Top 10 Pete Townshend Lyrics
You’d have to be deaf (and perhaps, dumb and blind) to be unaware that Pete Townshend is one of the all-time great songwriters in rock – which makes narrowing down his best lyrics a tricky task. Also consider that the man behind the majority of the Who’s music is known to think big. His genius is rarely contained in a single line, but unravels over the course of story songs, multi-part epics, concept albums and full-on rock operas.
Still, Pete’s incisive insight is responsible for miles of brilliant lyrics, whether they are observations of the world at large or inward reflections on the nature of love. So, from pithy prose to philosophical poetry, here are the Top 10 Pete Townshend Lyrics.
‘Long Live Rock’
“We were the first band to vomit in the bar / And find the distance to the stage too far”
Never mind the Top 10 Pete Townshend Lyrics, we could have done Pete’s Top 10 Self-Deprecating Lyrics and had plenty to choose from. ‘Long Live Rock’ is both a celebration and an excoriation of the rock business – made clear by Pete’s sarcastic pride of his band’s “achievements.” It’s important to note that Townshend wrote this song a full 10 years before ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ in which another band finds “the distance to the stage too far.”
‘I’ve Had Enough’
“You were under the impression / That when you were walking forwards / You’d end up further onward / But things ain’t quite that simple”
‘I’ve Had Enough’ closes the first half of ‘Quadrophenia’ and depicts the main character, Jimmy, coming apart. The song’s opening line gets to the core of Jimmy’s rude awakening as he comes of age. The sentiment also seems to apply to some of the songs Townshend wrote for the abandoned ‘Lifehouse’ project. Forward movement isn’t necessarily synonymous with progress.
‘Let My Love Open the Door’
“Love can cure your problem / You’re so lucky I’m around / Let my love open the door to your heart”
Pete’s Top 10 solo hit was perceived as a boy-girl love song when it hit the airwaves, but the songwriter has repeatedly explained that he had something slightly greater in mind when he penned it. Townshend conceived ‘Let My Love Open the Door’ as coming from a divine presence whose love was the answer to any mortal problem – hence the final lines of the last verse. His glass might have been empty, but Pete’s heart was full.
“I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth”
The Who concert staple was inspired by the Rolling Stones (Pete felt the Who were a substitute for the Stones in some fans’ eyes) and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (who employed the word “substitute” in a line of ‘The Tracks of My Tears’). In the song’s lyrics, Pete got to have a little fun with replacements of lesser quality – including this indelible line in which he switched out a silver spoon for a plastic one. It’s much more memorable than having Roger Daltrey sing, “I grew up poor.”
“There’s a million ways to laugh / And everyone’s a path”
Pete Townshend always seemed to be part punk, part hippie. For this Who hit (one of three non-album singles that were written for ‘Lifehouse’), he showed his sunnier side. For someone who wrote very negatively about groupthink, Pete focused on how music can serve as a positive force for inclusivity on ‘Join Together.’ Seeking to share a laugh with those around you, regardless of “what you read or wear,” ain’t a bad way of looking at the world.
“I don’t need to fight / To prove I’m right / I don’t need to be forgiven“
There aren’t that many words in ‘Baba O’Riley,’ but Pete made each one of them count. As part of ‘Lifehouse’ (for which it was conceived), the song was sung by a farmer named Ray before he and his family made their exodus to London. Because ‘Lifehouse’ never came to be, most people are unaware of the song’s larger story, not that it had an adverse effect on ‘Baba.’ Words such as the ones above instead served as a defiant statement of empowerment from the Who.
“No one respects the flame quite like the fool who’s badly burned”
Pete gets philosophical in this line from ‘Slit Skirts,’ which found him (and other people of his generation) waking up from the ’70s to find themselves middle aged. The lyric, which could have been found in a fortune cookie, might have something to do with Pete’s struggles with substance abuse. Earlier, he sings that he had been “wandering in a haze.” Perhaps only those who lived through addiction could have such a deep understanding of the power of drugs and alcohol.
‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss“
Pete struck out at revolution for the sake of revolution in this ‘Who’s Next’ epic (also originally intended for ‘Lifehouse’). Coming on the heels of ’60s idealism must have made ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ sound even harsher. Sure, the song is cynical, but it also serves as a clarion call to stay appropriately wary of the powers that be. The point is made unmistakably clear in the final line – a non-negotiable entry in the Top 10 Pete Townshend Lyrics.
‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’
“Listening to you, I get the music / Gazing at you, I get the heat / Following you, I climb the mountain / I get excitement at your feet”
The closing minutes of ‘Tommy’ are as sublime as any moment that exists in the Who cannon. Daltrey certainly deserves some of the credit for his delivery, but Townshend’s words are simple, beautiful and life-affirming. After the rebellion against Tommy and his camp in the early part of the song, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ finishes with a gorgeous coda, a humble moment of humanity that ends the rock opera on a hopeful note.
“I hope I die before I get old“
You couldn’t have a Top 10 Pete Townshend Lyrics list without this gem, which the songwriter lived long enough to have thrown back in his face every single time he has to do interviews for a new Who tour. Townshend has claimed that he equated “old” with “very rich” when he wrote the lyric, not that it really changes things for ol’ Pete, given how many Who songs have been in commercials, movies, TV shows, video games, etc. Regardless of that dichotomy, it’s one of the great, sneering statements in rock and roll history. In a single line, it encapsulates of all the angsty, brazen stupidity of the young, hip kids who’d rather jump off a cliff than turn into their parents. What happens later in life is (almost) irrelevant; this is a snapshot of brutal youth. Long live Pete Townshend!