Roger Daltrey is known as one of rock’s greatest singers. For over 50 years, the Who frontman has brought the words and music of the band’s principal songwriter, Pete Townshend, to life.
From the defiant stutter of “My Generation” to the complex characters portrayed in rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, Daltrey does so much more than simply sing the songs: he inhabits them.
Although he experimented with songwriting early on with the Who, Daltrey ultimately left it to Townshend (with John Entwistle also chipping in), concentrating instead on his singing.
His skill at interpreting a song resulted in a reasonably prolific solo career, which began in 1973 and has produced eight albums to date, as well as various collaborations with other artists.
The majority of Daltrey’s output, along with that of his bandmates, is probably only familiar to devoted Who fans. This is mainly because the band always remained his number-one priority with his solo endeavors being seen as a way of filling the time in between Who engagements.
But there are plenty of great songs in his catalog that deserve more attention, and which feature some of the best vocal performances of his career. Here are 10 of them.
1) “Giving It All Away,” Daltrey (1973)
Daltrey’s debut solo album was recorded during a quiet period for the Who. Its first single, written by a then-unknown Leo Sayer, reached #5 on the UK chart, giving Daltrey his biggest solo hit to date. He performed it on The Old Grey Whistle Test and later as a duet with Sayer (who released his own version) on his TV show in 1984.
It may have been a departure from what Who fans were used to, but it proved popular and paved the way for further experimentation with musical styles on his subsequent albums.
2) “Oceans Away,” Ride a Rock Horse (1975)
This piano-led song, from Daltrey’s second album, showcases his voice at its very best as he moves effortlessly between softness in the verses and power in the chorus. As with so much of his solo material, it demonstrates his versatility and gives listeners a chance to hear him do something a little bit different from his work with the Who.
Gene Pitney recorded his own version of the song, and while it too is lovely, there’s just something special about Daltrey’s rendition.
3) “Proud,” Ride a Rock Horse (1975)
Another highlight from Ride a Rock Horse, written by Russ Ballard (who also produced the album), “Proud” has a soulful feel, complete with brass, backing vocals, and guitar and piano groove.
Daltrey’s voice absolutely soars on this track. He sounds every inch the rock god, brimming with confidence and swagger. It’s a fine example of just how much he developed as a vocalist in the first decade of his career.
4) “Free Me,” McVicar (1980)
After taking on the lead role in the 1975 film adaptation of Tommy, Daltrey pursued a successful side career in acting. This led to him portraying convicted criminal John McVicar in the 1980 film McVicar, and recording a soundtrack album of the same name.
Perhaps its best remembered song is “Free Me,” which features in the film’s opening titles as McVicar is being led to prison. It’s another excellent performance from Daltrey, and you can hear the anguish in his voice throughout.
5) “Without Your Love,” McVicar (1980)
A rare, tender love song from Daltrey, this ballad also features as part of the McVicar soundtrack, as the protagonist reflects on the importance of his family. We hear a softer side of Daltrey’s voice, accompanied by acoustic guitar.
This song was a big hit in the Netherlands, where it reached #2 in the charts. I saw him perform it during a solo show in Dublin in 2011, and it was a very nice surprise.
6) “Walking in My Sleep,” Parting Should Be Painless (1984)
Daltrey’s first solo release since the Who originally decided to call it a day, Parting Should Be Painless contained songs which conveyed the frustrations he felt at the break-up of his beloved band. It was poorly received, but did yield the hit single “Walking in My Sleep,” one of the album’s better moments.
Although it has been dismissed as ’80s rock at its cheesiest, I’ve always liked it. So much, in fact, that I’m willing to overlook Roger’s questionable ’80s hairdo.
7) “After the Fire,” Under a Raging Moon (1985)
This is possibly Daltrey’s best remembered solo hit, probably due in part to the fact that it was written by Pete Townshend. The Who were originally supposed to perform it as part of their Live Aid set, but the idea was abandoned due to lack of rehearsal time, and it was handed over to Daltrey to record for his new album.
The lyrics are unmistakably Townshend, and Daltrey once again manages to really get inside the song and convey every last ounce of emotion.
8) “Under a Raging Moon,” Under a Raging Moon (1985)
Written as a tribute to the Who’s much-missed drummer Keith Moon, the title track of Daltrey’s sixth album is just as energetic and full-on as Moon himself was, while at the same time lamenting the fact that “it ended all too soon.”
A grand total of seven drummers feature on the song, including Stewart Copeland, Roger Taylor, Carl Palmer, and Zak Starkey. Starkey, of course, later went on to become the Who’s touring drummer.
9) “Blues Man’s Road,” Rocks in the Head (1992)
Rocks in the Head is undoubtedly one of Daltrey’s strongest albums, yet it slipped under the radar due to lack of promotion. It also marked a return to songwriting for him.
He received a co-writing credit on the majority of the album’s tracks, including this one, a storming rocker which pays tribute to his love of the blues. This is the kind of music he clearly relishes singing, and it suits him perfectly.
10) “Going Back Home,” Going Back Home (2014)
Daltrey’s friendship with Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson resulted in a collaborative album in 2014, allowing Daltrey to return to his R&B roots. The title track is one of the album’s most enjoyable moments, and he certainly does sound very much at home.
Although his voice is quite different than Lee Brilleaux’s on the Dr. Feelgood original, it works wonders with Johnson’s highly energetic guitar style. It sounds like two guys having fun playing the music they love, and isn’t that what it’s all about?