Pinball Wizard

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"Pinball Wizard"
Pinball Wizard Germany PS.jpg
European picture sleeve
Single by the Who
from the album Tommy
B-side"Dogs Part Two"
Released7 March 1969 (1969-03-07)
Recorded7 February 1969
StudioMorgan, London
Songwriter(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)Kit Lambert
The Who singles chronology
"Magic Bus"
"Pinball Wizard"
"I'm Free"

"Pinball Wizard" is a song written by Pete Townshend and performed by the English rock band the Who, featured on their 1969 rock opera album Tommy. The original recording was released as a single in 1969 and reached No. 4 in the UK charts and No. 19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

The B-side of the "Pinball Wizard" single is an instrumental credited to Keith Moon, titled "Dogs Part Two". Despite the title, it has no musical connection to the Who's 1968 UK single "Dogs".


The lyrics are written from the perspective of a pinball champion, called "Local Lad" in the Tommy libretto book, astounded by the skills of the opera's eponymous main character, Tommy Walker: "He ain't got no distractions / Can't hear those buzzers and bells / Don't see lights a flashin' / Plays by sense of smell / Always gets a replay / Never seen him fall / That deaf dumb and blind kid / Sure plays a mean pinball.",[3] and "I thought I was the Bally table king, but I just handed my pinball crown to him".

Townshend once called it "the most clumsy piece of writing [he'd] ever done".[4] Nevertheless, the song was a commercial success and remains one of the most recognised tunes from the opera. It was a perpetual concert favourite for Who fans due to its pop sound and familiarity.

Position on the album[edit]

In late 1968 or early 1969, when the Who played a rough assembly of their new album to critic Nik Cohn, Cohn gave a lukewarm reaction to it. Following this, Townshend, as Tommy's principal composer, discussed the album with Cohn and concluded that, to lighten the load of the rock opera's heavy spiritual overtones (Townshend had recently become deeply interested in the teachings of Meher Baba), the title character, a "deaf, dumb, and blind" boy, should also be particularly good at a certain game. Knowing Cohn was an avid pinball fan, Townshend suggested that Tommy would play pinball, and Cohn immediately declared Tommy to be a masterpiece.[citation needed] The song "Pinball Wizard" was written and recorded almost immediately. The single version was slightly sped up and runs to 2:57, whilst the natural length album version runs to 3:04.


Billboard described the single as "a solid beat rocker."[5]

Live performances[edit]

This song is one of the band's most famous live songs, being played at almost every Who concert since its debut live performance on 2 May 1969. The live performances rarely deviated from the album arrangement, save for an occasional jam at the end sometimes leading to another song. Bootleg recordings show that this song has been known to last as long as 8 minutes (at a concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London on 3 February 1981), although live versions lasting as long as that are extremely rare. Pinball Wizard was also played during the Super Bowl XLIV Halftime Show on 7 February 2010.


Charts and certifications[edit]

Elton John version[edit]

"Pinball Wizard"
Pinball Wizard - Elton John.jpg
Single by Elton John
from the album Tommy soundtrack
Released12 March 1976
Songwriter(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)Gus Dudgeon
Elton John singles chronology
"Grow Some Funk of Your Own / I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)"
"Pinball Wizard"
"Love Song"

The song was performed by English musician Elton John in Ken Russell's 1975 film adaptation of Tommy. This version was released in 1975 as a promotional single only in the US, and in 1976 in the UK, where it reached number 7. Because it was not released as a commercial single in the US, it was ineligible to be listed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It did however make the US Radio & Records airplay chart, where it reached number 9.

John's version uses a piano as the song's centerpiece in place of the acoustic guitar in the original. In the film, John's character is shown playing his pinball machine via a small piano keyboard. His adaptation also features additional lyrics specially written by Townshend for the movie version, as well as a subtle inclusion of musical phrases from the Who's 1960s hit "I Can't Explain" during the outro. Similarly, the Who's later cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" included parts of "Take Me to the Pilot". Unlike most of the soundtrack's music, which featured various combinations of the Who and some of the era's best session players, Elton John used his own band and producer Gus Dudgeon for the track. John has performed the song as part of his Las Vegas Red Piano Show, as well as on various tours. To date, it is the only cover of a Who song to reach the top 10.[14]

The song has subsequently been performed by Taron Egerton who portrayed Elton John in the film Rocketman (2019).


Chart performance[edit]

In Toronto, "Pinball Wizard" spent two weeks at number one on the CHUM survey.[15] In Chicago, "Pinball Wizard" remained on the WLS Musicradio Survey as an "extra" for five and a half months, from mid-April to late September as an album track in heavy rotation.[16]

Weekly chart (1976) Peak
Australia[17] 88
UK[18] 7
Ireland (IRMA)[19] 13
US Radio & Records[20] 9

Other cover versions[edit]

  • The song was featured in a medley with another song from Tommy ("See Me, Feel Me") in a recording by the British pop group the New Seekers in 1973. This version reached No. 16 on the UK charts and in Australia, and No. 28 in Canada,[21] and No. 29 on the U.S. Hot 100.[22]
  • In 1977, Barry Williams performed the song during a "Songs from Movies" medley on an episode of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.[23]
  • McFly released their cover of the song in 2005 as the B-side to their UK number one single "I'll Be OK". They subsequently performed a cover of "My Generation" with Roger Daltrey that was exclusively released on HMV's new HMV Digital download store in September of that year.
  • Tenacious D also regularly perform the song as a part of a medley of songs from Tommy[24]
  • In 2012, during the third season of Glee, Alex Newell performed the song during national competition.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Bosso, Joe (11 May 2016). "The 25 Greatest Acoustic Songs in Hard Rock". Guitar Player. NewBay Media. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  2. ^ Stanley, Bob (13 September 2013). Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop. Faber & Faber. p. 348. ISBN 978-0-571-28198-5.
  3. ^ "Pinball Wizard Lyrics".
  4. ^ Remaster Liner Notes to Tommy "Deaf, Dumb and Blind kid" by Richard Barnes
  5. ^ "Spotlight Singles" (PDF). Billboard. 22 March 1969. p. 71. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  6. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". 26 May 1969. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  7. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. p. 135. ISBN 951-31-2503-3.
  8. ^ "SA Charts 1965 – March 1989". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  9. ^ [Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–2002]
  10. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 5/31/69". 30 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Sixties City – Pop Music Charts – Every Week of the Sixties".
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.
  13. ^ "British single certifications – Who – Pinball Wizard". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  14. ^ Sexton, Paul (20 March 2018). "Elton John Sure Played A Mean Cover Of 'Pinball Wizard'".
  15. ^ CHUM Hit Parade, May 10, 1975
  16. ^ "Wls092775".
  17. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (doc). Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. {{cite book}}: |format= requires |url= (help)
  18. ^ "pinball+wizard - full Official Chart History - Official Charts Company". Official Charts Company.
  19. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Pinball Wizard". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  20. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2019). Radio & Records Top Pop Hits 1973–2009. Sheridan Books. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-89820-231-1.
  21. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  22. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 14th Edition: 1955-2012. Record Research. p. 611.
  23. ^ Nichelson, Ted (2009). Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. ECW Press. p. 291. ISBN 9781550228885.
  24. ^ "Tenacious D Dig Into Who Catalog for Concert Medley". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  25. ^ According to the game's flyer[permanent dead link].
  26. ^ "Bruce Springsteen Lyrics database : 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)". Retrieved 29 November 2016.

External links[edit]