Besides the Beatles Anthology, this is my favorite rockumentary for the lack of a better word. Jeff Stein the director did a great job on this film about The Who.
Jeff was a fan of the band and pestered them until they let him do this. He had no prior experience in filmmaking but this was the 1970s and he got the gig. His timing was eerily perfect. He caught the original band at the very end of their tenure with the great Keith Moon.
He searched high and low for clips of the band in earlier years. Stein keeps the appearance mostly in order. There is sadness in this. You see the band through the years from 1964 to 1978… you see all of them gradually age of course but Keith Moon ages faster than any of them. I’ve read where it hit him hard while watching the rough cut right before he died. His drinking and drug taking had taken its toll on him. He saw a young energetic kid that looked like Paul McCartney’s younger brother to a man who was 32 and looked like he was in his 40s.
This may be the first or one of the first video bios on a major rock group. Led Zeppelin had The Song Remains the Same but it focused on one concert in New York… The Beatles had Let It Be but those films didn’t show their history like The Kids Are Alright.
It this film you see a band that is fun… unlike Zeppelin the Who were more open to their audience and didn’t have a dark mystique hanging over them. They would crack jokes from the stage and Moon treated it like a High School talent show until he started to play…then he got serious.
You see film segments that were fun like the video of Happy Jack, the interview on the Russell Harty show, Keith with Ringo, and Keith and Pete sharing a joke that only they could understand. One of my favorite segments is The Who playing Barbara Ann with Keith singing and the band having a good time. They also played I Saw Her Standing There but it didn’t make the film…you can watch it in the outtakes. I can’t imagine Zeppelin doing Barbara Ann and goofing for the camera.
The Who did a couple of live shows for the film besides being interviewed. Stein mostly used old clips but he convinced the band to do a couple of concerts where he could get a definitive version of Won’t Get Fooled Again… which personally I think is the greatest rock song live you will ever hear. You see Keith’s last performance as he is looking pudgy, older, and slower but still pulls it off. Pete wasn’t too thrilled about doing the concerts for the film but it turned out good. They ended up only using a version Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley.
Keith died a few months before The Kids Are Alright debuted. The film showed The Who at it’s best. Kenney Jones from the Faces replaced him but it was never the same. You cannot replace Moon…he was the engine that drove the Who. The only drummer that has worked well with the Who since Keith has been Keith’s Godson Zak Starkey…Ringo’s son.
I acquired a VHS copy of this in the mid-eighties. It wasn’t a great copy but my friends and I wore it out. One of them worked at a small cable station. The station was in a small county that usually aired farm reports and advertisements. Basically, it was a very small building in the middle of nowhere. All they would do there is broadcast videos.
We had the tape in hand and wanted to see it so we went there one afternoon. He popped it in the VHS player and played it. He had no idea but it was going out live. Near the end of the film, he took a phone call from his boss. I didn’t think anyone ever watched that station…but it turns out they did and they were not fans of The Who. He didn’t get fired but they took his key for the door. It was a big subject the next day at school as some teenagers loved it but their parents didn’t appreciate their videos on farming being interrupted by My Generation and Keith Moon in bondage.
This film covers the original Who and being such a Who fan I’m glad Jeff Stein was so persistent in doing this because many of the tapes he was able to borrow probably would have been erased and used again by the BBC as was their policy.