To touch on a few points made previously.....
The Who's early style was definitely a fore-runner of punk (and metal, too), with the destruction, rebellion and "Hope I die before I get old" nihilistic mentality.
I liken the Who's place in rock history in comparison to their peers who were perhaps more famous to the 2 biggest American rental car companies -- Hertz and Avis. (Bear with me for a moment.) Hertz was always #1, but Avis used that to their advantage in their advertising campaigns, proudly trumpeting that "We try harder" because they were #2. In rock, the Who is Avis. Hertz is the Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin. (I'm leaving the Beatles out of this analogy.) The Who was never going to be 'the biggest band in the world' as long as these groups were in existence, so therefore the Who 'tried harder.' Townshend practically put himself in the nuthouse with his obsessiveness, particularly when he wrote Lifehouse, that confusing, aborted project that morphed into the Who's Next album. The Stones and Zeppelin didn't seem to stress so much about their own work, whereas Townshend was ultra-serious about the meaning of the Who's music, how relevant was it, what was the state of rock music, etc.
Speaking of Who's Next, while it's generally considered to be the Who's masterpiece among LPs (and I agree), I tend to see it as being uneven -- and I think this is due to the fact that most of it came from a broken project. Fairly or not, I always end up comparing this album to what the Stones and Zeppelin were doing circa 71/72 (LZ IV, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street), and the Who falls just short. The two anthems that bookend the album, Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, are (deservedly) still staples of rock radio. And while I admire the musical innovation that Townshend was introducing with the synthesizers, and acknowledge that they are truly great rock songs, they don't 'hit' me the way that Four Sticks or Misty Mountain Hop (from Led Zep IV) do, or any number of the less anthemic songs from Exile. Behind Blue Eyes is my favorite song on the album, and I like Getting in Tune and Love Ain't For Keeping. Bargain is pretty good, and I used to hate My Wife until I understood the lyrics and appreciated the song's humor. I like Going Mobile, too. But Song is Over is too long, too slow, too maudlin. Whenever I hear it, I want the song to be over.
Anybody have any comments on The Kids are Alright (the documentary movie, not the song)? This movie made me a Who fan instantly.
Where do you all rank Townshend among guitarists? Top 10, top 50, overrated?