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Pinball Wizard by The Who

Album: TommyReleased: 1969Charted:
  • This is part of Tommy, the first "rock opera." Tommy is about a young man who is deaf, dumb, and blind, but becomes a pinball champion and gains hordes of adoring fans. It was made into a play and continues to run as an off-Broadway production.
  • Tommy was made into a movie in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Tina Turner, and Roger Daltrey (who played Tommy). Elton John made an appearance as The Pinball Wizard and performed this song. His version hit UK #7.
  • Pete Townshend wrote this. It existed mostly in his head while they were recording it, and the other members of The Who had no idea how most of the story would end until they finished it. Townshend was not credited as the only songwriter on the project - John Entwistle wrote "Cousin Kevin" and "Fiddle About," and Keith Moon got credit for "Tommy's Holiday Camp."
  • This was the last song written for Tommy. Townshend wrote it when he found out influential UK rock critic Nik Cohn was coming to review the project. Townshend knew Cohn was a pinball fanatic, so he put this together to ensure a good review. Cohn gave it a great review, and pinball became a main theme of the rock opera.
  • The character Tommy played pinball by feeling the vibrations of the machine. Townshend liked how that related to listeners picking up the vibrations of the music to feel the story.
  • The single version was sped up to make it more radio-friendly.
  • This was the most famous and enduring song from the Tommy project. Along with "See Me, Feel Me," it is one of 2 songs from the album that The Who played throughout their career.
  • The Who performed this at Woodstock in 1969. The song was still fairly new, so many in the crowd did not recognize it. The Who were given the early morning slot, so they ended up playing this as the sun came up.
  • The Who performed the entire album from start to finish on their subsequent tour. Two of the dates were in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
  • The famous guitar riff was sampled by The Shocking Blue on their 1969 hit "Venus," which was covered by Bananarama in 1986.
  • The album got The Who out of a financial mess. After a legal battle with their manager, Shel Talmy, and some bad business deals in England, they were facing bankruptcy if it didn't sell.
  • After writing this song for Nik Cohn, Townshend almost didn't even mention it to the band because he hated it so much. They told him to play it and told him he had written a hit. Meanwhile, he thought it was a mindless, badly written song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jason Lee - New York, NY
  • According to the book The Duh Awards by Bob Fenster, Rod Stewart asked Elton John if he should accept an offer to sing in Tommy. Elton told him no way, "Don't touch it with a barge pole." A year later, The Who asked Elton John to sing the same song. Elton grabbed his barge pole and took the offer. "I don't think Rod's quite forgiven me for that," he commented years later. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexandra - Hanover, PA
  • The Dutch group The Shocking Blue used the guitar riff from this song for their 1969 hit "Venus."
  • Townshend played a 1968 Gibson SG Special guitar on this song.
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Comments: 78

On October 6th 1973, the New Seekers performed "Pinball Wizard/See Me, Feel Me" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
Eight months earlier on February 18th, 1973 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #87; and on April 29th, 1973 it peaked at #29 {for 1 week} and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #16 in both the United Kingdom and Australia...
Between 1970 and 1973 this new version of the Seekers had nine Top 100 records; with one reaching the Top 10, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" at #7 {for 2 weeks} on January 9th, 1972 {the week it peaked at #7 the Hilltop Singers' version of the song was at #13 on the Top 100}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
I love this song, can't believe Pete didn't like it. The lyrics are clever and he completely nails the sound of a pinball machine with his strumming. Brilliant!Uzername - Ny, Ny
Keith Moon is one hell of a drummer.Ryan - Anahola, Hi
This song is ok...I didn't like them at the superbowl this year though. Maybe they're just getting too old. (February 7th, 2010, Superbowl 44)Emily - Around Chicago, Il
It is actually John Entwistle that plays that first lick of what many think is the electric guitar. I have The Who live at Kilburn '77, and it clearly shows him doing this.Tara - Petoskey, Mi
He says"deaf,dumb,blind kid".you people make me paranoidMatt - Houston, Tx
Watching a doc about "The Who" if you watch Keith Moon play the drums he IS "The Pinball Wizard".Brandon - Washougal, Wa
Both The Who's and Elton's versions of the song are excellent. The movie "Tommy" was bizarre. I couldn't eat baked beans for years after seeing it. Loved Elton's performance as the wizard.Andy - Dallastown, Tn
Shana from Canada, you are correct, he sings deaf, dumb and !¿¡BLACK!?¡ kid...$!n3d - $!n3d, Afghanistan
How is Amazing Journey/Sparks not on this website?Scott - Boston, Ma
Best Who song ever!Ed - York, Pa
Yeah, the bass part is wicked sweet, too. John Entwistle is my all time favorite bassist. I think I read somewhere the song actually mimics the sound of a pinball table, to some degree. Beats me. This song is the whole reason I first picked up Ultimate Collection. Now the "'oo" is definitely my favorite band.Andy - Columbus, Oh
I keep reading about the opening "guitar riff". I can't really think of it as a riff because almost anyone who plays the guitar can play it. However, when the electric guitar starts, you've got one of the greatest "hooks" in R&R history!Jim - Woodridge, Il
Love this song.. you should hear what Keith Moon had to say about it. hahaha.. he was crazy. But I respect them all. My favourite band is the Beatles and the Who remind me a lot of them for some reason. Great band, great songs!Rachel - Cleveland, Oh
does anyone know who wrote the additional lyrics for elton's version in the movie and did The Who ever play that version?E-man - Pittsburgh, Pa
exellent guitar classic beat AWSOME CLASSIC!Bobby - Sydney, Australia
the ultimate classic rock song.Tim - Philadelphia, Pa
First all, anyone who sees this song as being about drugs or sexuality has probably never played pinball. The song is literally about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid becoming the best pinball player in the world. Secondly, I think "riff" (in rock music usage) is a term usually used to refer to a recurring lead guitar part that runs under the melody of a song. A couple of good examples would be the guitar intro on the Rolling Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and the guitar/bass combo that runs throughout Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." However, the technical definition of the term would also include a chord progression. I don't think "Pinball Wizard's" chord progression would qualify as a riff since it is just a typical chord progression that goes along with the melody of the song. I would think more in terms of the chord progressions in songs like "25 or 6 to 4" or "All Along the Watchtower," where a chord progression that has a melody of its own is established and then continues to be played under the melody of the song. But perhaps someone could offer a disagreement with me. Finally, this is a great, great song. It is one of the major anthems for those of us who came of age in the 70's. As far as Elton's version goes, while I think his version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" surpassed the Beatles' version, when it comes to "Pinball Wizard," I prefer the original.Mark - Mchenry, Il
A memorable songFred - Santa Fe, Nm
Elton John took thr rock n roll out oof it thoughStephen - Claymont , De
Mcfly have released a cover version of pinball wizard, I downloaded it to compare to the who version and i was quite dissapointed with it. i would be walking around my school grounds singing the who version of it and random people would come up to me and say "haha, he likes Mcfly" wich realy gets on my nerves, i think that Mcfly give pinball wizard a bad reputation.Pete - Gatwick, England
I amsoluly love this song it is stuck in my head everyday i can not fine the cd anywhere but i am tring so hard i love the who they are my favorite band in the world. I love the guitar in this song its so good you will not foget it

-natalie kingston ontario
Natalie - Kingston , Canada
Christian from Seattle, actually, this song was written specifically for the rock opera Tommy. It even says it in the CD pamphlet in the newer albums which has an interview with Pete Townshend himself. He actually wrote it in one night thinking to himself, 'this is gonna be such a piece of crap' all for the critic. I think the song you're thinking of is Eyesight to the Blind. And there is no hidden meaning of homo-sexuality, masterbation, or drugs. This is literally about a deaf dumb and blind kid beating the best pinba;; player in the world.Joel - Palm Beach County, Fl
elton john's version was good, the who's was betterTim - Dalton, Ma
Umm, Frankie? You do realise that it's "Bass" line not as you say "Base" line...Zep - Seattle, United States
I've just noticed this song has a sweet base line too. Doesnt sound too complicated (then again I don't play base so I wouldnt know) but cool anyway.Frankie - Engine, In
Dustin, you=sick. Find your innocent inner child. For all of our sake(s). Charlie from Bridgefront, what makes you think that? I doubt you have ever heard the song. Or read these comments. William, a little agressive, eh?Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
Thank you Andria. I agree.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
The Who's and Elton John's versions are very different. Obviously, all the credit for the song goes to the Who, but that piano in Elton's version is absolutely incredible. There is no arguement against that, Elton is amazing. I can listen and love both versions.Andrea Ruhlman - Chx, Mi
elton john should have beandip spread on his face with a cement trowel. and so should any idiot that thinks his version was better.William - Phoenix, Az
Can you name the male singer originally offered the part of The Pinball Wizard in the movie Tommy? Yes, it was none other than Rod Stewart. As the story goes, Elton John convinced Rod that the part was small and that the movie wouldn't be much of a success. Rod backed out, leaving the part open for sly Elton to slip into. Clever, huh?Bill - Southeastern Part Of, Fl
I think that the opening riffs to Pinball Wizard should be the most famous riffs of all time (besides stairway) when you here it, you feel it. Tommy is one hell of an amazing journey form start to finish, and when ever Daltrey sings "See Me, Feel Me" durning this album is just mind blowing with the raw emotion. And to David from Calfironia, Elton Johns cover of this song cant touch the origional version of the who's, some fan you are, you should go screw your self.David Corino - Hawley, Pa
Elton John did a verison of this. I like it better.Deo - Annandale, Va
There was also a cover version as part of a medley with See Me, Feel Me by The New Seekers.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
okay calvin, i like the who too, but i dont believe that, i dont think its better than stairway to heaven.Jordan - Shokan, Ny
one of my friends made the off hand comment that this song was about masturbation. i have no idea what to think of the comment... any thoughts?Noah - Sherborn, Ma
At the time this was released, few people had ever heard of Bally, since all they did then was make game machines. Many people thought the lyric was "body table". Now, Bally is a worldwide entertainment and fitness conglomerate.Ken - Louisville, Ky
I Love this Song! Great guitar at the beginning.Mike - Germantown, Md
Bryan: I get your point, but I think the Who's version is better. I like Elton's version tool, and I also like the piano in the beginning. Elton did a good version, but the Who's will always stand out for me.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
Shocking Blue did not copy this lick -- the only thing the hook from "Venus" has in common with "Pinball Wizard" is the use of a suspended 4th chord. The rhythm isn't even close to the same.Alan - Louisville, Ky
Eltons virsion is 1,000 times better the the whos virsion. Eltons fast piano playing in the begining of the song tells it all.I wish I knew what notes he hitsBrian - Davis, Ca
What?? A riff isn't just a collection of chords! That's called a "chord sequence".Luke - Worthing, England
Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC, a strum is when the guitarist plays a chord... A riff is a collection of chords.Ed - London, Canada
Warning! Mc Fly have just released a cover version!Rob - St Davids, Wales
The Who are a great band and are very undercretided. They had great appearance and style for the time and they had a great writer and guitarist, Pete Townsend. I think that "Were Not Gona Take it" is the best song from Tommy, followed shortly by pinball wizard. I like Pinball wizard, but have heard it so many times that I cant listen to it, or I will get bored and Im very ashmed to say that any Who song would not get me up and jumping around. Does anyone know what pete is playing in the clip of "The Kids are Allright" at woodstock. I love the sound it have after all the distorted and feedback parts.Cole - Moraga, Ca
this song is quite possibly the greatest song ever recorded. i love the who.Calvin - Kyle, Tx
This was the song that the Who finished playing at Woodstock when Abbie Hoffman got onstage and shouted into the microphone "I think this is a pile of s--t while John Sinclair rots in prison!" Townshend proceeded to bonk him on the back of his head with his guitar.Barry - New York, Nc
this song was not written for the rock opera tommy. it was written first, and tommy was written around it.Christian - Seattle, Wi
damn good song, the opening guitar is unforgetable, great song from a great album, idk why pete hates itZola - Dublin, Oh
elton John's version is great, but the original is better! A lot better!Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
I'm not a guitar player, and this might be something I can figure out through common sense, but what's the difference between a riff and a strum? Never mind... I know what a strum is, but when is something classified as a riff?Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
I meant listen to the album and you will clearly find that it's not about a speed freak! sorry about that.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
Charlie from Bridgewater New Jersey. leave you're hidden meanings at the door OK? listen to the album, and you will clearly find that it is about a speed freak. Even if the song was about a speed freak, it wouldn't fit with the rest of the album!Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
I saw Tommy when I was seven, before I knew who the Who were. I liked it back then, but now I love it just because I appreciate the Who as one of the best bands ever. The strumming at the beginning is probably the riff I could never mistake.Matt - Millbrae, Ca
"pinball" is play on the Freudian New York slang of that epoch "needlef**k". The song is about a speedfreak (meth addict). Crazy flipper fingers refers to shooting up with a needle. "deaf dumb and blind" refers to the cold unemotional way speedfreaks are. "the digit counters fall" I take as a reference to the finger pushing the speed injection in. Similarly "supple wrist" since a wrist movement is involved in shooting up. "Plays by sense of smell" -- snorting speed. "His disciples lead him in" -- find the vein and then finally shoot.Charlie - Bridgewater, Nj
I havent heard that many "Who" songs, but this one is my favouritePhil - Niagara Falls, Canada
It's not a riff; it's a strum.Nessie - Sapporo, Japan
Dustin: It's "supple wrist".Janine - Stuttgart, Germany
if you listen to the lyrics it sounds as if the character is gay as in "I played the silver ball" and "He has such a supoil wrist".Dustin - Black Mountain, Nc
Memorably covered by Elton John in 1975.Clarke - Pittsburgh, Pa
Just thought I'd make a note- my sister thought that by "dumb," the Who actually meant that Tommy was stupid. I told her that it meant mute, which it obviously does. For anyone who still thinks that it denotes stupidity, I will explain. At one point, people thought that mutes were simply too stupid to talk- thus, the term "dumb."

By the way, the guitar riff is quite lovely. I learned how to play it (finally) and am quite impressed with myself. :D
Chiaki - Nagoya, Japan
I think by "Few people had heard of this" is refering to Woodstock... and the people not hearing the song often then...

great Song.
Kel - Bucksport, Me
pretty damm good, not my fav off 'Tommy', its a real gemSarah - Colac, Australia
I don't agree "most beople have never heard of this"-- perhaps the people in Siberia or something? I never liked Elton's version, and thought it odd they used it in the film.Gregmon - Intelbuquerque, Nm
most people have never heard this, hah! this is famous! although, it's not my fav song on this album, go to the mirror is my favCharlie - Thomaston, Ct
What a great song about overcomming obstacles. Truely one of my favorites. The underdog's rock. An overall Great song!Aj - Ontario, Canada
I LOVE THIS SONG, one of the whos best...its great, I first I thought it said: That deaf dumb Black kid sure plays a mean pinball" so i thought it was totally racist but then i read the lyrics...my bad! lolShana - Pembroke, Canada
Pete also wrote it because he had played Tommy to a Radio DJ, Nik Cohn, I think, and his response was only lukewarm.
So Townshend decided to put a pinball reference in because Cohn liked this, and Cohn immediateley loved it.
Fintan - Cheltenham, England
Townshend told moon to write tommy's holiday camp, but he was afraid that moon would screw it up, so he wrote it and gav emoon the creditTyler - Farmington, Mi
there is an accoustic version of "Pinball Wizard" played and sung by pete townshend, it's a track on Her Majesty's Secret Ball.Cassie - Detroit, Mi
Classic Who. However, Pete refers to it as the worst example of lyricism he ever did. But no one cares. It's a hit, and I stand by it.Robert - Chicago, Il
Above it says that this song was performed at woodstock, there is a video of this. i have itOwen - Suffolk, England
Pete Townshend actually didn't write Tommy in its entirety: John Entwistle (the bassist) wrote two songs (Cousin Kevin, Fiddle About), and Keith Moon (drummer) is given credit for one (Tommy's Holiday Camp).Colin - Denver, Co
One thing that worked out with the creation of this song was that the Who wanted Tommy to be excellent at playing some sport despite his being blind, deaf and dumb. From what I understand, rugby was the number one choice before Townshend wrote Pinball Wizard for Cohn. Despite Townshend's misgivings, the song also worked in another thing they were hoping to add - a teeny-bopper theme, which (at the time) pinball fit very well.

Another interesting thing about Tommy is that the Who (even Pete Townshend) had no idea people would find so much varied meaning in the story. It just goes to show that works of art can often grow beyond the intentions of their creators.
Panther - Houston, Tx
The line "I thought I was the Bally table king..." pays homage to Bally, one of two leading makers of pinball machines, along with Gottlieb.Patrick - Conyers, Ga
Although this song was by far the biggest hit on Tommy, it is my favorite albums of all time, and I would barely put Pinball Wizard in the top 10 on the album. My personal favorite is We're Not Gonna Take It (I still love Pinball Wizard).Jason Lee - New York, Ny
I love this song, it's a shame most people have never even heard it. A guitar riff that once you hear, you will never forget it.Brian - Paoli, In
This song is amazing. Tommy is my absolute favorite movie ever and has the best message to everyone. The same thing doesn't work for everyone!Julia - Buffalo, Ny
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