|Single by The Who|
|from the album Who's Next|
|Released||23 October 1971|
|The Who singles chronology|
|Who's Next track listing|
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 song's title is a combination of the names of two of Townshend's philosophical and musical influences: Meher Baba and Terry Riley.
"Baba O'Riley" appears in Time magazine's list of the All-Time 100 Songs, Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
It also features on live albums: Who's Last, Live from Royal Albert Hall, Live from Toronto, and Greatest Hits Live. In concert Daltrey plays the violin solo on harmonica.
Background and composition
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. In Lifehouse, the song would be sung at the beginning by a Scottish farmer named Ray, as he gathers his wife Sally and his two children to begin their exodus to London. When Lifehouse was scrapped, eight of the songs were salvaged and recorded for the Who's 1971 album Who's Next, with "Baba O'Riley" as the lead-off track.
Townshend stated in an interview that the song "is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where audience members were strung 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!'"
The "Baba O'Riley" title combines the names of Meher Baba and Terry Riley, two of Townshend's philosophical and musical mentors. The song is often mistakenly called "Teenage Wasteland", after the phrase repeated in 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 different lyrics. A demo of "Teenage Wasteland" is featured on Lifehouse Chronicles, a six-disc set of music related to the Lifehouse project, and on several Townshend compilations and videos.
Recording and release
"Baba O'Riley"'s backing track was derived from the Lifehouse concept, where Townshend wanted to input the vital signs and personality of Meher Baba into a synthesiser, which would then generate music based on that data. When this idea fell through, Townshend instead recorded a Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ using its marimba repeat feature as the backing track. This modal approach was inspired by the work of minimalist composer Terry Riley.
The song was derived from a nine-minute demo, which the band reconstructed. "Baba O'Riley" was initially 30 minutes in length, but was edited down to the "high points" of the track for Who's Next. 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" was released in November 1971, as a single in several European countries. However, in the United Kingdom and the United States, it was released only as part of the album Who's Next.
Reception and legacy
"Baba O'Riley" appears at No. 340 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". The song is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. 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.
During live performances, Roger Daltrey plays the studio violin part on harmonica.
"Baba O'Riley" was used as the theme song for the popular television series CSI: NY (2004–13); with each CSI series using a Who song as its theme. The live version of the song from the album Who's Last plays in the opening segment of the Miami Vice episode "Out Where the Buses Don't Run" (season two, 1985). One of the working titles of That '70s Show (1998–2006) was "Teenage Wasteland," a reference to the repeated lyric in the song. The song was also used in trailers for A Bug's Life (1998), American Beauty (1999), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), and The Peanuts Movie (2015). Baba O'Riley was included in the soundtrack for the 1997 film "Prefontaine" and the 1999 film "The Summer of Sam". The song was featured heavily in the 2004 romantic comedy film The Girl Next Door, The song was also used in the beginning of the 2012 movie Premium Rush. The song has also been used in episode 14 of season one in the TV series House and in episode 10 of season one in the TV series The Newsroom. A remixed version of this song, re-done by Alan Wilkis, appears in the 2012 remake of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, as well as the Family Guy season 13 episode "Quagmire's Mom", the third Robot Chicken: Star Wars special and episode 11 of season one of Superstore. The song is featured in an episode of Joe Pera Talks With You, "Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements" on Adult Swim, in which Pera is unable to contain his excitement after hearing the song for the first time in his life.
Since 2003, "Baba O'Riley" has been 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.
At both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the track "The Road Goes On Forever" by High Contrast is used during a countdown to the start of the proceedings, this song samples "Baba O'Riley" with a higher tempo as a 120bpm dance track. "Baba O'Riley" 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". "Baba O'Riley" is also used as the pregame music at Sanford Stadium and is played right before kickoff at every University of Georgia home football game. It is also played at halftime of most New England Patriots home games, leading up to the second-half kickoff. It is also the entrance music for the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
- Roger Daltrey – lead vocals, harmonica (live versions only)
- Pete Townshend – Lowrey organ, piano, guitar, co-lead vocals
- John Entwistle – bass
- Keith Moon – drums
- Dave Arbus – violin
|Chart (1972)||Peak position|
|Dutch Singles Chart||11|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||1,000,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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- "Did Roger Daltrey Forget the Lyrics to "Baba O'Riley"?". CBS News. 13 August 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- "British single certifications – The Who – Baba O'Riley". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 5 July 2018. Select singles in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Type Baba O'Riley in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.