I was a late bloomer when it came to listening to The Who. I didn’t become truly interested in the band until high school but when it hit me it hit me hard and now I’m doing this list. I’d heard most of Who’s Next but my first copy, which was burned from somewhere was always messed up so I was always too frustrated to finish it. To this day whenever I hear the songs “This Song is Over” and “Getting in Tune” I just keep waiting for the tracks to start skipping. So my education of The Who primarily came from two other places. The first was the 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright and the second was the massive Who box set I got for christmas The Who: 30 Years of Maximum R&B. No doubt an unorthodox introduction to the band but it gave me a great deal of respect for the group’s entire body of work. From that box set I heard dozens of Who b-sides and rarities that most people probably aren’t familiar with, so I like to think I have fairly good knowledge of the group’s music library, let’s begin.
10. Pinball Wizard
Any song that The Defenestrators have ever covered automatically has a place in my heart. I was always amazed when playing this song how much it accomplishes in just barely three minutes. You have that almost heroic intro followed by all out rock with such prowess and finesse.
9. Success Story
I wanted to have at least one John Entwistle song represented and this one just edges out My Wife for my favorite Entwistle number. It’s your standard Who rocker with Roger and John singing about the path to becoming a rockstar. The attitude is fun, cheeky, and I loved it’s inclusion in the scene in Kids Are Alright when John goes out to shoot his golden records.
8. The Seeker
I think this and “PInball Wizard” more or less cement Pete Townshend as the best or at least most unique rhythm guitar player in rock. Don’t get me wrong he can solo when he needs to, but the way he chugs along and bangs out chords is so expressive. “The Seeker” acts as a nice transition from the slightly more pop oriented Who of the late 60s to the hard rock of the early 70s, at least that’s the vibe I always get and I like it.
7. Eminence Front
It’s funny, Roger Daltrey often refers to this song as the only song off of it’s Hard that’s any good and he’s probably right. This song is the kind of slick that embodies 80s cool, like Don Johnson cool. Listening to it I can imagine cruising through the city late at night or maybe just playing San Andreas. But the real question is why hasn’t this song been used as the theme to a stupid cop show yet?
6. Long Live Rock
A lot of my love for The Who can be traced to the first time I saw The Kids Are Alright and if I recall correctly this song closed the film. Rock messages don’t get much simpler or better than a line like “Long Live Rock” and rock this song does. Pete takes the verse and Roger comes in screeching on the choruses to give an extra boost of pep. There’s not much to it, simply The Who doing what they do best.
5. Blue Red and Grey
I didn’t realize how much I apparently liked Pete Townshend’s singing voice until I made this list, but seeing that he came in four times must mean he has some sort of magnetic pull towards my brain. It doesn’t get much sweeter than a song like “Blue, Red, and Grey” featuring Pete on ukulele and accompanied by a warm brass section. The presentation is gentle and beautifully optimistic with the repeating lyric “I like every minute of the day.” This is one of The Who’s most underrated slow songs on an album (1975’s The Who By Numbers) that I’ve always felt was equally underrated.
4. Zoot Suit
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know this one it does require some explanation. Technically this was recorded by The Who while they were still known as The High Numbers. Maybe that’s controversial but this is still the same Who. I mean they only had that name for like a month and it’s all the same members and everything. I also think it’s important to recognize The Who’s “Mod Phase” as an important part of the group’s musical history. It was from this era that a great deal of the inspiration for Quadrophenia came.
Such a pleasing melody and tuneful guitar part, I like to think this song could have been a more popular track had it not been about deodorant, but I guess that’s what The Who Sell Out was all about. I love the quirky concept behind that album and this my favorite of many offbeat gems from that record. Not only is it catchy but it’s a funny little song as well.
2. Baba O’Riley
I still don’t really understand how Pete Townshend managed to create such an awesome synth intro or whatever that is exactly. What I do know about that intro is that it is the greatest sound I have ever heard. That weird synth thing alone would nab it a spot on this list even if the song was only thirty seconds long, but wait there’s more! Roger Daltrey delivers some of his most passionate vocals as the backing instruments just build and build until it reaches that uproarious ending.
1. The Real Me
I don’t think I have a favorite Who song really, but I have no problem putting this one at the front of the pack because it seems to embody everything that’s awesome about The Who. Rhythmically it has to be my favorite Who performance, definitely one of the most energetic. Keith’s drum fills are fuckin’ insane! It’s like he’s been possessed by some kind of drum playing demon, and that bass part moves up and down the neck at such break neck pace, it’s masterful! Of course Roger is in fine form as he howls along and Pete energetically bangs out chords. It’s a song that’s surprisingly catchy considering how loose and jam based the instrumentation is. When it all comes together with those horns on the chorus? That’s like rock and roll ecstasy plain and simple… Though what exactly that means I can’t explain.