Substitute (The Who song)

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Cover of the 1966 Italy single
Single by The Who
B-side "Circles (Instant Party)" (UK)
"Waltz for a Pig" (US)
Released 4 March 1966 (1966-03-04) (UK)
5 April 1966 (1966-04-05) (US)
Format 7"
Genre Power pop[1][2][3]
Length 3:47
2:59 (US)
Label Reaction (UK)
Atco (US)
Songwriter(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Pete Townshend
The Who singles chronology
"My Generation"
"A Legal Matter"
"My Generation"
"A Legal Matter"
Audio sample

"Substitute" is a song by the English rock band The Who, written by Pete Townshend. Released in March 1966, the single reached number five in the UK and was later included on the compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy in 1971.[4] In 2006, Pitchfork ranked "Substitute" at number 91 on the "200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s".[5]

Inspiration and writing[edit]

"Substitute" was primarily inspired by the 1965 soul single "The Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Pete Townshend became obsessed, particularly, with the line, "Although she may be cute/She's just a substitute." This had then led Townshend "to celebrate the word with a song all its own."[6]

For the American single, released in April 1966, the line in the chorus “I look all white but my dad was black” was changed to “I try walking forward but my feet walk back.”[4] The complete second verse and chorus were also edited from the US release, reducing the track's length to two minutes and fifty-nine seconds.[7]

Performance history[edit]

The song remains a familiar fan-favourite and was played at most concerts that the Who performed.[3] "Substitute", along with "I Can't Explain", have served as the group's opening numbers since 1971.[8] It appears on the Live at Leeds album, as well as Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.[9]

On the album Live at Leeds, Townshend comments on the song by saying:

We'd like to play three hit singles from our past for ya. Three selected hit singles, the three easiest. There's "Substitute", which we like. [crowd cheers] Thank You. That was our first number four [crowd laughs]...[10]

Cover versions[edit]

"Substitute" has been covered by various artists and musical groups. In 1994, the song was covered by the American punk rock band the Ramones, which was released on their album Acid Eaters and featured backing vocals from Pete Townshend.[11] Other notable covers of the song include renditions by the Sex Pistols, which was released as a B-side to the bootleg single "EMI" and the British rock band Blur, in a 1994 tribute album to the Who called Who Covers Who?[12]

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[13] 17
Germany (Official German Charts)[14] 13
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[15] 2
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[16] 5


  1. ^ Theo Cateforis (7 June 2011). Are We Not New Wave?: Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s. University of Michigan Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-472-03470-7. 
  2. ^ Moerder, Adam (16 August 2006). "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s – Part Three: #100-61". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. Substitute – Song Review at the Wayback Machine (archived 7 April 2011). AllMusic. Rovi.
  4. ^ a b John Atkins (2000). The Who on Record: A Critical History, 1963-1998. McFarland. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-7864-0609-8. 
  5. ^ Staff, Pitchfork (August 16, 2006). "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork Media. Condé Nast. Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, 'The Tracks of My Tears'". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. April 7, 2011. 
  7. ^ Mike Segretto (1 March 2014). The Who FAQ. Backbeat Books. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-4803-9252-6. 
  8. ^ Chris Charlesworth; Ed Hanel (2004). The Who: The Complete Guide to Their Music. Omnibus Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-84449-428-6. 
  9. ^ Janovitz, Bill. The Who - Substitute at AllMusic. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  10. ^ The Who - Uncensored on The Record. Coda Books Ltd. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-908538-83-3. 
  11. ^ Nathan Brackett; Christian David Hoard (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 676. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8. 
  12. ^ Ian Inglis (2006). Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-7546-4057-8. 
  13. ^ " – The Who – Substitute" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  14. ^ " – The Who – Substitute". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  15. ^ " – The Who – Substitute" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  16. ^ "Archive Chart: 1966-04-14" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved 15 November 2015.