Updated Apr. 24, 2023

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January 1981

New music releases: "In The Air Tonight" - Phil Collins; Paradise Theatre - Styx; Captured - Journey; "Being with You" - Smokey Robinson

On the 4th, ITV Britain airs highlights from The Concerts For Kampuchea that took place at the end of 1979. The Who are shown performing "Sister Disco," "Behind Blue Eyes" and "See Me Feel Me."

Waiting For A Friend 45

Another single from Roger's McVicar soundtrack, "Waiting for a Friend" backed with "Bitter and Twisted," is released in the U.S. It does not reach the charts.

Shaun Cassidy So Sad About Us

Shaun Cassidy, accompanied by Todd Rundgren and Utopia, releases a single cover of "So Sad About Us" in the U.S.

The Who Melody Maker Jan. 1981

On the 17th, Paulo Hewitt of Melody Maker reports on having spent a day with The Who who are rehearsing for their upcoming British tour. The band gives the impression that it is an almost boring routine.

Late in the month, Roger's son Jamie is born.

The Who Leicester Jan 1981

On the 25th, The Who open their Face Dances tour at Leicester Granby Hall. This year's set features little of The Who's 60s repertoire with new additions "The Quiet One," "Don't Let Go The Coat," "You Better You Bet," "Another Tricky Day," and "Twist and Shout." Another major difference is inspired by John's girlfriend Maxene who convinces him to go on stage with his natural dark-blond hair undyed. The tour continues at Sheffield City Hall (26th), and two nights at Cornwall Coliseum in St. Austell (30th, 31st).

February 1981

New music releases: Face Value - Phil Collins; Moving Pictures - Rush; Feels So Right - Alabama; "Jessie's Girl" - Rick Springfield
Pete Townshend Rainbox 1981
Photo: Ross Halfin

Starting on the 3rd, The Who play two nights at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The two hastily scheduled shows are a benefit for Erin Pizzey's Chiswick Family Rescue Organization and were requested by Pete's wife Karen. At the first show, Pete drinks four bottles of brandy on stage, improvises songs and long guitar solos without informing the other band members and stops the show to harangue the crowd.

John Entwistle 1981 UK tour
Photo: Ross Halfin

Amazingly the U.K. tour continues after this with Pete better behaved but often noticeably drunk on stage. The next show is at the Brighton Centre (7th) followed by two nights at the Lewisham Odeon (8th and 9th), two nights at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow (14th and 15th), two nights at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh (19th and 20th), two nights at the City Hall in Newcastle (24th and 25th) and the Deeside Leisure Centre near Queensferry (28th).

Backstage, the night of the 8th, Pete is visited by Ringo Starr's son and daughter Zak and Lee Starkey. Zak is quite inebriated and Pete "in spite of my own excesses" gives Zak a scolding.

You Better You Bet picture sleeve

On the 27th, the first Who single recorded after Keith Moon's death, "You Better You Bet," is released in the U.K. The b-side is John's song "The Quiet One." It reaches #9 on the charts.

March 1981

New music releases: Secret Combination - Randy Crawford; Fancy Free - The Oak Ridge Boys; "Bette Davis Eyes" - Kim Carnes; "Elvira" - The Oak Ridge Boys
The Who Manchester 1981
Photo: Kevin Cummins

The U.K. Face Dances tour continues at the Manchester Apollo (1st-2nd) with opening band The Ruts.

Captain Crash flyer

On the 4th, previews are held at Richmond's in Hollywood, California for the long-forgotten Flash Fearless musical on which John and Keith Moon worked in 1974. The title is changed to Captain Crash versus the Zzorgwomen Chapters 5 & 6. It receives negative notices and quickly closes.

Also on the 4th, The Who record their last appearance on BBC1's Top Of The Pops miming to "You Better You Bet." It airs the following evening.

On the 5th, The Who start three straight nights at The NEC Arena in Birmingham.

Face Dances LP

On the 6th, The Who's first post-Keith Moon album of all-new material Face Dances is released in Europe. The U.S. release follows on the 20th. Gavin Martin in the NME blasts the album for its "vaguely depressing and directionless lyrics and stodgy, re-hashed music." The U.S. reviews are more reserved but certainly unenthusiastic with most critics noting the album's shortcomings. However, The Who's new label, Warner Brothers, puts all its muscle behind the album with copious publicity, driving it to #2 in the U.K. charts and #4 in the U.S. Billboard charts, #3 in the Cash Box charts.

On the 7th, Roger and Kenney Jones appear on the British television children's show Tiswas in a segment called "Compost Corner" portraying flowers, dressed in green leotards with petals framing their faces.

Pete, meanwhile, is on Parkinson. His father, Cliff, sits in with the house band and Pete joins him on guitar.

The Who Wembley 1981
Photo: Brian Rasic

On the 9th, The Who begin two nights at Wembley Arena in London.

On the 11th, a luncheon party for the artists who contributed to the cover of Face Dances is held at Searcy's in Knightsbridge. The Who discuss their portraits with some of the great talents of 1960's and 1970's British art. Afterward the assembled pieces of the cover are moved to the Tate Gallery.

On the 14th, The Who start the first of two nights at the Gaumont Cinema in Southampton followed by Poole's Centre for the Arts on the 16th. This concludes The Who's last large U.K. tour until 2000.

After the tour, Pete is scheduled to begin recording the album that would eventually be dubbed All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. He is presented with a distraction when Eric Clapton is hospitalized in St. Paul, Minnesota with a perforated ulcer during his U.S. tour. Pete flies out to give him a cheering up.

Creem magazine prints a consumer's guide to guitar heroes and ranks Pete at #3.

Also around this time, Direct Disc Labs releases the Who Are You album in the U.S. as a "Super Disc" half-speed master.

Moon The Loon paperback

Also at this time, "Dougal" Butler's memoir Moon The Loon in published in the U.K.

You Better You Bet picture sleeve

On the 21st, "You Better You Bet" hits the U.S. charts. It ultimately peaks at #18 in the Billboard charts and #15 in Cash Box. One later record industry book claims that the single was not played as much as it should have been on U.S. radio stations due to Warner Brothers' refusal to shell out payola money. "The Quiet One" is the B-side.

On the 28th, The Who play a one-off concert at the Grughalle in Essen, Germany. The performance is shot and recorded, eventually being broadcast on Rockpalast in Germany, The Old Grey Whistle Test in the U.K. and even on Polish television. Rehearsals for this show are also filmed. The Grateful Dead perform after The Who and Pete comes out to jam with them. The Who were scheduled to continue for a full European tour after this date but it is cancelled, perhaps because of concern over Pete's descent into alcohol, drugs and erratic behavior.

Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea LP

On the 30th, the double LP Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea, collected from the December 1979 concerts at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, is released in the U.S. The Who make up side one of the disc but the set starts with Pete's accidentally out-of-tune performance on "Baba O'Riley." It reaches #36 on the Billboard charts. The U.K. release follows on 3rd April reaching #39. The album is one of the few Who releases never to have a legitimate release on CD.

On the 31st, the BPI in London awards a silver disc for Face Dances.

April 1981

New music releases: Don't Say No - Billy Squier; "You Make My Dreams" - Daryl Hall & John Oates; Chariots Of Fire - Vangelis; Fair Warning - Van Halen
Pete Townshend Mick Jagger 1981
Photo: David McGough

With the 1981 U.K. tour over and an announced European tour cancelled, The Who go their separate ways. Roger and his family travel to Miami for vacation, John returns to work on his solo album and Pete travels to New York to make demos for his next solo album. While there he joins The Rolling Stones who are finishing their album Tattoo You, laying some guitar on the track "Slave."

Warner Brothers (U.S.) and Polydor (U.K.) release a 2-disc promo album of Who interviews and music called Filling In The Gaps.

Kit Lambert Obit

Kit Lambert, The Who's former manager and producer, is by this time living on charity that he spends mostly on heroin and alcohol. On the evening of the 5th, he shows up at his mother's house bloody and broke saying he had been beaten by four men in the lavatory of a gay bar. His mother gets him to go to bed but later that night he falls downstairs suffering a brain hemorrhage. He dies on the morning of the 7th at the age of 45, nine days short of reaching exactly the same age his father, composer Constant Lambert, reached before he died. Kit is cremated on the 29th and his ashes taken to Golders Green where Keith Moon's ashes had been interred two and a half years before. Pete flies back from New York shortly after hearing the news and begins to prepare a memorial service for Kit to be held on May 11th. He will write of his reaction to Kit's death in the short story "Pancho and The Baron".

John Entwistle NME Apr 1981

On the 11th, John has a long interview in the New Musical Express. A famous quote from the interview: "I like playing heavy metal, I just can't stand listening to it...the same way some people like the smell of their own farts but don't like smelling anyone else's."

Don't Let Go The Coat picture sleeve

On the 24th, the second single from The Who's Face Dances album is released in Europe. "Don't Let Go The Coat" backed with "You" peaks at #47 on the British charts.

May 1981

New music releases: Long Distance Voyager - The Moody Blues; Hard Promises - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; Present Arms - UB40; "Slow Hand" - The Pointer Sisters

On the 5th, John completes the recording of his solo LP Too Late The Hero at Ramport Studios, London.

On the 11th, Pete and Chris Stamp attend a memorial service for The Who's late manager Kit Lambert at St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden. It would have been his 46th birthday and was almost exactly 30 years after the memorial service was held for his father Constant at the same church. Pete arranges for the London Symphony Orchestra to perform selections from Tommy and Kit's favorite piece, Purcell's "The Gordian Knot Untied." Pete also delivers one of the eulogies. None of the other members of The Who attend.

Kit Lambert in The Star

During this month, Anette Walter-Lax tells the story of being Keith Moon's girlfriend in the last years of his life in a British tabloid. Another tabloid, The Star runs a series written and sold to them by Kit Lambert immediately prior to his death called "Kit Lambert: King of The Who".

Terry Rawlins sends Pete an advance script for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner to entice Pete to compose the soundtrack. Pete turns it down due to commitments recording his solo album.

Pete records a demo called "Driftin' Blues" at his home in Thames Valley. It is released in 1987 on his album Another Scoop.

Face Dances US Gold Award
Courtesy: thewhocollection.com

On the 20th, The RIAA certifies Face Dances as reaching gold record status.

Who manager Bill Curbishley holds a Face Dances post-mortem with The Who during this month. Roger confesses that he cannot bear to work with Kenney Jones anymore and blames him for the primary problem with the album, a lack of fire. Kenney defends himself by blaming Pete, saying Pete kept all the good songs for his solo album Empty Glass. John puts the blame on producer Bill Szymczyk and his piecemeal recording process. Pete disagrees with John's opinion of Szymczyk's work and, typically for Pete, puts the blame on himself saying the problem was that his songs were inappropriate for the band. Roger disagrees, saying he thought the songs were great. The main takeaway from the discussion is that no one in the band agrees on what went wrong with the album and there is now an unresolved animus between Roger and Kenney that will poison the rest of Kenney's time with The Who.

On the 22nd, The Jam release the single "Funeral Pyre." The b-side is a cover of The Who's "Disguises" in a version modeled after Pete's demo.

Phases box set

On the 23rd, Germany's Polydor releases Phases, the first box set retrospective of The Who consisting of My Generation, A Quick One, The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Live At Leeds, Who's Next, Quadrophenia, The Who By Numbers and Who Are You. The records have the original album sleeves and insert materials (except for the psychedelic poster for The Who Sell Out) and generally feature high-quality sound.

Pete Townshend at Brockwell Park
Photo: Nick Hider

On the 30th, Pete plays a solo show at Brockwell Park in Brixton in support of a march against unemployment in Britain. He performs "A Little Is Enough" (twice due to bad PA mix), "Cats In The Cupboard," "Big Boss Man," "Substitute," "Corrina Corrina," "Body Language," "Join Together" and "Let My Love Open The Door." He is accompanied by Neil Abbott (guitar), Peter Hope-Evans (harmonica), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Tony Butler (bass). Jim Capaldi comes out to do vocals for "Substitute."

June 1981

New music releases: Duran Duran - Duran Duran; "Endless Love" - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie; Love Songs - Cliff Richard; Breakin' Away - Al Jarreau;

On the 8th, Pete joins Springsteen on stage during the encore of Bruce's set in Birmingham, England. He adds guitar to "Born To Run" (with Pete playing lead), a Mitch Ryder medley, "Shake" and "Sweet Soul Music."

On the 9th, Pete takes Bruce to see the up-and-coming Irish band U2 at the Hammersmith Palais in London.

On the 14th, John is a guest on the Robert Klein Radio Show.

Bundrick 1981 Interview

Pete begins two months of work on his second solo album for Atlantic Records. During this month he goes into Oceanic Studios and records a rehearsal version of "It's In Ya" with John "Rabbit" Bundrick, Peter Hope-Evans, Tony Butler, Mark Brzezcki and Jody Linscott that is later released on Scoop 3. Around this time there is an incident with Rabbit getting violent while drunk. He is fired from The Who, missing the 1982 album and tour.

Sometime during this summer Roger sets up a professional trout farm.

Don't Let Go The Coat US 45

On the 27th, The Who's "Don't Let Go The Coat" backed with "You" hits the U.S. charts. It peaks at #84 in Billboard, #77 in Cash Box.

July 1981

New music releases: Escape - Journey; 4 - Foreigner; Bella Donna - Stevie Nicks; "Tainted Love" - Soft Cell
Dutch Best of Roger Daltrey

On the 11th, Roger's best-of collection The Best of Roger Daltrey enters the Dutch charts where it will peak at #29.

Pete Townshend 1981 letter

Many stories begin to circulate about Pete's drinking, drug use and deteriorating health. In response, Pete writes a letter on the 30th for publication in the Who's News fanzine denying that he is ill, has marital problems, has given up on Meher Baba or is an alcoholic. The final lines are: "I still get upset when I hear people talking about me 'killing' myself. That won't happen unless by accident." In truth, everyone around him is horrified by his lifestyle and afraid he will soon join Keith Moon in the afterlife.

August 1981

New music releases: Tattoo You - The Rolling Stones; Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be) - Willie Nelson; The Innocent Age - Dan Fogelberg; Never Too Much - Luther Vandross
Rolling Stone Sept 3 1981

John Entwistle is interviewed in Rolling Stone. He talks about Too Late The Hero, explains why he doesn't like Face Dances and says the only Who album he listens to a great deal is Live At Leeds.

Tattoo You LP

On the 24th, The Rolling Stones' album Tattoo You is released. It features Pete on backing vocals on the track "Slave".

Solo deal for Entwistle

On the 29th, Music & Video Week reports that John has recently signed a solo deal with WEA in New York. The deal covers release of his forthcoming Too Late the Hero LP

September 1981

New music releases: Strait Country - George Strait; Nine Tonight - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band; Songs In The Attic - Billy Joel; Abacab - Genesis
Club For Heroes

Early in the month Pete nearly dies at The Club for Heroes, a trendy nightspot where the elite old guard meet the new synth bands ruling the pop charts. Partying with Paul Weller and Steve Strange, Pete goes to the bathroom and accepts an injection of heroin. He quickly passes out and is deposited in his car by the club's bouncer. Pete's driver quickly realizes that something is terribly wrong and races Pete to the hospital by which time he has stopped breathing and has a weak pulse. The doctors revive him, narrowly averting Pete dying almost to the day of the third anniversary of Keith Moon's death.

On the 18th, Face Dances is certified platinum by the RIAA.

The Who 1981 Billboard supplement

On the 19th, Billboard magazine publishes a massive advertising section dedicated to The Who with messages from labels, management and even Paul and Linda McCartney.

On the 24th, Pete writes to Who manager Bill Curbishley saying he needs time off. Bill writes back the next day: "I feel it is definitely for the best, and I think you need a complete break of two or three months. Some sailing, tennis, sunshine wouldn't go amiss, and no dope, booze or [nighclubbing]. No London or New York and most of all you have to mean it."

October 1981

New music releases: Greatest Hits - Queen; "Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey; "Under Pressure" - Queen and David Bowie; Ghost in the Machine - The Police

On the 6th, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is murdered by Islamic extremists. Roger later says that he records his solo song "Treachery" on that date.

Too Late the Hero

On the 10th, John's Too Late The Hero LP enters the U.S. charts. It peaks at #71 becoming the only John solo record to hit the Top One Hundred in the U.S. Along with the LP, John also releases the single "Too Late The Hero" backed with "I'm Coming Back" in the U.K. In the U.S. "Dancing Master" is the flip side. A video for the song "Too Late The Hero" is also shot and appears on MTV at this time.

Pete later reveals that at this time he put the recording of his second solo album for Atlantic, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, on hiatus. He said he was unable to concentrate on recording due to his worsening problems with drugs and alcohol.

The Who fanzine Who's News breaks the news that John "Rabbit" Bundrick will no longer be touring with The Who but does not explain why.

Pete, his current girlfriend and his parents travel to Paris where Pete works on the recording of Elton John's LP Jump Up. While there he becomes publicly sick while dining at the Hotel Georges V. On his return to London Pete goes into delirium tremens while drinking in a pub.

Holligans LP

On the 17th, MCA's new cash-in on The Who's back catalog, Hooligans, hits the U.S. charts. It contains the first U.S. LP releases of "Let's See Action," "Join Together", and "Relay" and peaks at #52. There is also a single, "Had Enough"/"Bargain", pulled from this LP released in Canada.

November 1981

New music releases: Business As Usual - Men At Work; Memories - Barbra Streisand; For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) - AC/DC; "Down Under" - Men At Work

Pete puts himself into a hypnotherapy clinic for five days in an effort to overcome his drug and alcohol addictions. Also during this month, a doctor prescribes the anti-anxiety drug Ativan. Pete becomes addicted to that as well.

In reaction to MCA's Who compilation album Hooligans, Ira Robbins lists his idea of an ideal Who compilation album in Trouser Press.

Too Late the Hero UK LP

On the 23rd, John's solo album Too Late The Hero is released in the U.K.. It does not chart there.

December 1981

New music releases: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts; The Best of Manhattan Transfer - Manhattan Transfer; O Holy Night - Luciano Pavarotti; Hits...Hits...Hits - Manhattan Transfer
Talk Dirty ad

On the 5th, Billboard carries an ad for John's 2nd single from his solo album Too Late The Hero, "Talk Dirty"/"Try Me". The A-side gets more airplay there than the album's title track but still does not reach the Billboard charts.

Pete resumes work on his LP All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. To add to his own personal miseries, he also begins smoking crack cocaine.

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