Tommy: The Movie premiered March 18, 1975. The rock critics who had championed The Who from the mid 1960’s loathed the new movie version but the public loved it. It was a box-office smash, sent the soundtrack album higher up the U.S. charts than the original and made The Who, and especially singer, now actor, Roger, international stars.
Despite all the success, Pete was in a state of depression. Reaching the then-dreaded age of 30, an avant-guardist fully accepted into the mainstream, head of a band that had turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise, Pete ached for a new music revolution that would stop the juggernaut. The songs he wrote for the next album, The Who By Numbers, were mostly a savage destruction of himself and the meaning of the music he had championed.
The vitriol spilled over into an interview which led to sniping between Pete and Roger in the press. However, it seemed to clear the air and, starting October 4, 1975, The Who began a full year of on-and-off touring that yielded some of the best performances of the band’s career. Fans noticed, however, that very little of the new album was performed with show after show concentrating mostly on old hits. The touring ended October 21, 1976 in Toronto. No one could have guessed it would be the last public concert by the original Who.
While The Who were away, Pete’s long-awaited rock revolution occurred in England. A new style, punk rock, came into fashion with the rise of The Sex Pistols and a hundred more bands came in their wake, all with a sound not unlike that of the early Who. Nevertheless, these bands were dedicated to throwing out all the old bands of the 1960’s, declaring them to be jet-setting, pretentious decadents.
Pete ran into two members of the Sex Pistols after spending a day negotiating the end of his publishing contracts with his former managers and receiving a big cheque for his troubles. Convinced that all for which the Who had fought boiled down to nothing but money, a drunken Pete harangued the Pistols about how the Who were now washed up and The Pistols had to carry the banner from here on. From this, a new song emerged, "Who Are You," that would become the title track for a new album.
The Who regrouped that July, not only to discuss the album, but to film sequences for a new Who documentary, The Kids Are Alright, being shot by American Who fan Jeff Stein. Keith returned from tax exile in California bloated and sluggish, obviously deteriorating from his runaway lifestyle.
A performance was staged for the film in Kilburn December 14, 1977 that was so poor it could not be used. Pete threatened Keith that if he did not clean up and improve, he would be out of the band. A chastened Keith promised to try. A better take of the concert was shot at Shepperton Studios in London May 25, 1978. It would be the last performance anywhere by The Who with Keith Moon.
The new album, Who Are You, came out August 18 and was a hit despite an elaborate style far removed from the spare sounds of punk rock. Luck, however, ran out for the band when Keith Moon died September 7, the cause an overdose of Hemineverin, a medicine prescribed to treat his addictions.
Twenty-four hours after Keith’s death, Pete announced that he and the other members of the band had decided to continue with a new drummer.
Kenney Jones won the coveted seat. A former member of The Small Faces and The Faces and a bona fide Mod, he had the history to connect with the band on top of his successful audition during the recording of the Tommy soundtrack.
Also joining this new Who on stage was American keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and a brass section, all included not just to recreate more of The Who’s extensive catalog live, but also to reduce the band’s volume level that was irritating Pete’s tinnitus from which he’d suffered for the last few years.
Ecstatic notices from fans and most critics greeted the new Who at their first performance at the Rainbow Theatre, London May 2. Shortly afterwards The Who premiered two new movies at the Cannes Film Festival, The Kids Are Alright and a dramatization of Quadrophenia. Neither film did well at the box office but garnered good reviews and the latter became a cult movie thanks to a revival of Mod in England.
A five-night stand at Madison Square Garden in September led to a triumphant North American tour starting November 30. However, bad luck struck again December 3 when a crowd shoving into Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati crushed and suffocated those near the two doors that were open. Eleven fans died and many more were left injured. The Who were not told until after the show and, despite being in shock, the band decided to go on with the tour.