The Who’s Chaotic Top of the Pops Performance: A Wild Showdown Resulting in a Lifetime Ban (1973)
via Bo / YouTube
On October 4, 1973, the UK’s long-running show, Top Of The Pops, celebrated its 500th edition. With only three channels to choose from, the show was required viewing in the nation. To mark this milestone, producer Robin Nash pulled out all the stops and booked several top artists of the time, including The Sweet, Bryan Ferry, Cliff Richard, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Lyndsey De Paul, David Cassidy and the Simon Park Orchestra. And for a fee of £100, he also booked The Who.
The Who’s new single at the time was “5:15”, from their upcoming album Quadrophenia.
However, they immediately ran into problems due to a ruling by the Musician’s Union. This ruling required that a band’s singer could lip-synch and the other musicians could mime, but only to a newly recorded version of the song’s backing track. This meant that artists were required to record a new version in the presence of representatives from both the Musicians Union and the BBC.
Pete Townshend, The Who’s guitarist, was not a fan of this ruling. In fact, he had written a column for Melody Maker three years earlier titled ‘TV miming: who is being fooled?’, where he expressed his displeasure with having to re-record his own music each time he appeared on television.
“The TOTP team feels cramped by the restrictions,” he wrote, “and artists like ourselves that spend weeks in recording studios at fantastic expense, don’t feel like going through it all again to get a plug on television.”
“I believe that my union, the Musicians’ Union, is misrepresenting me, making rules that make me have to rerecord my own music each time I appear on television with no advantages to anybody at all. Not even studios gain by this re-recording, we have our own. It’s absurd.”
View this post on Instagram
Despite their reservations, The Who adhered to the rules. On October 2nd, they went back to Ramport Studios in Battersea and taped “5:15” again.
The following day they traveled six miles north to the BBC’s Television Centre to film Top Of The Pops.
The performance started off amicably enough. However, as the song neared its end, Townshend demonstrated his displeasure in a rather dramatic fashion. He kicked over Keith Moon’s kit and tossed a cymbal into the wings before smashing his own guitar. Moon joined in on the chaos while frontman Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle continued as if nothing had happened.
Viewers watching the broadcast the following night would have been none the wiser as the BBC edited their footage so that Townshend’s offensive gestures weren’t seen.
The Who’s own footage of the event eventually emerged on their rockumentary The Kids Are Alright.
As a result of their actions, The Who received a lifetime ban from the BBC. This ban was lifted after the band’s management wrote a letter of apology. Interestingly enough, by 2007 when Daltrey and Townshend were interviewed on Later… With Jools Holland, Daltrey couldn’t even remember why they’d been banned.