Welcome back to another list for Top “Ten” Tuesday continuing my most ambitious list so far. Last week was Pete Townshend’s 75th birthday, and I wanted to do something special for it which led to me creating a Top 50 songs by The Who. If you missed out on last week, check this list out first, that covers the first half #50-#26.
This list continues the theme and goes from #25-#1. With the brief introduction out of the way, let’s get started!
#25-Young Man Blues-Live at Leeds
My only live song to be included on the list, Live at Leeds is one of the most iconic live albums and this song is my favorite from the album. It was originally written by Mose Allison back in 1957 for his debut album, Black Country Suite. The Who covered this song during live sets as early as 1964, but it became a regular inclusion between 1968-1970 with this version being the most heard version. The intro of the song reminds me of a Zeppelin style, reminding me a lot of “Bring It On Home”. It’s an immediate rocker with a great guitar riff.
#24-It’s Hard-It’s Hard
This song was released as the third and final vinyl single from the album in 1983 backed with the John Entwistle written song, “Dangerous” but it didn’t chart, although it did reach #39 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. The song would become the last Who single until “Real Good Looking Boy” in 2004 and the last album single by them, and the last album single by them until “Black Widow’s Eyes” (see #50), two years later. The song is catchy with Tim Gorman playing synthesizer. The song was originally going to be released on Face Dances in the form of a demo called “Popular” but it wasn’t completed in time. The music of “Popular” was later re-written and the lyrics slightly altered and the song became known as “It’s Hard”.
#23-The Kids Are Alright-My Generation
I first heard this song in a collection of ‘60s songs to bring hype to a Beatles tribute concert. I didn’t know who performed this song (no pun intended) until my dad told me. I really enjoyed this song with an almost Beatles-esque sound to it, or at least an early British Invasion sound. It was released as a single six months after the release of their debut album and along with the album’s title track, became an anthem for the Mod subculture of England in the 1960s and later became the name of a documentary for the band in 1979.
This is one of the most depressing Christmas songs. Listen to the lyrics, “but Tommy doesn’t know what day it is, he doesn’t know who Jesus was or what praying is, how can he be saved from the eternal grave?” In context to the album, Tommy’s father is concerned about Tommy’s condition of being deaf, dumb (mute), and blind and fears Tommy’s salvation. The song also includes the motif of “Tommy can you hear me?” Repeated not only multiple times in the song, but also repeated throughout the album. This song is also the first time we hear Tommy respond with “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me”. While Tommy’s life is rather somber at this point in his life, the song also introduces to Tommy the magic of pinball, which will come into play later in the album and story.
This is a great atmospheric song. The song starts off with great synthesizer that leads into hard hits on the piano while acoustic guitar backs it. The main highlight is the constant back and forth of the voices in the left and right channel, causing you to shift focus from one speaker to the other, or one headphone/earbud to the other. The lyrics are quite dark and have been seen as hateful, “just like the lesbians and queers” for example. The synthesizer comes back and brings the song to an end, but not before briefly hearing “The Kids Are Alright” that gets interrupted by Roger asking, “is it me, for a moment?” This is one of the songs on the album that is supposed to represent a member of The Who, Roger Daltrey in this case, as well as one of the four personalities that the main character Jimmy has. The liner notes describe this side of Jimmy’s personality as “A tough guy, a helpless dancer.”
This was a single released in 1972, backed with “Relay” and since then appeared on numerous live and compilation albums. This was one of many songs that came from the abandoned Lifehouse idea. Many of the songs from that abandoned project made up their 1971 album, Who’s Next, but this song didn’t make the cut. It was released the following year. The intro was created by Pete Townshend using an ARP synthesizer which he also used on “Who Are You?” Roger Daltrey said in an interview with Uncut Magazine, “I remember when Pete came up with ‘Join Together,’ he literally wrote it the night before we recorded it. I quite like it as a single, it’s got a good energy to it. But at that time I was still very doubtful about bringing in the synthesizer. I just felt that with a lot of songs we’d end up spending so much time creating these piddly one-note noises that it would’ve been better just doing it on a guitar. I mean, I’m a guitar man. I love the guitar; to me it’s the perfect rock instrument. I don’t think Pete did much with those sequencing things that he couldn’t have done on the guitar anyway.”
#19-Squeeze Box-The Who By Numbers
This is one of The Who’s most popular songs, peaking at #10 on the UK Singles Chart and #16 in on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was also their only international #1 hit reaching #1 in Canada and #2 on the Irish singles chart. The song is unique with country-like elements, seen in Townshend’s guitar finger picking and banjo solo. A squeezebox is a slang for an accordion, however the lyrics are often interpreted to have a double meaning, consisting of a sexual innuendo, although both Pete Townshend and John Entwistle deny such claims. Roger Daltrey, however acknowledges the double meaning.
#18-Sister Disco-Who Are You
This song is the fourth song from their 1978 album. The lyrics seem to mourn the death of disco, although it could be construed as a criticism to it. The lyrics are confusing to many people including Roger Daltrey who said, “I really like ‘Sister Disco’ but I don’t necessarily understand what he’s saying. I do understand what he’s trying to say but I don’t know whether it comes off. It was a song about getting too old for discos and that whole line that Pete sings, ‘Goodbye Sister Disco, I go where the music fits my soul,’ is kind of operatic; it’s a bit pompous. That’s why I personally didn’t sing that line because I can’t…when Pete sings it he’s got enough kind of tongue-in-cheek quality to get away with it and it works, but if I sang it, it would be a total disaster.” Pete Townshend said, “It’s got nothing to do with disco at all! It’s only a series of lines put together. The chorus ‘Goodbye Sister Disco, now I go where the music fits my soul’…that is not an indictment of disco music. I like a lot of disco music; I even like discos. It’s to do with saying goodbye to, I think, a sort of self-conscious poseur kind of thing The Who had been for such a long time.” The accompanying music consists of complicated synthesizer tracks that are the result of Townshend programming an ARP 2600 synthesizer which is, in my opinion, the song’s highlight.
#17-My Generation-The Who
Hold on, “My Generation” is as low as #17 on this list? That’s basically blasphemy! I know, I was surprised to put this song so low on my list. This is one of the The Who’s most recognizable songs ranking at #11 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #13 on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll. It is deserving all those high spots on lists, there is a lot working for this song. The song has been characterized as a “nod to the Mod counterculture”. The tone of the song and the lyrics are acknowledged as inspiration to the punk rock movement and has one of the most quoted lines in rock history, “I hope I die before I get old”. The song also features Roger Daltrey stuttering throughout the song, suggested by Townshend, to give the illusion the singer is on some sort of amphetamine. The lyric of “Why don’t you all fff…fade away!” however was a “happy accident” as Shel Talmy describes. Roger Daltrey commented that he had not rehearsed the song prior to recording, and was nervous, unable to hear his own voice through the monitors. The stutter came about as he tried to fit the lyrics to the music the best he could, and the band decided it worked well enough to keep. The song also features one of the first bass solos in rock history, with Entwistle playing on his Fender Jazz Blues, rather than his Danelectro bass he wanted to use.
#16-Eminence Front-It’s Hard
This song is the album’s sixth song. As a single, it reached #68 on the Billboard Hot 100. Roger Daltrey describes this song as the only song on the album he felt was worthy of being released. In the song, Townshend sings about the delusions and drug use of the wealthy and hedonistic. Townshend has introduced the song in live performances with, “This song is about what happens when you take too much white powder, it’s called ‘Eminence Front.’” The synthesizer is catchy in this song as well as a possible timing flaw or a syncopation in the first chorus where Townshend sings “behind an eminence front” while at the same time Daltrey sings
“it’s an eminence front”.
#15-We’re Not Gonna Take It-Tommy
This is the final song of the 1969 rock opera. The song can be split into two sections, the first one is the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” section. The interesting thing with song is according Townshend, the song was not originally intended for the Tommy storyline, he instead was inspired by the people’s reaction to politics. The song was eventually put to the Tommy storyline as Tommy explains what he wants his followers to do. The chorus the first time is just a whisper, as if only a few followers “aren’t gonna take it” however once Tommy throws in the idea of an Uncle Ernie, then the chorus is full volume “We’re not gonna take it”
The second half of the song includes the “See Me, Feel Me” motif we’ve heard throughout the album as well as the return of the “Listening to you” that we heard on “Go to the Mirror” (see #7). After his followers revolt against and beat him according to the movie (and kill his mother and step father in the process), Tommy withdraws back into himself. This section has been released as a single reaching #20 in the US.
#14-I Can’t Explain-Single
This song is one of The Who’s first singles released in December 1964 in the US, the first with The Who’s name but the second overall single with “Zoot Suit/“I’m the Face” released under the name The High Numbers. In the liner notes, Townshend noted the similarity to The Kinks’ song “All Day and All of the Night”. The song originally had a young Jimmy Page (of Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin) playing rhythm guitar however, his contribution to the song didn’t make the final cut. Jimmy Page said, “I was on ‘I Can’t Explain’, just playing rhythm guitar in the background, but the main riff, was all Pete… He was roaring, man.” Daltrey claims in his autobiography that Page was playing lead guitar.
#13-A Quick One, While He’s Away-A Quick One
This is the title track to the band’s second album released in 1966. Pete Townshend said this nine-minute epic track is a “mini-opera” and introduces it as “Tommy’s parents”. The song is notable for six distinct movements. The first segment has a brief harmonizing a cappella called “Her Man’s Gone.” The segment segment, “The Crying Town” is sung by Daltrey in an atypical low register. Daltrey continues singing into the third section, “We Have a Remedy”.
The fourth section “Ivor the Engine Driver” is sang by John Entwistle. The fifth section turns the song into a western sounding piece called “Soon Be Home”. The final section “You Are Forgiven” is sung by Pete Townshend, his only vocal on the whole album, except a small part of “Heat Wave”.
#12-Overture/It’s a Boy-Tommy
This is a great mostly instrumental track. The only lyrics are”Captain Walker didn’t come home/His unborn child will never know him/Believe him missing with a number of men/Don’t expect to see him again”. This is the opening track of the rock opera where Tommy’s father goes missing and believed to be dead, it was released as the B-side to the “See Me, Feel Me” titled “Overture from Tommy”. The overture incorporates musical elements from many of the other songs from Tommy. It can be broken down like this…
0:00-:34-Adapted from “1921”
0:35-1:01-Adapted from “We’re Not Gonna Take It
1:02-1:35-Adapted from “Go to the Mirror!”
1:36-1:52-Adapted from “See Me, Feel Me”
1:53-2:20-Adapted from “Go the the mirror!” with “Pinball Wizard”
2:21-2:58-Adapted from “Listening to You”
2:59-3:22-Adapted from “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
3:22-3:50-Adapted from “Pinball Wizard”
3:50-5:21-Adapted from “Amazing Journey”
The mostly instrumental track leads into the second track called “It’s a Boy” which as the title of the song suggests, it’s Tommy’s birth. Captain Walker’s widow gives birth to a son, “It’s a boy, Mrs. Walker, it’s a boy”.
#11-Behind Blue Eyes-Who’s Next
This is a great song originally written for the Lifehouse project, and became one of their best known songs. The song originated after a concert on June 9, 1970. Following the performance, Townshend became tempted by a female groupie, but he instead went back to his room alone, possibly as a result of Meher Baba’s teachings. When he got to his room, he began writing a prayer, the first words being “When my fist clenches, crack it open…” These words later appeared as lyrics in the second section of the song.
The first part of the song is a great acoustic section with bass guitar and ethereal harmonies added in the background. The second half of the song jumps into a great rock anthem, before going back to the quieter first theme. Songs written in alternating sections were a feature of Townshend’s writing of the period, especially when looking at many songs from Tommy. The song was backed with “My Wife” in the US and “Going Mobile” in Europe, and reached #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #24 on Cashbox, a music industry trade magazine.
#10-Who Are You-Who Are You
This song is the title track to their 1978 album, the last album to feature Keith Moon on drums who passes away just a few weeks after the album’s release. The single was released as a double-A side with John Entwistle’s “Had Enough”. The lyrics were inspired by an incident Townshend experienced. After going out drinking with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols, Townshend was found in a “Soho doorway” by a policeman, who let him go if he could safely walk away. Despite two instances of the “f” word, the song has been played frequently in its entirety on rock radio stations, the single edit changes the lyrics slightly replacing the lyrics with “Who the hell are you” instead. During the song’s middle section the song gets quiet with some great piano played by Rod Argent. The song is one of The Who’s most popular songs, most famously used as the theme song for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Probably the most popular song from the 1969 rock opera. It was released as single which reached #4 in the UK and #19 in the US Billboard Hot 100. The pinball they sang in “Christmas” has come full circle with Tommy becoming a master at the pinball. The song is told from the perspective of a pinball champion called “local lad” who is wondering how this deaf, dumb, and blind boy can be so good at pinball. Despite the song’s popularity, it was the very last song written for the album. Before the album was released, they played a rough assembly to critic Nik Cohn, who gave a lukewarm response to it. Townshend asked Cohn what they should do to improve on the album. Cohn concluded that to lighten the load of the rock opera’s heavy spiritual overtones, that Tommy should be good something, like a game. Townshend suggested Tommy should play pinball, Cohn immediately declared the album a masterpiece. “Pinball Wizard” was immediately written and recorded for the album.
We will be talking about Tommy for a while, there’s a lot of great songs on the album, like this one. This was released as a single in Australia with “Go to the Mirror!” (see #7) and backed with with “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” in Europe and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” in America. The song has a great middle section with an awesome bass solo. As the song ends, there is a brief reprise of the acoustic guitar from “Pinball Wizard”. The song tells of Tommy’s vision to spiritually enlighten others due to his sudden and immense popularity. The movie rearranges the order of the songs and immediately has the song after Tommy gets his sight and hearing back rather than after after Tommy has become a celebrity.
#7-Go to the Mirror-Tommy
The last song I’ll be talking about from Tommy. The song follows Tommy’s parents discovering a doctor that can possibly cure Tommy’s condition and they will see him tomorrow. The beginning of the song has a great riff. The doctor explains that Tommy’s condition is all psychological and that no test will work. Tommy has to want to change. The song gets interrupted by Tommy saying, “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” There is a demand of “Got to the mirror boy!” The song also includes the “Listening to you” segment, the first time on the album we hear this theme that returns in the album’s final track. The song is often described as one of the most important songs from of the album, as this song is the turning point where Tommy starts his healing. The song was also included on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll. The doctor in the movie was played by Jack Nicholson, and shortened the song in the movie, removing both the “listening to you” and “Go to the mirror, boy” segments.
#6-I Can See For Miles-The Who Sell Out
This was the only song from the album released as a single and remains one of their biggest songs. It initially hit #72 on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 14, 1967, and later became their only song to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 at #9 on November 25, 1967. The song was recorded in several separate sessions in studios across two continents and exemplifies the increasingly sophisticated studio techniques of rock bands in the late 1960s. Townshend wrote the song in 1966 but held on to it believing it would be his “ace in the hole” believing it would be the band’s first #1 single. He is quoted saying, “To me it was the ultimate Who record, yet it didn’t sell. I spat on the British record buyer.” The song is credited to have inspired The Beatles song “Helter Skelter”. Paul McCartney recalls writing “Helter Skelter” after reading a review of The Who Sell Out in which the critic claimed that “I Can See for Miles” was the “heaviest” song they have ever heard>. McCartney not heard the song but wrote “Helter Skelter” in an attempt to make an even “heavier” song than the one praised in the review.
This is the third track from The Who’s second rock opera and is the first of two instrumentals on the album, and I love both of the instrumental equally. The title is derived from “quad” meaning four, and possibly “schizophrenia” although the main character Jimmy doesn’t suffer from schizophrenia, rather suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The track has some great synthesizer, with the best part about 4 minutes in, which is a motif that continues throughout many songs on the album. The instrumental track is often seen as an overture hinting at Jimmy’s multiple personalties, although I feel this is explored in more detail in our #4 pick.
This instrumental track starts with Doctor Jimmy which contains the “Is It Me?” and is cited as John’s theme. The character has hit rock bottom, due to drugs and alcohol. The liner notes explain this personality to be “the romantic, is it me for a moment?” Doctor Jimmy is a great song but the best part is the last minute and a half that the piano builds up and the synthesizer builds up. So many sound effects coming together acting as, in my opinion, the greatest song transition of all time (although Pink Floyd transitions are on par with it).
The Rock is an amazing instrumental track that incorporates elements from all the band member’s themes. It incorporates themes from John’s “Doctor Jimmy”, Roger’s theme “Helpless Dancer” complete with hard piano notes, Keith’s theme “Bell Boy”, and of course Pete’s theme “Love Reign O’er Me”. The track ends with with a loud crash of thunder followed by the sound of rain that finishes off the piece leading into the album’s final track.
#3-Won’t Get Fooled Again-Who’s Next
This piece was written as a closing number for the Lifehouse project, and the lyrics criticize revolution and power. The main character, Bobby is killed and the “universal chord” is sounded. The main characters disappear, leaving behind the government and army, who are left to bully each other. Townshend described the song as one “that screams defiance at those who feel any cause is better than no cause”. It became the closing track to the 1971 album, Who’s Next. The single reached #9 on the UK charts and #15 on the US charts. The song has great synthesizer that starts off the song from Pete playing an ARP 2500.
Toward the end of the song, the song gets quiet with just the synthesizer. Keith Moon carefully synchronizes his drum playing with the synthesizer. Townshend played a 1959 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins hollow body guitar fed through an Edwards volume pedal to a Fender Bandmaster amp. This combination became his main electric guitar recording setup for subsequent albums. Although it was intended as a demo recording, the end result sounded so good that it became the final take. The song starts gearing up for the song’s conclusion building up to Roger Daltrey’s scream, one of the best screams in rock history bringing the song back to full rocker before the music closes out the song and album.
#2-Baba O’Riley-Who’s Next
This is often referred to as “Teenage Wasteland” due to the chorus of the song. The title comes from the names of Meher Baba and Terry Riley, two of Townshend’s philosophical and musical mentors. This was another song written for Lifehouse. In the story, a Scottish farmer named Ray would have sung the song at the beginning as he gathered his wife Sally and his two children to begin their exodus to London. When Lifehouse was scrapped, eight of the songs were salvaged and recorded for the 1971 album, with this song as the opening track. The synthesizer that starts the song came from Townshend wanting to input the vital signs and personality of Meher Baba into a synthesizer, which would generate music based on that data. While that idea fell through, Townshend instead recorded a Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ using its marimba repeat feature as the backing track. The song was derived from a nine-minute demo, which the band reconstructed. It was initially 30 minutes in length, but was edited down to the “hight points” of the track. The other parts of the song appeared on the third disc of Townshend’s Lifehouse Chronicles as “Baba M1 (O’Riley’s 1st Movement 1971)” and “Baba M2 (2nd Movement Part 1 1971)”. For many years, this would’ve been my favorite Who song, but there’s one that I like just slightly more than that.
#1-Love Reign O’er Me-Quadrophenia
This is the final track off the 1973 album. The song starts off with rain and piano that increases in speed before slowing down again. The piano segment leads into the Quadrophenia motif that is heard throughout the album. The lyrics are about Jimmy having a personal crisis. He has nothing left to live for, he finds a spiritual redemption in pouring rain. Townshend describes, “[It] refers to Meher Baba’s one time comment that rain was a blessing from God; that thunder was God’s Voice. It’s another plea to drown, only this time in the rain. Jimmy goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it’s over and he goes back to town he’ll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he’s moved up a level. He’s weak still, but there’s a strength in that weakness. He’s in danger of maturing.” Daltrey’s vocals have been widely praised like Mark Deming of Allmusic saying, “Quadrophenia captured him at the very peak of his powers, and ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’ is one moment where his golden-haired rock-god persona truly works and gives this song all the force it fully deserves.” The song ends Roger screaming “Love!” while the rest of the music builds up. Moon’s drums shine at the end with cymbals clashing as one last chord closes out the song, an epic end to an epic song.
Since this is a Top 50 list, there are no honorable mentions, but there were still plenty of great songs I could’ve included. What did you think of my list? Do you agree with my picks? Would you rearrange the order? What songs would you include on your list? Share some of them in the comments below. If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to follow Awesome Albums on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and subscribe on YouTube and BitChute for music related videos. Lastly, don’t forget to come back next Tuesday for another list of Top “Ten” Tuesday.