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By 1966, The Who had broken through with “My Generation,” which nearly topped the UK charts the previous year. After “Substitute” also cracked the top five in March ’66, the band had the momentum it had been searching for in the early years.

But that didn’t mean The Who was a cohesive unit by any means. The ugly brawl between Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Earlier that year, everyone in the band was looking for a way out. (Moon nearly started Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page then.)

After Pete Townshend hit Moon in the face with a guitar on stage in May ’66, it seemed like a genuine miracle The Who didn’t dissolve after its first LP. But the band somehow persevered and finished their second record in the fall.

In a year that saw the release of Pet Sounds and Revolver, The Who’s new album became a commercial and critical hit in the UK. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney was among those who stopped Townshend to congratulate him.

Townshend recalled McCartney’s high praise for ‘A Quick One’

1966: The Beatles perform ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer’ on BBC TV show ‘Top Of The Pops’ in London. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

Unlike My Generation (1965), Townshend didn’t completely dominate the songwriting credits on A Quick One, the Who’s second LP. Along with two tracks written by Moon, bassist John Entwistle came through with his enduring “Boris the Spider” and also “Whiskey Man.”

Packed together with a cover of the Martha and the Vandellas hit “Heat Wave,” A Quick One came off like something of a grab-bag of an album. However, the mini-opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away” stood out from the other tracks.

Later, The Who would use it as an explosive number for live performances. But when it went out on A Quick One it wowed critics and peers of the band alike. In Pretend You’re in a War, Mark Blake reproduces some of the glowing reviews of the record in rock magazines of the day.

Blake also mentions McCartney’s reaction as A Quick One shot up the UK charts. Townshend said he saw the Beatle during this period and that Macca was “really raving over the album.”

McCartney also said The Beatles were ‘working toward’ their own mini-opera

The Who pose together on the set of the Rolling Stones ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ at Intertel TV Studio in Wembley, London on 11th December 1968. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

After praising the record as a whole, Townshend said McCartney pointed specifically to the Who’s mini-opera. Townshend recalled him saying that “A Quick One While He’s Away” was “exactly the sort of thing The Beatles were working towards.”

Though The Beatles didn’t go all the way through with a concept album in their next release, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band certainly showed the influence of the Beach Boys, The Who, and other bands of the era.

The following year, when The Who released The Who Sell Out and the “I Can See For Miles” single, the group once again caught McCartney’s attention. When he wrote “Helter Skelter,” McCartney said he wanted to top the raucousness of “I Can See For Miles.”

Townshend and The Who would use “A Quick One While He’s Away” when they wanted to “leave a wound” on a particular scene. An opportunity came in ’68 while filming the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. Many believe the concert film went unreleased because The Who upstaged the Stones with “A Quick One” during the event.

Also see: Why Jimmy Page Played Guitar on The Who’s First Hit Single