The High Numbers – Zoot Suit

31st January 2024 · 1960s, 1964, Music

I always thought I Can’t Explain was the first single by The Who, and it is. But before that, in July 1964, they released this song under the band name The High Numbers.

Written by their first manager, Peter Meaden, it’s not exactly original; but it’s not meant to be. In a bid to appeal to the growing Mod audience, Meaden put new lyrics to two popular R&B songs and gave them new names.

The A-side, Zoot Suit, is a direct copy of a song called Misery by an American band called The Dynamics, and the B-side, I’m The Face, is a copy of Slim Harpo’s tune I Got Love If You Want It.

It would be the only record released under the name The High Numbers by the band started by a trio of schoolmates from Acton County Grammar School at the dawn of the Sixties.

Roger Daltrey had been expelled at 15 and formed his own band, The Detours, in 1959, playing rhythm guitar. Around the same time Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, a year below him, were playing trad jazz together.

When they left school Townshend moved on to Ealing Art College while Entwistle, also playing French horn in Middlesex Schools Symphony Orchestra, was trying to learn guitar. Defeated by his “big fingers,” he made himself a bass guitar and switched to that instrument.

Fortuitously, he and was carrying it when Daltrey spotted him in the street and recruited his old schoolmate to The Detours. Entwistle then recommended Townshend as a second guitarist, joining vocalist Colin Dawson and drummer Harry Wilson.

They played in West London, mixing trad jazz and pop covers with instrumentals by The Shadows and Ventures, but before long Daltrey, then the leader, fired Wilson and replaced him with the older, married, Doug Sandom.

Soon afterwards Dawson walked out, worn down by arguments with Daltrey, and was replaced by Gabby Connolly, before Daltrey moved to lead vocals and Townshend became the sole guitarist.

The Detours’ sound evolved under the influence of the bands they supported, including Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, whose guitarist Mick Green impressed Townshed with his ability to combine rhythm and lead guitar.

Early in 1964 they had to change their name after discovering a rival group called Johnny Devlin and the Detours and became The Who (after considering, and rejecting, ‘No One’, ‘The Group’ and ‘The Hair’ hiring themselves a new manager, Helmut Gorden.

He got them an audition for Fontana Records. The label liked the band but were unimpressed with the drumming of Sandom, who left in a huff when Townshend told him to get his act together.

His departure would be a turning point in their career because during a gig with a stand-in drummer the band met Keith Moon, who was playing in a semi-pro band called The Beachcombers and wanted to play full-time. Moon played a few songs with the group, breaking a bass drum pedal and tearing a drum skin… and got the gig.

The Who then changed managers to Peter Meaden, who renamed them The High Numbers, dressed them up in suits and ties, and came up with this single in a direct attempt to appeal to the Mods.

When it failed to reach the top 50 the band reverted to calling themselves the Who and fired him, hiring a new management duo, filmmakers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The duo shot a promo film for the band, who changed their set towards soul and Motown covers with the slogan ‘Maximum R&B’.

Their first self-penned single in their new/old guise as The Who was I Can’t Explain. It became a top ten hit, and the rest is history. But so is this.