40 Years Ago: The Who Releases ‘It’s Hard’
It was 40 years ago Sunday (September 4th, 1982) that the Who released their final studio album for 24 years, the ill-fated, It’s Hard. The album, which followed Pete Townshend‘s stint in rehab for alcohol, cocaine, and heroin abuse, also came after the completion of Townshend’s third solo album, the critically acclaimed, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. For the first time in the band’s history, Townshend actually pooled Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Kenney Jones over what subjects they were interested in before he wrote the material, with global concerns topping the list. Who producer-engineer Glyn Johns was back behind the boards for the first time since 1978’s Who Are You.
The album’s lead single, “Athena” peaked at a disappointing Number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, although the Who did perform seven of the 12 tracks from It’s Hard over the course of its 1982 Farewell Tour — “Athena” was only played 10 times during the 42-date trek, and was dropped entirely from the second leg of the tour. Roger Daltrey admitted to us that he was never a fan of how “Athena” turned out on record — or in concert: “No, I never liked that song. It’s a great record. I think what happened with that song, it was originally called ‘Teresa’ and then Pete was talking to me about Nick Roeg’s girlfriend (Theresa Russell) and how he fancied her, and that song was written about her — but then it changed into ‘She’s a bomb’ and I think I’ve got a psychological problem with it. I listened to it on the record the other day, and it’s a great record; there’s so much energy on that thing but I still don’t think there’s a center to that song. The fact that he changed the title in that and didn’t stick to what it was supposed to be lost its center to me.”
Pete Townshend told us why after the 1982 tour he decided to finally put the brakes on the Who as an ongoing, permanent recording and touring outfit: “It had almost destroyed me. It had destroyed one of the members of our band, the whole machine around the Who. I actually felt by the time we hit 1982, that there was no point really trying again, because what we would do would be a shadow of what we’d done before.”
Roger Daltrey told us that despite never being happy with Kenney Jones as the Who’s drummer, the two were actually quite close: “I actually got on very well with Kenney, I just didn’t feel ever that he was the right drummer. . . And people didn’t ever seem to listen to what I was saying. They’d say ‘Well Kenny’s a great drummer!’ And I’d say ‘Yes, I know Kenney’s a great drummer, but he’s not the right drummer!’ (Laughs) He’s a great drummer! Could you imagine putting Keith Moon in the Faces — would he have been the right drummer for the Faces? Of course he wouldn’t.”
Kenney Jones holds no grudge against Roger Daltrey for forcing him out of the band prior to the band’s 1989 25th anniversary reunion tour. Despite Daltrey commenting over the years that Jones was never right for the Who, Jones is quick to point out that he was Townshend and Entwistle’s ultimate choice as Keith Moon‘s immediate replacement: “I think, to be honest, it was a confusing time for him and it was a confusing time for everybody. But, as Pete says, I had the support of Pete and John. I know I fitted, anyways — not a problem. It’s just, y’know, you can’t fit in in two seconds flat, you have to find your way around it. Now, obviously I found my way around it. The hardest thing I found when joining the Who, was not actually playing in the Who, it was actually learning the songs in the Who and trying to find my way of playing them.”
Despite Who fans regarding tracks like “Eminence Front,” “Cry If You Want,” and “I’ve Known No War” as minor masterpieces, Townshend told us that he stopped writing songs for the Who after It’s Hard because he felt that he could never match their greatest work: “When the Who stopped making records in 1982, I felt that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt that what the Who had done was triumphant, huge, innovative, groundbreaking, massive, unsurpassable, and that there was no reason at all, no way that I could ever come close again.”
The Who’s It’s Hard was released on September 4th, 1982 and peaked at Number Eight on the Billboard 200 — four spots lower than 1981’s Face Dances collection. In Britain, It’s Hard just missed the Top 10, going so high as Number 11.
Although never a consistent seller or radio favorite, It’s Hard was certified Gold in November 1982, and proved to have some legs on the airwaves at the time, with “Athena” hitting Number 28 on the Hot 100 and Number Three on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart — where the album found its greatest success, with “Cry If You Want” reaching Number 34, the John Entwistle-written “Dangerous” peaking at Number 38, “It’s Hard” squeaking into the list’s Top 40 at Number 39, and “Eminence Front” topping out with a Number 68 placing on the Hot 100. The tune remains the only song from It’s Hard that has remained a standard in the Who’s nightly setlists.
Back in April, in celebration of Record Store Day the Who reissued It’s Hard. The now-double album release includes a half speed master of the album along with rare and unreleased material, including the Roger Daltrey vocal version of “Eminence Front.”