When it came time to record Who Are You, The Who was a mess. It had been three years since the band had released an album, 1975's The Who by Numbers, the group was falling apart, and drummer Keith Moon was slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs.
Working with producers Glyn Johns and Jon Astley, The Who meandered during the recording sessions, spending more time hanging out and drinking than making music. Moon's substance abuse had taken a serious toll on his drumming abilities, leading Pete Townsend to the verge of kicking him out of the group. Singer Roger Daltrey was sidelined for a while after throat surgery, and Townsend had to take time off to recover from a serious cut on his hand, sustained during a fight with his folks. Things got so heated during the recording sessions that Daltrey punched Glyn Johns in the face so hard that the producer was knocked out cold.
While the band was struggling internally, punk rock and disco had grabbed the attention of music fans around the world, making The Who's stadium rock seem dated and even worse, old. The group responded by leaning into radio-ready rock and roll, even taking a swipe at dance music with the song "Sister Disco."
The Who released the results of the drama, Who Are You, on August 18, 1978. The record arrived front-loaded with the title track, which had already been released in July of that year. The tune charged up the charts to peak at #14 on the Hot 100 for the week of November 4, 1979. The #1 song in America that week: Anne Murray's "You Needed Me."
The album connected with rock fans, as tracks like "Sister Disco" and "New Song" got plenty of burn on FM radio across the country. Who Are You rocked the Billboard 200 all the way to #2 for the week of October 21, 1978. While it held the #2 spot for a couple of weeks, it was never able to crack #1 due to the overwhelming popularity of the Grease movie soundtrack that year.
Not even a month after the record was released, tragedy struck The Who hard when Keith Moon died of a drug overdose on September 7, 1978, at the young age of just 32 years old.