The True Meanings Behind The Who's Most Famous Songs

While many of their hits may tell a story that listeners easily grasp on to, a few of them contain hidden meanings.

May 21, 2019
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The Who have produced countless hits throughout their career that've turned into generational anthems. While many of their hits may tell a story that listeners easily grasp on to, a few of them contain hidden meanings.

Related: Roger Daltrey Calls Out Fans For Smoking Pot At The Who Concert

Below are five Who songs that have interesting stories beneath their lyrical surfaces. 

Baba O'Riley

Often mistakenly cited as "Teenage Wasteland," Pete Townshend references The Who's classic was written in response to "the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock" where people ironically took it as celebration of teenage recklessness.

However, Roger Daltrey indicates the song's meaning stretches across generations. “‘Teenage Wasteland’ speaks to generation after generation. The bridge – ‘Don’t cry / Don’t raise your eye / It’s only teenage wasteland’ – if that doesn’t say more about the new generation, I don’t know what does,” Daltrey told Big Issue.

Eminence Front

The song laments about greed and excess wealth, but Pete Townshend doesn't recall exactly who or what it's in reference to. "It's clearly about the absurdity of drug-fueled grandiosity, but whether I was pointing the finger at myself or at the cocaine dealers of Miami Beach is hard to recall," he once told Rolling Stone.

My Generation

The song is often associated with teenage angst towards the older generations and finding one's place in society. While this is true, the song was written in response to Pete Townshend's getting his car towed. Townshend lived near Buckingham Palace at the time and owned a 1935 Packard Hearse. Townshend claims the Queen Mother had the car towed off the street because her husband had been buried in a similar vehicle and it reminded her of it.

Substitute

On the surface it appears to be a song about affection. However, The Who penned the track in response to the media's claims that they were a poor man's substitute for the Rolling Stones. This was something Townshend mocked during the song saying (via Rolling Stone), "It was written as a spoof of '19th Nervous Breakdown.' On the demo, I sang with an affected Jagger-like accent."

Who Are You

The song was written by Pete Townshend about an incident where he met Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols after a lengthy encounter with record executive Allen Klein. Townshend got drunk after negotating finances with Klein and met Jones and Cook who were big fans of The Who. After worrying that the band The Who had sold out and were finished, Townshend passed out in a Soho Street where he was woken up by a police officer giving him a choice to go home and sleep if he can get up and walk away, or sleep in a jail cell. Townshend famously shouts back, "Who the f--k are you?"