No. 11: The Who, ‘Baba O’Riley’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
If Pete Townshend of the Who had his way, the album that bore the band’s classic anthem ‘Baba O’ Riley’ (often mistakenly referred to as ‘Teenage Wasteland’ based on the song’s famous chorus) would have sounded completely different.
Townshend originally planned to top the band’s previous project, 1969’s ‘Tommy,’ with an even more ambitious rock opera concept called ‘Lifehouse.’
Alas, like Icaraus himself, Townshend’s ambitions were too much for his grasp, and the project ground to a halt amid band dissension and a near-nervous breakdown for its chief architect.
The band reclaimed the best of the tracks for a more conventional album, and although history speaks strongly to the contrary, initially Townshend didn’t like ‘Who’s Next,’ proclaiming it a compromise:
“I felt it was making the best of what we had at the time — the whole theater project, the film idea — all those new numbers were part of a bigger scheme. And all you got in the end was the excitement and newness of the scheme reflected in the numbers,” he told Sounds magazine in August of 1972.
Regardless of his displeasure, the rock world was thrilled to hear ‘Who’s Next’ and its groundbreaking lead track, ‘Baba O’Riley’ when they were released in 1971. The opening synthesizer loop works as an immediately ear-catching hook, but it was no mere gimmick, also serving as the fundamental foundation of the song.
Townshend’s cyclic synthesizer rhythm track was considered unprecedented at the time, with his work on this future Top 100 Classic Rock Songs track pre-dating Stevie Wonder’s similar experiments by nearly a year.
How many other songs have led four generations to shout “They’re all wasted!” in unison before the band climaxes with… a smashing violin solo? Roger Daltrey’s powerful lead vocals juxtaposed beautifully with Townshend’s softer voice on the famous “Don’t cry; Don’t raise your eye” segment; together with Keith Moon’s explosive drum work and John Entwistle’s rumbling low end, it all adds up to one mammoth rock anthem.
Watch the Who Perform ‘Baba O’Riley’