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Culture Re-View: Who are the loudest bands ever?

Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who is shown performing in New York's Madison Square Garden, March 11, 1976.
Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who is shown performing in New York's Madison Square Garden, March 11, 1976. Copyright Alan Tepper/1976 AP
Copyright Alan Tepper/1976 AP
By Jonny Walfisz
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31 May 1976: The Who become the loudest band on Earth

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Roger Daltrey’s legendary howl, Pete Townshend’s shredding riffs, John Entwistle’s throbbing bass and Keith Moon’s furious drumming. It’s the ingredient list of an epic time listening to one of Britain’s most respected bands: The Who.

And on this day in 1976, the four London boys broke the sound barrier at the Valley, the football stadium for the Charlton Athletic team. Over 80,000 rock fans were in attendance when The Who performed their deafening set.

With the ear-splitting concert, The Who earned the Guinness World Record for the “Globe’s Loudest Band” at a massive 126 dB. Shortly after, the Guinness Book of World Records organisation removed the record from their books citing that they didn’t want to encourage concerts that could damage people’s hearing.

Given that, here’s a brief history of deaf-defying concerts.

The Pre-Guinness era

Before the Guinness Book of World Records appeared, there were still loud gigs. Even before electronic amplification there were some ear-splitting feats.

Some of the earliest examples of roaring concert are thanks to classical musicians stocking their orchestra with as many musicians as possible. The 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s ‘Wellington’s Victory’ featured more than 100 musicians. An astounding amount for the time.

That was small fries though when compared with Tchaikovsky’s requirements for his ‘1812 Overture’ in 1880. His musical score had the instruction “ffff” written in it. One “f” means “loud” or “forte” in musical notation. When there are four, that means “very very very loud” or “fortissississimo”. It’s all because of a key section in the piece where Tchaikovsky wants canons to fire. Some performances have had anti-aircraft guns and tanks fire during the key section.

EDWIN REICHERT/1971 AP
British rock band Deep Purple present their golden record they received here in West Berlin September 1, 1971 for the sales of their latest album "Deep Purple in Rock"EDWIN REICHERT/1971 AP

The Guinness era

For a brief moment in time, everything came together. Electric amplification was here. Rock bands were the most popular music acts in the world. And Guinness Book of World Records was taking notice.

The first band to earn the record of “Globe’s Loudest Band” was Blue Cheer. The American rock band pioneered the use of Marshall Amps – now a staple of the rock scene – in their gigs. It was a booming precedent. Blue Cheer created a new goal for testosterone-fuelled rockers from that point on.

Next, the record was taken by Deep Purple. Their 1972 gig at the London Rainbow Theatre peaked at 117 dB and caused three audience members to fall unconscious.

That record stood for just a few years before The Who’s epic 1976 set. In 1984, the book listed Manowar as the final record holder before it was officially abandoned.

AP/1976 AP
The British rock group, The Who, performs at Madison Square Garden, March 11, 1976, with Roger Daltrey on vocals, Pete Townshend on guitar and Keith Moon on Drums.AP/1976 AP

The Post-Guinness era

Just because the record went away, doesn’t mean the boys with guitars gave up. Since the 70s, there have been many claimants to being the loudest band on Earth.

First Manowar claimed they beat their own record with a 129.5 dB gig in Hanover in 1994. This was nothing when compared with the feat of English House/Electronica band Leftfield. While playing the Brixton Academy in 1996, their sound system shook the building so much, pieces of plaster fell from the ceiling.

Leftfield literally blew the roof off the Brixton Academy. In doing so, their concert recorded a terrifying loud high of 135 dB.

Never wanting to be outdone, Manowar registered a 139 dB during a soundcheck in 2008 and Kiss managed 136 dB during a Canadian performance.

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