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Baba O'Riley

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"Baba O'Riley"
Single by the Who
from the album Who's Next
B-side"My Wife"
ReleasedOctober 1971 (1971-10)[1]
RecordedMay 1971
StudioOlympic (London)[2]
GenreHard rock[3]
Songwriter(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)The Who
The Who singles chronology
"Let's See Action"
"Baba O'Riley"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"Baba O'Riley" on YouTube

"Baba O'Riley" is a song by the English rock band The Who, written by guitarist and principal songwriter Pete Townshend. It is the opening track to the Who's fifth studio album, Who's Next (1971). In Europe, it was released as a single in October 1971, coupled with "My Wife". Performances of "Baba O'Riley" appear on several Who live albums.

Widely regarded as one of the Who's finest songs and as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, "Baba O'Riley" appears in Time "All-Time 100 Songs" list, 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.

Background and composition[edit]

Townshend wrote "Baba O'Riley" for his Lifehouse project, a rock opera intended as the followup to the Who's 1969 opera Tommy. In Lifehouse, a Scottish farmer named Ray would have sung the song at the beginning as he gathered 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 fifth studio album Who's Next (1971), with "Baba O'Riley" as the lead-off track.[citation needed] The song title refers to two of Townshend's major inspirations at the time: Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and American minimalist composer Terry Riley.[4]

According to Townshend, at the end of the band's gig at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, the field was covered in rubbish left by fans, which inspired the line "teenage wasteland".[5] In another interview, Townshend said the song was also inspired by "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!'"[6]


Meher Baba, (1894–1969)
Terry Riley (born 1935)
The namesakes of "Baba O'Riley"

The repeating set of notes (ostinato) in "Baba O'Riley" that opens and underlies the song 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 to generate them.[7] This modal approach was inspired by the work of minimalist composer Terry Riley.[citation needed]

The song was derived from a nine-minute demo, which the band reconstructed.[2] "Baba O'Riley" was initially 30 minutes in length, but was edited down to the "high points" of the track for Who's Next.[8] 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)". Dave Arbus, whose band East of Eden was recording in the same studio, was invited by Keith Moon to play the violin solo during the outro. In most live performances, this part is played instead by Daltrey on harmonica.[citation needed]


"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. The song became one of the band's most popular songs, as well as a popular staple of AOR radio, and remains on the classic rock radio canon.

Critical reception and legacy[edit]

The Who performing "Baba O'Riley" live at Manchester Arena in 2014. Roger Daltrey, left, is playing harmonica during the song's climactic outro. Pete Townshend, right, is playing guitar.

"Baba O'Riley" appears at No. 159 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[9] The song is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.[10] 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".[11] In 2012, Paste ranked the song number two on their list of the 20 greatest Who songs,[12] and in 2022, Rolling Stone ranked the song number six on their list of the 50 greatest Who songs.[13]

The song's "Teenage Wasteland" line displayed electronically at a Who concert in 2015.

"Baba O'Riley" was used as the theme song for the popular television series CSI: NY (2004–2013); with each CSI series using a Who song as its theme.[14] The song was also used in the One Tree Hill episode "Pictures of You" (season 4, episode 13). The live version of the song from the album Who's Last (1984) plays in the opening segment of the Miami Vice episode "Out Where the Buses Don't Run" (season two, 1985).[15] One of the working titles of That '70s Show (1998–2006) was "Teenage Wasteland", a reference to the repeated lyric in the song.[16] The song was also used in the trailers for the films A Bug's Life (1998), American Beauty (1999), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), Jobs (2013), The Peanuts Movie (2015),[17] Free Guy (2021) and season 3 of Stranger Things.[18] "Baba O'Riley" was included in the soundtrack for the 1997 film Prefontaine and the 1999 film Summer of Sam. The song was used in the 10th episode of the 2010 Fox show The Good Guys.[19] The song was featured heavily in the 2004 romantic comedy film The Girl Next Door, and was also used in the beginning of, and the end credits 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. It was also used in episode one of the UK version of Life on Mars. 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", in which Pera is unable to contain his excitement after hearing the song for the first time in his life. The song is also sung in the first season Sense8 episode "W. W. N. Double D?" by Riley's dad at the airport.[20]

In October 2001, the Who gave a much lauded performance of the song at the Concert for New York City.[21] Since 2003, "Baba O'Riley" has been played during player introductions for the Los Angeles Lakers during home games at the Staples Center.[22] The song is played before live UFC events during a highlight package showing some of the most famous fights in the mixed martial arts company's history.[23] The song was used for the trailer of the EA Sports UFC 4 game. It is also the official theme song of competitive eater Joey Chestnut.[24]

At both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the 120 BPM dance track "The Road Goes on Forever" by the Welsh electronic music producer High Contrast, which samples "Baba O'Riley", is used during the countdown at the start of the proceedings.[25] "Baba O'Riley" was then performed by the Who as their first number during the last musical segment at the closing ceremony, with Roger Daltrey singing a changed lyric of "Don't cry/Just raise your eye/There's more than teenage wasteland".[26] "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. In addition, the Boston College Marching Band have featured a rendition of the song at football and hockey games. 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 for every Rangers home playoff game.

In the course of a debate on Twitter, it was noted that "Best Song Ever" (2013) by One Direction bore a strong resemblance to the basic structure of "Baba O'Riley". Pete Townshend responded to the claims by denying that the Who were pursuing legal action, and stated that he was a fan of One Direction's single and was happy that One Direction appeared to have been influenced by the Who, just as he had been influenced by earlier musicians such as Eddie Cochran.[27]


The Who[edit]

Additional personnel[edit]


1972 chart performance for "Baba O'Riley"
Chart (1972) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[28] 80
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[29] 13
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[30] 11
2012 chart performance for "Baba O'Riley"
Chart (2012) Peak
France (SNEP)[31] 200
UK Singles (OCC)[32] 55


Certifications for "Baba O'Riley"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI)[33] Platinum 50,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[34] Platinum 600,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "Baba O'Riley". ung Medien / hitparade.ch. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b Who's Next 1995 Remastered Liner Notes Page 17
  3. ^ Atkins, John (1 February 2000). The Who on Record: A Critical History, 1963–1998. McFarland. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-7864-4097-9.
  4. ^ "Meher Baba".
  5. ^ "Come Together: The Rise of the Festival". Sky Arts. 7 June 2020. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  6. ^ Guitar World Vol. 30 No. 9 pg. 76
  7. ^ "Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 | Pete Townshend's Guitar Gear | Whotabs". www.thewho.net. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  8. ^ "The Hypertext Who " Article Archive — The Who Puts the Bomp (1971)". Thewho.net. Archived from the original on 5 April 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Baba O'Riley ranked 159th greatest song by Rolling Stone magazine". Rolling Stone. 15 September 2021. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  10. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Archived from the original on 7 July 2008. Retrieved 9 July 2008.
  11. ^ "Readers' Poll: The Greatest Live Cover Songs". Rolling Stone. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  12. ^ Tremml, Brian (7 November 2012). "The 20 Best Songs by The Who". Paste. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  13. ^ "The Who's 50 Greatest Songs". Rolling Stone. 30 June 2022. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  14. ^ Duboff, Josh (7 February 2010). "The Who Performs CSI Medley". New York. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  15. ^ Moore, Allen F. (2003). Analyzing Popular Music. Cambridge University Press. p. 67. ISBN 052177120X.
  16. ^ "DVD Verdict Review – That '70s Show: Season One". Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  17. ^ "The Peanuts Movie Trailer: An Underdog and His Dog". Slashfilm. 16 June 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  18. ^ Thorne, Will (20 March 2019). "Netflix Drops 'Stranger Things' Season 3 Trailer (Watch)". Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  19. ^ "Baba O'Riley by The Who". Songfacts. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  20. ^ "Here's the Ultimate Playlist for 'Sense8' Fans". BuzzFeed. 23 July 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  21. ^ "The Night The Who Saved New York". Forbes. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  22. ^ McMenamin, Dave (4 October 2010). "London Called, But Lakers Don't Figure to Be Back Any Time Soon". ESPN. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  23. ^ "Q&A with local MMA announcer Ray Flores". Post-Tribune. 23 August 2011. Archived from the original on 24 October 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  24. ^ Heilpern, John (July 2011). "The Fastest Mouth on Earth". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  25. ^ "High Contrast's Olympic Story: Part 3 – Highly Contrasting". highlycontrasting.com. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  26. ^ "Did Roger Daltrey Forget the Lyrics to 'Baba O'Riley'?". CBS News. 13 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  27. ^ Reed, Ryan (16 August 2013). "Pete Townshend Responds to Furious One Direction Fans". Rolling Stone.
  28. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  29. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – The Who" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  30. ^ "The Who – Baba O'Riley" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  31. ^ "The Who – Baba O'Riley" (in French). Les classement single.
  32. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  33. ^ "Italian single certifications – The Who – Baba O'Riley" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 19 June 2020. Select "2019" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Baba O'Riley" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
  34. ^ "British single certifications – Who – Baba O'Riley". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 19 June 2020.

External links[edit]

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