Who's Next

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Who's Next
A photograph of The Who walking away from a stone monolith and zipping up their pants, with visible streaks of urine on the structure
Studio album by The Who
Released 14 August 1971 (1971-08-14)[1]
Recorded March–May 1971, Olympic Studios, London; mixed at Olympic Studios; "Won't Get Fooled Again" recorded at Stargroves and mixed at Island Studios, London
Genre Hard rock[2]
Length 43:38
Label Track, Decca
Producer The Who, Glyn Johns (associate producer)
The Who chronology
Live at Leeds
Who's Next
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
Singles from Who's Next
  1. "Won't Get Fooled Again"
    Released: 25 June 1971 (1971-06-25)[3]
  2. "Baba O'Riley"
    Released: 23 October 1971 (1971-10-23) (Europe)[4]
  3. "Behind Blue Eyes"
    Released: 6 November 1971 (1971-11-06)[5]

Who's Next is the fifth studio album by English rock band The Who, released in August 1971. The album had origins in a rock opera conceived by Pete Townshend called Lifehouse as an attempt to follow Tommy. The ambitious, complex project did not come to fruition at the time and instead, many of the songs written for the project were compiled onto Who's Next as a collection of unrelated songs.[6] After difficulty with initial recording sessions at the New York Record Plant, events stabilized with the arrival of producer Glyn Johns, who worked on the finished album. The album featured the group's first use of the synthesizer, particularly on the tracks "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again".

The album was a critical and commercial success when it was released, and has been certified 3× platinum by the RIAA.[7] It continues to be critically acclaimed and has been reissued on Compact Disc several times, adding additional material intended for the Lifehouse project.

Background and Lifehouse[edit]

By 1970, the Who had obtained great critical and commercial success, but they had started to become detached from their original audience. The mod movement had vanished, and the original followers from Shepherd's Bush had grown up and acquired jobs and families. The group had started to drift apart from manager Kit Lambert due to his preoccupation with their label, Track Records.[8] They had been touring a live version of Tommy, released the previous May, but realized that millions had now seen their live performances and Townshend in particular recognized that they needed to do something new.[9]

The album had its roots in a project called Lifehouse. This evolved from a series of columns Townshend wrote for Melody Maker in August 1970, where he discussed the importance of rock music, and in particular what the audience could do.[10] Of all the group, he was the most keen to use music as a communication device, and wanted to branch out into other media, including film, to get away from the traditional album / tour cycle.[11] Townshend has variously described Lifehouse as a futuristic rock opera, a live-recorded concept album and as the music for a scripted film project.[12] The basic plot was set in the near future where music was banned and most of the population lived indoors in government controlled "experience suits". A rebel, Bobby, broadcasts rock music into the suits, that allows people to remove the suits and become more enlightened. Some elements accurately described future technology, such as The Grid being a prototype of the internet and "grid sleep" resembling virtual reality. The group held a press conference on 13 January 1971, explaining that they would be giving a series of concerts at the Young Vic theatre, where they would develop the fictional elements of the proposed film along with the audience.[13] After Keith Moon had completed his work on the film 200 Motels, the group gave their first Young Vic concert on 15 February. The show included a new quadrophonic public address system which cost £30,000 and the audience was invited from various organisations such as youth clubs, with a few tickets on sale to the general public.[14]

After initial concerts, the group flew New York's Record Plant Studios at Lambert's suggestion, with Al Kooper playing Hammond organ, Ken Ascher on piano and Leslie West on guitar. Townshend received a 1957 Gretsch guitar from Joe Walsh, which was used during the session and went on to become his main guitar for studio recording.[15] Lambert's participation in the recording was minimal, and proved to be unable to mix the final recordings.[16] He had started taking hard drugs, while Townshend was drinking brandy regularly.[17] After making safety copies, Glyn Johns decided that it would be better to re-record the material from scratch at Olympic Sound Studios in Barnes.[16]

The group gave a further series of concerts at the Young Vic on 25 and 26 April, which were recorded on the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio by Andy Johns, but Townshend grew disillusioned with the project and further shows were cancelled.[18] The project proved to be intractable on several levels and caused stress within the band as well as a major falling out between Townshend and Lambert. Years later, in the liner notes to the remastered CD, Townshend wrote that the failure of the project led him to the verge of a nervous breakdown.[19] Daltrey, at the time, said the Who "were never nearer to breaking up".[20]

Although the Lifehouse concept was abandoned, scraps of the project remained present in the final album, including the use of synthesizers and computers.[21] An early concept for Lifehouse featured the feeding of personal data from audience members into the controller of an early analogue synthesiser to create a "universal chord" that would have ended the proposed film.[22] A key result of abandoning Lifehouse was a newfound freedom; the very absence of an overriding musical theme or storyline (which had been the basis of Tommy) allowed the band to concentrate on maximising the impact of individual tracks, and providing a common sound between them.[23]

Although he gave up his original intentions for the Lifehouse project, Townshend continued to develop the concepts, revisiting them in later albums, including a 6-CD set, The Lifehouse Chronicles in 1999.[24] In 2006 he opened a website called The Lifehouse Method to accept personal input from applicants which would be turned into musical portraits.


The first session for what became Who's Next was at Mick Jagger's house, Stargroves at the start of April 1971, using the Rolling Stones Mobile. The final backing track of "Won't Get Fooled Again" was recorded there.[16] Townshend later recalled, "we did a test run and it was fucking incredible" and decided to relocate recording to Olympic at Johns' suggestion.[25] Recording there started on 9 April, where the band attempted a basic take of "Bargain".[18] The bulk of the sessions occurred during May, when the group recorded "Time Is Passing", "Pure and Easy", "Love Ain't For Keeping" (which had been reworked for an earlier rock track into an acoustic arrangement), "Behind Blue Eyes", "Song is Over", "Let's See Action" and "Baba O'Riley". Nicky Hopkins guested on piano, while Dave Arbus was invited by Moon to play violin on "Baba O'Riley". John Entwistle's "My Wife" was added to the album at the last minute late in the sessions, and was originally intended for a solo album.[20]

The album fortuitously fell at a time when great advances had been made in sound engineering over the previous decade, and also shortly after the widespread availability of synthesisers.[23] In contrast to the New York and Young Vic sessions, recording with Johns went well as he was primarily concerned about creating a good sound, whereas Lambert had always been more preoccupied about the group's image. Townshend recalled "we were just getting astounded at the sounds Glyn was producing".[20] Moon's drumming had a distinctly different style from earlier albums, being more formal and less reliant on large drum fills - partly due to the synthesizer backing, but also due to Johns' no-nonsense production techniques, who insisted on a good recording performance that only used flamboyancy when truly necessary.[26] Johns was instrumental in convincing the Who that they should simply put a basic album out, believing the songs to be excellent. The group gave him free rein to assemble a single album of whatever songs he wanted in any order.[27] Despite John's key contributions, he only received an associate producer credit on the finished album.[20]

Townshend used the early synthesisers and modified keyboard sounds in several modes: as a drone effect on several songs, notably "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again",[27] as well as "Bargain", "Going Mobile" and "The Song Is Over". The synthesizer was used as an integral part of the sound, as opposed to gloss that had appeared on other artists' albums up to this point. [28]

The album opened with "Baba O'Riley," featuring piano and synthesizer-processed Lowrey organ by Townshend. The song's title pays homage to Townshend's guru Meher Baba and influential minimalist composer Terry Riley (and is informally known by the line "Teenage Wasteland").[29] The organ track came from a longer demo by Townshend, portions of which were later included on a Baba tribute album, I Am.[30]

The opening lyrics to the next track, "Bargain", "I'd gladly lose me to find you", came from a phrase used by Baba.[29] A key track from Lifehouse, "Pure and Easy" did not make the final track selection, but the opening line was included as a coda to "Song is Over".[29]

"Behind Blue Eyes" featured three part harmony from Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle and was written for the main antagonist in Lifehouse, Brick. Moon, uncharacteristically, did not appear on the first half of the track, which was later described by Who biographer Dave Marsh as "the longest time Keith Moon was still in his entire life."[30] The closing track, "Won't Get Fooled Again" was critical of revolutions. Townshend explained, "a revolution is only a revolution in the long run and a lot of people are going to get hurt".[29] The song features the Lowrey organ fed through an ARP 2600 synthesizer, which came from Townshend's original demo and was re-used for the finished track.[25]


The cover artwork shows a photograph, taken at Easington Colliery, of the band apparently having just urinated on a large concrete piling protruding from a slag heap. According to photographer Ethan Russell, most of the members were unable to urinate, so rainwater was tipped from an empty film canister to achieve the desired effect.[31] The partially cloudy sky seen above the site was also composited from a separate image. The photograph is often seen to be a reference to the monolith discovered on the moon in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released only about three years earlier.[32] Pete Townshend stated it was an ironical answer to Stanley Kubrick turning down the direction of Tommy.[33] In 2003, the United States cable television channel VH1 named Who's Next's cover one of the greatest album covers of all time.[34]

An earlier cover design had featured photographs of obese nude women and has been published elsewhere, but never actually appeared on the album.[35] An alternative cover featured drummer Keith Moon dressed in black lingerie, holding a rope whip, and wearing a brown wig.;[36] The alternative cover featuring Moon was later used for the inside art for the 1995 and 2003 CD releases. Some of the photographs taken during these sessions were later used as part of Decca's United States promotion of the album.[37]


The opening single, "Won't Get Fooled Again" (edited down to three and a half minutes) was released on 25 June 1971 in the UK and 17 July in the US ahead of the album. It reached #9 and #15 in the charts respectively.[38] The album was released on 14 August in the US and 27 August in the UK. It became the only album by the Who to top the UK charts.[39]

The Who starting touring the US just before the album was released.[40] The group used the Lifehouse PA, though soundman Bob Pridden found the technical requirements of the equipment to be over-complicated.[41] The set list was revamped, and while it included a smaller selection of numbers from Tommy, several new numbers from the new album such as "My Wife", "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" became live favourites. The latter two songs involved the band playing to a backing track containing the synthesizer parts.[42] The tour moved to the UK in September, including a show at The Oval, Kennington in front of 35,000 fans, and the opening gig at The Rainbow in Finsbury Park, before going back to the US, ending in Seattle on December 15. The group then took eight months off touring, the longest break by far during their career to that point.[43]

Several additional songs recorded at the Who's Next sessions were released later as singles or on compilations. "Let's See Action" and "When I Was a Boy" were released as a single in 1971, and "I Don't Even Know Myself" was released as the b-side to "Won't Get Fooled Again". "Let's See Action" appears on various compilations, while "When I Was a Boy" and "I Don't Even Know Myself" achieved album placement on the compilation Who's Missing. The songs "Pure and Easy" and "Too Much of Anything" are featured on the album Odds & Sods, while "Time is Passing" was added to the 1998 CD version. A cover of "Baby Don't You Do It" was recorded and the longest version currently available is on the deluxe edition of the album. It is believed[by whom?] that two other Townshend songs, "Greyhound Girl" and "Mary", were recorded by The Who sometime during the 1971 sessions, however, only Townshend's demos of the songs have been released.

The album has now been re-issued in many countries and remastered several times using tapes from different sessions. The master tapes for the Olympic sessions are believed to be lost or destroyed. Video game publisher Harmonix had previously announced that Who's Next would be released as downloadable, playable content for the music video game series Rock Band. However, this never came to fruition, since it was discovered that many of the master tapes to the album were missing, as confirmed by Townshend.[44][45] Instead, a compilation of Who songs dubbed "The Best of The Who," which includes three of the album's songs ("Behind Blue Eyes", "Baba O'Riley", and "Going Mobile"), was released as downloadable content, in lieu of the earlier-promised Who's Next album.[46]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[47]
Blender 5/5 stars[48]
Robert Christgau A+[2]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[49]
Mojo 4/5 stars[50]
Q 4/5 stars[51]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[52]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau called Who's Next "the best hard rock album in years" and said that, while their previous recordings were marred by a thin sound, the group now "achieves the same resonant immediacy in the studio that it does live."[2] Billy Walker of Sounds magazine was especially complimentary of "Baba O'Riley", "My Wife", and "The Song Is Over", and stated, "After the unique brilliance of Tommy something special had to be thought out and the fact that they settled for a straight-forward album rather than an extension of their rock opera, says much for their courage and inventiveness."[53] Rolling Stone magazine's John Mendelsohn felt that, despite some amount of seriousness and artificiality, the album's brand of rock and roll is "intelligently-conceived, superbly-performed, brilliantly-produced, and sometimes even exciting".[54]

According to Q magazine, Who's Next is "considered by many" to be the Who's best album.[51] In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine viewed the album as more genuine than Tommy or the aborted Lifehouse project because "those were art — [Who's Next], even with its pretensions, is rock & roll."[47] BBC Music's Chris Roberts cited it as the group's best album and "one of those carved-in-stone landmarks that the rock canon doesn’t allow you to bad-mouth."[55] Mojo magazine said that its sophisticated music and hook-laden songs featured innovative use of rock synthesizers that did not weaken the Who's characteristic "power-quartet attack".[50] In The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1998), Colin Larkin wrote that the album "set a hard rock standard that even its creators struggled to emulate."[49] Larkin remarked that the group's "sense of dynamics" was highlighted by the contrast between their powerful playing and the counterpoint produced at times by acoustic guitars and synthesizer obbligatos.[49]


Who's Next was named the best album of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual critics' poll published by The Village Voice.[56] It has since been named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 (#13) and Rolling Stone (#28 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[57]). The album appeared at number 15 on Pitchfork Media's top 100 albums of the 1970s.[58] The album is also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[59]

In 2006, the album was chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 best albums of all time.[60] In 2007 it was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value. In 1999 it was the subject of a Classic Albums documentary produced by Eagle Rock Entertainment which has aired on VH1 and BBC among others, entitled Classic Albums: The Who - Who's Next. The album was selected as the 32nd-best of all time by Mojo in January 1996.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Pete Townshend, except "My Wife", which was by John Entwistle

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Baba O'Riley"   5:08
2. "Bargain"   5:34
3. "Love Ain't for Keeping"   2:10
4. "My Wife"   3:41
5. "The Song Is Over"   6:14
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Getting in Tune"   4:50
7. "Going Mobile"   3:42
8. "Behind Blue Eyes"   3:42
9. "Won't Get Fooled Again"   8:32
Bonus tracks
2003 Deluxe Edition

The first disc of the Deluxe Edition contains the nine tracks from the original album containing the original mix, followed by six outtakes, of which "Getting in Tune" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" were previously unreleased. Each of the six outtakes was recorded during sessions at the Record Plant in New York in March 1971; the group abandoned this material and re-recorded five of the six tracks again in England later in the year.

The tracks on the second disc were recorded live at the Young Vic Theatre, London, on 26 April 1971. All of the tracks were previously unreleased except for "Water" and "Naked Eye". Songs played but not included are "Pinball Wizard", "Bony Moronie", "See Me Feel Me/Listening to You" and "Baby Don't You Do It". (NOTE: The live performance of "Bony Moronie" is available on The Who's 1994 boxset Thirty Years of Maximum R&B).


The Who
Additional musicians
Technical personnel

Sales chart performance[edit]


Chart (1971) Peak
US Billboard 200[62] 4
Canada RPM100 Albums[63] 5
UK (Top 40 Albums)[64] 1
France (InfoDisc)[65] 2
Netherlands (Top 100 Albums)[66] 2
New Zealand (VG-lista)[67] 5
France (Top 200 Albums)[68] 143
Chart (2014) Peak
US Billboard Top Pop Catalog[69] 7


Single Chart (1971) Peak
"Behind Blue Eyes" Billboard Hot 100 34[70]
"Won't Get Fooled Again" Billboard Hot 100 15[70]
UK Singles Chart 9[71]
Netherlands Top 100 8[72]
"Baba O'Riley" 11[73]

Sales certifications[edit]

Organization Level Date
RIAA – U.S. Gold 16 September 1971[7]
RIAA – U.S. Platinum 8 February 1993[7]
RIAA – U.S. 3x Platinum 8 February 1993[7]
BPI – U.K. Gold 22 July 2013[74]
ARIA – AUS. Gold 13 August 2014


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  2. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (19 August 1971). "Consumer Guide (19)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "Discography – Won't Get Fooled Again". thewho.com. Yearhour LTD. Retrieved 6 November 2010. 
  4. ^ "Baba O'Riley". ung Medien / hitparade.ch. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "Discography – Behind Blue Eyes". thewho.com. Yearhour LTD. Retrieved 6 November 2010. 
  6. ^ Atkins, John (1995) [1971]. "Who's Next and The Lifehouse Project". Who's Next (CD liner). The Who. MCA Records. pp. 9, 13. MCAD-11269. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Gold and Platinum Database Search". Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  8. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 361.
  9. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 363.
  10. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 368.
  11. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 272.
  12. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 369.
  13. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 273.
  14. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 278.
  15. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 279.
  16. ^ a b c Neill & Kent 2002, p. 280.
  17. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 274.
  18. ^ a b Neill & Kent 2002, p. 281.
  19. ^ Townshend 2003, p. 6.
  20. ^ a b c d Neill & Kent 2002, p. 282.
  21. ^ Atkins 2003, p. 13.
  22. ^ Atkins 2003, p. 14.
  23. ^ a b Marsh 1983, p. 383.
  24. ^ Townshend 2003, p. 9.
  25. ^ a b Marsh 1983, p. 381.
  26. ^ Fletcher 1998, p. 286.
  27. ^ a b Marsh 1983, p. 382.
  28. ^ Atkins 2003, p. 18.
  29. ^ a b c d Neill & Kent 2002, p. 275.
  30. ^ a b Marsh 1983, p. 386.
  31. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 285.
  32. ^ Who's Next (CD liner). The who. MCA Records. 1995 [1971]. p. 20. MCAD-11269. 
  33. ^ Rothman, David. "A Conversation With Pete Townshend". Oui Magazine, March 1980.
  34. ^ "The Greatest Album Covers – Photos". vh1. Viacom. Retrieved 6 November 2010. 
  35. ^ Fletcher 1998, p. 288.
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  38. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 284.
  39. ^ Neill & Kent 2002, p. 288.
  40. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 389.
  41. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 390.
  42. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 392.
  43. ^ Marsh 1983, p. 393.
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  49. ^ a b c Larkin, Colin (1998). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music 7 (3rd ed.). Muze UK. p. 5812. ISBN 1561592374. 
  50. ^ a b Mojo (London): 110. May 2003. "WHO'S NEXT is The Who's most polished album, its hook-ridden songs pioneering the use of rock synthesizers without diluting the power-quartet attack that had defined the group since the mid-60s..." 
  51. ^ a b Q (London): 158. January 1996. "Considered by many to be the band's best, 1971's WHO'S NEXT was their only Number 1 album..." 
  52. ^ "The Who: Album Guide | Rolling Stone Music". Rollingstone.com. 1970-02-14. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  53. ^ Walker, Billy (28 August 1971). "Album Reviews". Sounds (Spotlight Publications). p. 18. 
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  59. ^ "Rocklist.net...Steve Parker...1001 Albums". Rocklistmusic.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  60. ^ Light, Alan (2010-01-27). "Kind of Blue | All-TIME 100 Albums". TIME.com. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
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  67. ^ VG-lista 
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  74. ^ Cite error: The named reference BPI was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  • Atkins, John (2003). Who's Next (Deluxe Edition) (Media notes). Polydor. 113-056-2. 
  • Fletcher, Tony (1998). Dear Boy : The Life of Keith Moon. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-711-96625-3. 
  • Marsh, Dave (1983). Before I Get Old : The Story of The Who. Plexus. ISBN 978-0-85965-083-0. 
  • Neill, Andrew; Kent, Matthew (2002). Anyway Anyhow Anywhere - The Complete Chronicle of The Who. Virgin. ISBN 978-0-7535-1217-3. 
  • Townshend, Pete (2003). Who's Next (Deluxe Edition) (Media notes). Polydor. 113-056-2. 
Further information
  • DVD The Who: Who's Next, Eagle Vision (Classic albums series), 2005.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
UK Albums Chart number-one album
18–24 September 1971
Succeeded by
Fireball by Deep Purple