For The Who Who Are You was a huge success at a time when their place in the music industry may not have been as secure as it had once been. Pete Townshend decided that he would try to embrace new forms of music that he had previously never composed in, and he struggled to make The Who relevant in a world where the music scene was fast being taken over by the brief but brightly burning lights of disco and punk.
The stress of constant touring and Keith Moon's rapidly deteriorating physical condition would rear their heads during the recording sessions for the album, and original producer Glyn Johns would quit the project after being head-butted by an irate Roger Daltrey.
Physical conflicts aside, the title track 'Who Are You' was a blindingly energetic song that combined the pop sensibilities of The Who's melodies with biting lyrics born from Townshend's frustration with the business side of the music industry. As with other tracks on the album that complained about the state of modern radio and commercial music, 'Who Are You' dealt with losing one's identity in the face of crass consumerism. Just prior to writing the song, Townshend had undergone a grueling multi-hour negotiation session with record executive Allan Keith. Feeling drained and dejected, he ran into two members of the Sex Pistols who took him out carousing and did their best to provide him with a shoulder to lean on. Their subsequent adventures lead to the line about waking up outside a bar with a policeman letting the go if they could identify themselves.
More than just an album for The Who Who Are You also coincided with a return to the 'Lifehouse' concept that had been shelved many years earlier. The band attempted to create a sort of a sequel to the never-produced rock opera with the songs on 'Who Are You', setting the events 200 years into the future of the fictional world Townshend had created and again centering around a concert designed to free that world's inhabitants from their chains. Townshend re-wrote his screenplay to reflect the changes, but the project fell apart after conflicts with the attached director brought the film to a halt.
'Who Are You' would be the final album by The Who with Keith Moon on the drums. He died of a drug overdose mere weeks after it was released. The loss of Moon took the creative fire out of the band, and the multi-platinum status of the album did nothing to soothe their broken hearts.