s so raw and unbridled, especially on tracks like “La-La-La Lies” and “The Good’s Gone.” Favorite Track: La-La-La Lies

8. The Who By Numbers (1975)

 

This album is just as good as Face Dances, but it’s held back by a few filler tracks that drag it down. However, “Squeeze Box” and the title track are both fantastic rockers that fit in nicely with some of Townshend’s most underrated stuff like “Slip Kid,” “Blue Red and Grey,” and “Dreaming From The Waist.” Favorite Track: Squeeze Box

7. Endless Wire (2006)

 

This one is the outlier on this list thanks to its lack of thematic continuity with past albums, but that just goes to show how diverse Townshend’s work is. Even though there are some filler tracks here (“In The Ether,” “Mirror Door”), it’s great to see the Who still sounding vital over thirty years after their premature breakup. And unlike most of Townshend’s solo work, it doesn’t come off as self-congratulatory. Favorite: In the Ether

6. The Who Sell Out (1967)

 

This album is most widely known these days for its fantastic cover art and the hit single “I Can See For Miles,” but there’s so much more than that. It has plenty of strong melodies like “Odorono” and one of Townshend’s finest instrumentals ever in “Rael 1”. And it doesn’t even have any filler! Favorite Track: I Can See for Miles

5. Tommy (1969)

 

This is the most well-known album in The Who’s canon, for a good reason. It has some of Townshend’s best songs like “Pinball Wizard,” “Go to the Mirror!”, “I’m Free” and a title track that just gets better with age. And it introduced opera rock to mainstream audiences. How many other rock operas can say that? It’s also one of the finest examples of how powerful a drummer Moon was in his prime. His playing on “Sparks” is especially amazing to behold. Favorite Track: Pinball Wizard

4. Who’s Next (1971)

 

This album has pretty much everything you’d want from a classic rock record: anthemic singles (“Baba O’Riley,” “Behind Blue Eyes”), a rock opera in miniature (the 8-minute long “The Song Is Over”), and some underrated deep cuts (my personal favorite, “Getting In Tune”). It’s the album you put on when you want to show off what great songs The Who wrote. And it features one of the most underrated talents in the music industry, guitarist Pete Townshend. Favorite Track: Who Get Fooled Again

3. Quadrophenia (1973)

 

This is it: the definitive album from The Who’s early period. It’s a rock opera that tells a coherent story from beginning to end with great songs about teenage angst (“The Real Me”) and growing up to face the real world (“The Punk and the Godfather”). Moon’s drumming is as good as it gets on “Dr. Jimmy” and “Bell Boy,” and Daltrey gives his greatest performance ever on “Love, Reign O’er Me.” It’s an album that truly stands the test of time. Favorite Track: Love reign over me

2. Face Dances (1981)

 

What makes this album so great is what it’s missing. One of the biggest tragedies in The Who’s career was the death of Keith Moon, and he’s sorely missed here as a result. But as a testament to how special Daltrey and Townshend were as a team, they’re able to make music that doesn’t need any showy drum fills. It’s surprisingly tight and cohesive given the circumstances, and it has some of Daltrey’s finest work ever, like “You Better You Bet” and “Another Tricky Day.” And even though the production isn’t as good as other Who records, Townshend sounds like he’s finally coming into his own as a solo artist. Favorite Track: Another Tricky Day

1. Who (2019)

 

If you haven’t guessed by now, the only way to experience “The Who” is through their original albums. But this one totally changes that. It features all of the band’s greatest songs in rawer, more powerful renditions than were ever available for public consumption before. “Baba O’Riley” sounds like it was taken straight from Moon’s drum kit, and “Substitute” isn’t as cheesy as it sounds here. And I’m pretty sure that Townshend is doing his own vocals on all of these tracks. It’s such a treat to hear him sing like this again.

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