Substitute (The Who song)

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1966 German release
Single by The Who
B-side "Circles" (Instant Party) (UK)
"Waltz for a Pig" (USA)
Released 4 March 1966 (UK)
April 5, 1966 (US)
Format Vinyl record (7")
Recorded 12 February 1966 at Olympic Sound Studios, London, UK
Genre Hard rock[1]
Length 3:47 (UK), 2:59 (US single edit)
Label Reaction 591 001 (UK)
Atco 45 6409 (US)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Pete Townshend
The Who singles chronology
"My Generation"
"A Legal Matter"

"Substitute" is a song by the Who written by Pete Townshend. It was released as a single in March 1966, when it reached number 5 in the UK, and was later included on the compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy in 1971. It became a UK top ten hit again when re-issued in 1976, reaching number 7. In 2006, it was listed at #91 in Pitchfork's list of the 200 greatest songs of the 1960s.[2]

Performance history[edit]

The song is a fan favorite and was played at almost every concert that the Who performed; "Substitute", along with "I Can't Explain" and "Heaven and Hell", in varying orders, have served as the Who's opening numbers for over 40 years. It appears on the Live at Leeds album as well as Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. On the album Live at Leeds, Townshend comments about the song by saying:

Keith Moon recalled in an interview shown on an episode of VH1's Behind the Music:

For the American release of the single in April 1966, the lyric “I look all white but my dad was black” was changed to a line usually transcribed as “I try going forward but my feet walk back”.[3] Although some have suggested that the US single version is a completely different performance, perhaps recorded at the same session as the British version (since the instrumental break of the US version is located in a different part of the song), the US version is more often taken to be a simple edit: the UK single was remixed with the new vocal part, after which the first "I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth" verse was cut out. The US single was released on CD in 2002 on a 4-track bonus disc included with the first issues of The Who: The Ultimate Collection.

The US B-side (and subsequent UK B side), "Waltz for a Pig", was an instrumental performed not by the Who but by The Graham Bond Organisation.[3]

The single is the only one issued on US ATCO (45-6409) through their relationship with Polydor. Oddly, ATCO reissued the single 100 numbers later as 45-6509. Neither version charted.


Punk rock group The Ramones recorded a cover the song, which featured backing vocals by Pete Townshend, on their Acid Eaters album. It was also released as a single by the Sex Pistols. English rock band Blur also covered this song in a 1994 tribute album to the Who called Who Covers Who? It was also covered by The Stereophonics and heavy metal band Great White. English "progressive" rock band Marillion did a cover of this song for a fans only CD.

The song was played as a collaboration between Silverchair and Powderfinger at the end of their concerts on the Across the Great Divide Tour.

In the Season 14 episode of South Park, Poor and Stupid, Eric Cartman references the song when he says that he "wasn't born with a plastic spoon in his mouth"


  1. ^ "Richie Unterberger review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  2. ^ Pitchfork's 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s
  3. ^ a b "The Who Official Band Website". Retrieved 14 October 2011.