When ‘The Who By Numbers’ was released, it was time for the British rock quartet to serve up a more conventional studio album, after the panoramic ambition of 1973’s ‘Quadrophenia.’ It made its debut on the Billboard 200 of October 25, 1975.
Conventional, perhaps, but certainly not average. Their seventh studio release, ‘By Numbers’ was warmly received and would produce a UK top ten (and US top 20) single early the next year in ‘Squeeze Box.’ The record featured bassist John Entwistle’s join-the-dots cover image and also contained his composition ‘Success Story,’ among nine new Pete Townshend songs such as ‘Slip Kid’ and the typically autobiographical ‘However Much I Booze.’
‘The Who By Numbers’ went on to spend two weeks at No. 8 on the American chart, compared to a UK peak of No. 7. It was in the top ten at the same time as a number of other British heavyweights. Elton John’s ‘Rock Of The Westies’ was at No. 1, while Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and George Harrison’s ‘Extra Texture’ were also riding the top ten, as was Englishman Graham Nash in partnership with David Crosby on ‘Wind On The Water.’
Townshend himself was pleasantly surprised at the critical reaction to the album. “A consummately-crafted record of fascinating depth and immediate surface appeal,” said Phonograph Record, while Sounds said it “reeks of group unity and love. Don't be fooled by deceptive first listenings. This really is a great album.”
“There's not a story line here, but there are more important unities,” wrote Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone. “Lyrical themes, musical and production style, a sense of time and place…indeed, they may have made their greatest album in the face of it. But only time will tell.” The album went on to be certified gold in December that year, and turned platinum in 1993.