Marsh, whose previous writings on rock music have been severely marred by pretentious verbiage and adolescent self-indulgence, is far more impressive here--in a massively detailed, thoughtful, critical history of the Who, with only occasional lapses into Rolling Stone-style gush or jive. Drawing on extensive interviews (especially with personal friend Pete Townshend), Marsh chronicles the group's early-1960s London beginnings, as the scruffy ""Detours""; he charts their re-named appearance as a more ambitious, theatrical band, influenced by the Beatles and Rolling Stones; he analyzes their roots in ""Mod"" culture, their development into ""the first genuinely avant-garde rock band""--violently energized by their insecurities, by the real-life tension between cerebral, experimental, big-nosed art-student Townshend and short, practical, show-bizzy Roger Daltrey. (The other band members were musicianly John Entwhistle and maniacal drummer Keith Moon.) He follows them closely through the Sixties--first recordings, celebrity via ""pirate radio,"" drug-obsession, tours, bad business deals, Townshend's eventual dominance, his growth as a Dylan-inspired songwriter--until the 1969 triumph of the rock-oratorio Tommy, ""a myth that summarizes the most transcendent aspirations of the generation Townshend had been portraying since he began writing."" (Marsh also gives credit to manager/producer Kit Lambert, who ""was able to take Townshend's thinking and drag it away from pretension."") And the focus remains intense in the Seventies: Townshend's near-breakdown and recovery; Moon's fatal decline into alcoholic self-destruction; artistic ups and downs; and the band's post-Moon survival as ""a purely commercial proposition,"" lacking in ""lyrical and musical unity"". . .with the 1979 Riverfront Coliseum tragedy as a symbol of the Who's loss of idealism. (They ""had finally become so divorced from their listeners that they had allowed themselves to participate in the greedy scheme--festival seating, one essential precondition for such a disaster to occur."") Marsh's enthusiasm for some of the Who's material may be excessive, as is his rhetoric about the generational ""dream"" the band represents. But, with song-by-song, album-by-album commentary and fairly solid use of biographical material (the pro-Townshend slant is clear yet inoffensive), this is valuable rock-music history--even if too minutely detailed for anyone but dedicated fans.