Who Are You (song)

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"Who Are You"
Single by The Who
from the album Who Are You
A-side "Had Enough"[1]
Released 1978 (Before Album Release)
Format 7"
Recorded October 1977
Genre Hard rock
Length 6:27 (Album Version)
5:06 (Single Edit)
3:27 (US Single Edit)
Label Polydor (UK)
MCA (US)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Glyn Johns
The Who singles chronology
"Squeeze Box"
(1975)
"Who Are You"
(1978)
"Trick of the Light"
(1978)
Who Are You track listing
"Love Is Coming Down"
(8)
"Who Are You"
(9)

"Who Are You", composed by Pete Townshend, is the title track on The Who's 1978 release, Who Are You, the last album released before drummer Keith Moon's death in September 1978. It was released as a double-A sided single with the John Entwistle composition "Had Enough", also featured on the album. The song became one of the band's biggest US hits, peaking at number 14 and at number 7 in Canada.

Lyrics[edit]

The album version includes a third verse compared to the much shorter single. Additionally, a "lost verse" mix of the song was released on the 1996 reissue of Who Are You, with a completely different second verse: "I used to check my reflection / Jumping with my cheap guitar / I must have lost my direction, cause I ended up a superstar/ One-nighters in the boardroom/ Petrify the human brain/ You can learn from my mistakes, but you're posing in the glass again".

The lyrics begin with a true incident, courtesy of Pete's alcoholism. He claims he really did "wake up in a Soho doorway", and a policeman recognized him and advised him to go home.

The song is unusual in that it contains two instances of the word "fuck" – at 2:16 and 5:43 (at 2:14 and 4:27 in the single edit version) – yet has been played frequently in its entirety on rock radio stations (although, in the wake of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction and ensuing crackdown by the FCC, this song is now often heard in an edited form, expunging this word and replacing it with "hell"). The expletives, while not clearly enunciated and slightly obscured by Moon's drum fills, are nevertheless quite audible. This led to some controversy when ABC's unedited broadcast of The Who's Live 8 performance retained them.[2] The American single edit changes this to "Who the hell are you?" and can be heard at 1:55. Other versions replaced the phrase with just one of the main choruses, "Tell me, who are you" and "I really want to know".

Video[edit]

A promotional video was filmed on 9 May 1978 for The Kids Are Alright documentary; originally, the intent was to have The Who simply mime to the single version's backing track with Roger Daltrey adding live vocals, but the decision was made to also re-record the guitars, backing vocals, drums, and piano. Only John Entwistle's bass and the synthesizer backing remained intact from the original version.

Live performances[edit]

This song was first performed live at the Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn on 15 December 1977, albeit without synthesizers and only a portion of the lyrics. This can be seen in the DVD At Kilburn 1977 + Live at the Coliseum. Despite that being the first performance, this song had its roots in jams in the band's 1976 concerts, most notably at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto on 21 October 1976, drummer Keith Moon's last North American appearance with The Who, where the band played a very early version of it, with Pete on vocals singing "Who Are You?" The first live performance of this with synthesizers (via a backing tape of the same synthesizer track found on the studio version of the song) was at the Rainbow Theatre, London on 2 May 1979, Kenney Jones's first live show with The Who. Since then it has remained a staple for the band's live shows. The Who opened their segment of The Concert for New York City on 20 October 2001 with the song and performed a medley featuring the song in Super Bowl XLIV. They also used the song to begin their set at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief on 12 December 2012.[3] In later performances, Roger Daltrey also plays acoustic rhythm guitar.

In popular culture[edit]

  • It is the theme to the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. An episode - Season 1 Episode 6 - even took its title from the song, and Roger Daltrey guest-starred in season 7 episode "Living Legend".
  • The video game Rock Band features the song as part of a 12 pack of downloadable tracks from The Who. (In this version, the expletive "fuck" has again been replaced with "hell." Also, the version here is the single edit excluding the US.)
  • The Blanks/Worthless Peons in the TV show Scrubs perform part of the song in the episode "My Identity Crisis".
  • An abbreviated version of the song was performed during the Super Bowl XLIV Half-Time Show
  • Louis C.K. sings along to the song in the "Country Drive" episode of Louie.

Charts[edit]

Chart (1978) Peak position
Canadian RPM Top Singles 7
UK Singles Chart 18
US Billboard Hot 100 14

References[edit]