|Single by The Who|
|from the album Who's Next|
|Recorded||May 1971 at Olympic Studios in London, England|
|Genre||Art rock, hard rock|
|Producer(s)||The Who, Glyn Johns|
"Baba O'Riley" is a song written by Pete Townshend for the English rock band The Who. It is the opening track to their fifth studio album, Who's Next. Roger Daltrey sings most of the song, with Pete Townshend singing the middle eight: "Don't cry/don't raise your eye/it's only teenage wasteland". The title of the song is derived from the combination of the song's philosophical and musical influences, Meher Baba and Terry Riley. The song was included in TIME magazine's list of the All-TIME 100 Songs and was ranked number one on Snoozer magazine's 250 Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Songs.
Townshend originally wrote "Baba O'Riley" for his Lifehouse project, a rock opera that was to be the follow-up to The Who's 1969 opera, Tommy. The song was derived from a nine-minute demo, which the band reconstructed. "Baba O'Riley" was going to be used in the Lifehouse project as a song sung by Ray, the Scottish farmer at the beginning of the album as he gathers his wife Sally and his two children to begin their exodus to London. When Lifehouse was scrapped, many of the songs were released on The Who's 1971 album Who's Next, with "Baba O'Riley" as the first track. The song was released as a single in several European countries, but in the United Kingdom and the United States it was only released as part of the album.
Townshend stated in an interview that "'Baba O' Riley' is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where everyone was smacked out on acid and 20 people had brain damage. The irony was that some listeners took the song to be a teenage celebration: 'Teenage Wasteland, yes! We're all wasted!'"
Drummer Keith Moon had the idea of inserting a violin solo at the coda of the song, during which the style of the song shifts from crashing rock to a folk-style beat. Dave Arbus (from the progressive band East of Eden) plays a violin in the studio recording. In concert, lead singer Roger Daltrey replaces the violin solo with a harmonica solo. The Who produced a live version of the song with a viola, provided by Nigel Kennedy, during their 27 November 2000 concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
The song's backing track was derived from deep within the Lifehouse concept. Townshend wanted to input the life information of Meher Baba into a synthesiser, which would then generate music based on that information. That music would have been the backing track for "Baba O'Riley", but in the end, the frenetic sequence was played by Townshend on a Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ using its marimba repeat feature. This modal approach used for the synthesiser track was inspired by the work of minimalist composer Terry Riley. The names of Riley and Meher Baba were incorporated into the song title as a tribute by Townshend. Although they never actually did it in concert, The Who considered pulling a person from the audience and programming their vital statistics into a synthesiser that would, in effect, translate that person into a musical theme around which a song could be built, an idea later resurrected as The Lifehouse Method.
A cover of "Baba O'Riley", "The Road Goes On Forever" by High Contrast, was used for the one-minute countdown films at the very beginning of both Opening Ceremonies at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. The Who performed "Baba O'Riley" live at the close of the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, the song thus providing bookends to the start and finish of the London 2012 Olympics.
"Baba O'Riley" was initially 30 minutes in length and was planned to be used during the concerts at the Royal Festival Hall in London, England. When Who's Next was being arranged, "Baba O'Riley" was edited down to only the "high points" of the track. The other parts of the song appeared on the third disc of Townshend's Lifehouse Chronicles as "Baba M1 (O'Riley 1st Movement 1971)" and "Baba M2 (2nd Movement Part 1 1971)".
"Baba O'Riley" is often mistakenly called "Teenage Wasteland" after the phrase repeated throughout the song. "Teenage Wasteland" was in fact a working title for the song in its early incarnations as part of the Lifehouse project, but eventually became the title for a different but related song by Townshend, which is slower and features more lyrics. A version of "Teenage Wasteland" is featured on the Lifehouse Chronicles, a six disc set of music related to the Lifehouse project, and on several Townshend compilations and videos.
The song is composed in the key of F major.
"Baba O'Riley" appears at No. 349 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". The song is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for being one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. A remixed version of the song was used as the theme song for the popular television series CSI: NY. Each CSI series used a Who song as its theme. The band Pearl Jam regularly plays a cover of the song during concerts, and a readers' poll in Rolling Stone awarded this cover as #8 in their Greatest Live Cover Songs. It was also played by Blue Man Group during the Complex Rock Tour Live. Dropkick Murphys recorded a cover of the song with a mandolin taking the place of the synthesizer.
Since 2003, "Baba O'Riley" is played during player introductions for the Los Angeles Lakers during home games at the Staples Center. The song is played prior to live UFC events during a highlight package showing some of the most famous fights in the mixed martial arts company's history. It is also the official theme song of competitive eater Joey Chestnut. One of the working titles of That '70s Show was "Teenage Wasteland," a reference to the repeated lyric in the song. At both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the synthesiser opening was used during a countdown to the start of the proceedings. The song was then performed by The Who as their first number during the last musical segment at the closing ceremony, with Daltrey singing a changed lyric of "Don't cry/Just raise your eye/There's more than teenage wasteland".
The song also appears in the TV show "House M.D." at the end of episode 14, season one, called "Control'.
- Roger Daltrey – lead vocals, harmonica (live versions only)
- Pete Townshend – lead vocals (middle eight), synthesiser, piano, guitar
- John Entwistle – bass guitar
- Keith Moon – drums
- Dave Arbus – violin (studio recording)
|Chart (1972)||Peak position|
|Dutch Singles Chart||11|
- Who's Next 1995 Remastered Liner Notes Page 17
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