Top Ten Songs by the Who

In the midst of The Who’s worldwide tour and their first studio album since 1982, it is most certainly time to look at their greatest songs. With dozens of songs given regular radio play on classic rock stations and wide exposure as the music to television ads, The Who remain a strong rock presence four decades after their first hits. This list of top ten songs is one man’s opinion and may not reflect the popularity of songs, but in compiling this list I looked at song craft, “rockability” (certainly an intangible trait), and how often I have had these songs stuck in my head.

1. Baba O’Riley- Mistakenly called “Teenage Wasteland” by the millions who hear this song on the radio, “O’Riley” was an experiment by Pete Townsend in using synthesizers as a means of creating rhythm instead of as a lead instrument. The song title mixes the last name of Meher Baba, Townshend’s guru, and the last name of Terry Riley, whose musical experimentation influenced Townshend in his solo work. This song is great because it mixes Townshend’s interest in sweeping experimental numbers with Roger Daltrey’s powerful voice. The ending, a combination of Townshend guitar riffs and the violent playing of a fiddle, epitomizes why The Who’s music has endured for almost four decades.

2. Magic Bus- “Magic Bus” captures the spirit of the 1960s and 1970s environments in which The Who came up as musicians. A solid rock song with a hard edge around the whimsical subject material, “Magic Bus” has been used in car commercials and has become synonymous with care free cross country trips.

3. Christmas- While songs below “Christmas” on this list may be more popular, this entry from the rock opera “Tommy” is one of the most underrated in The Who’s music catalog. This song takes place early in the theatrical and movie version of “Tommy” and captures both the crass way in which Tommy’s stepfather sees the prodigy and the hopelessness and despair deep in his mother’s soul. While songs like “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me…” are better known, “Christmas” truly captures the underlying premise of “Tommy.”

4. Long Live Rock- How can a rock fan dislike a song celebrating rock and roll? The Who sing to all of those fans of rock music that need to hear screeching guitars, pounding drums, and bellowing lead singers to the point of addiction. “Long Live Rock” will always be one of the better songs by The Who because of this timeless value.

5. You Better You Bet- “You Better…” is just an infectious song, with Roger Daltrey’s voice getting raspier with every additional recitation of “You Better!” While the lyrics may not be the best crafted in The Who’s vast catalog of songs, this is a song that stays in your head long after you hear it and makes you want to put it on repeat on your iPod.

6. My Generation- This is the line in the sand for the early Who members, who scream at their parents’ and grandparents’ generation that they simply don’t get their devotion to rocking, living freely, and setting their own direction in life. “My Generation” is one of the most obvious songs dealing with The Who’s upbringing in post-World War II Great Britain, with an obvious frustration at the caution and conservatism within their culture. The line “I hope I die before I get old…” alone captures the youth culture that flocked to The Who in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

7. Won’t Get Fooled Again- “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a great Who song which has also been used in commercials and as the theme song to one of the popular “CSI” series. Roger Daltrey seems to let loose more in this song, with a great scream toward the end of the song before the line “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” one of his best all time screams. This is saying a lot, considering Daltrey uses his voice like an instrument, as deftly as Pete Townshend wields his guitar or Keith Moon navigated his drum set before smashing it.

8. Who Are You- “Who Are You” has become increasingly popular over the last decade because of its use in a number of commercials, as well as its usage as the theme song to the original “CSI” series. This song is just powerful and is one of the best rock songs ever, with a great performance by Pete Townshend on guitars and a great use of Roger Daltrey’s vocal range to make “Who Are You” one of the more memorable Who song.

9. Pinball Wizard- “Pinball Wizard” is an up-tempo, fast rocking song that transitions from the early despair of the pinball prodigy Tommy to the problems of fame that he later encounters. In the movie version of “Tommy,” Elton John gives a great performance as the aging pinball prodigy who has to abdicate his throne to the oblivious youngster. “Pinball Wizard” shows The Who’s ability to take something as ridiculous as a prolific, disabled pinball ace into something to marvel at and enjoy.

10. Behind Blue Eyes- Roger Daltrey slows it down a bit in “Behind Blue Eyes,” singing about the frustrations of being misunderstood and without a true friend. “Behind Blue Eyes” is not as strong a rock song as other performances on this list, but it isn’t always about the tempo or the number of guitar solos but how well the song is crafted. “Behind Blue Eyes” is a well-written song that is consistently performed by The Who on tour.

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