Pete Townshend wrote this song about a revolution. In the first verse, there is an uprising. In the middle, they overthrow those in power, but in the end, the new regime becomes just like the old one ("Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"). Townshend felt revolution was pointless because whoever takes over is destined to become corrupt. In Townshend: A Career Biography
, Pete explained that the song was antiestablishment, but that "revolution is not going to change anything in the long run, and people are going to get hurt."
The synthesizer represents the revolution. It builds at the beginning when the uprising starts, and comes back at the end when a new revolution is brewing.
Townshend wrote this as part of his "Lifehouse" project. He wanted to release a film about a futuristic world where the people are enslaved, but saved by a rock concert. Townshend couldn't get enough support to finish the project, but most of the songs he wrote were used on the Who's Next album.
Roger Daltrey's scream is considered one of the best on any rock song. It was quite a convincing wail - so convincing that the rest of the band, lunching nearby, thought Daltrey was brawling with the engineer.
The album version runs 8:30. The single was shortened to 3:35 so radio stations would play it.
Daltrey was unhappy about the editing. He recalled to Uncut magazine: "I hated it when they chopped it down. I used to say 'F--k it, put it out as eight minutes', but there'd always be some excuse about not fitting it on or some technical thing at the pressing plant."
"After that we started to lose interest in singles because they'd cut them to bits," Daltrey added. "We thought, 'What's the point? Our music's evolved past the three-minute barrier and if they can't accommodate that we're just gonna have to live on albums.'"
In a 1985 "My Generation" radio special, Pete Townshend said he wrote the song as a message to the supposedly "new breed" of politicians who came around in the early '70s.
This is the last song on the album. It was also the last song they played at their concerts for many years.
This was one of the first times a synthesizer was used in the rhythm track. When they played this live, they had to play the synthesizer part off tape.
Townshend (from Rolling Stone
magazine): "It's interesting it's been taken up in an anthemic sense when in fact it's such a cautionary piece."
Pete Townshend lived on Eel Pie Island in Richmond, London, when he wrote this song. There was an active commune on the Island at the time situated in what used to be a hotel. According to Townshend, this commune was an influence on the song. "There was like a love affair going on between me an them," he said. "They dug me because I was like a figurehead in a group, and I dug them because I could see what was going on over there. At one point there was an amazing scene where the commune was really working, but then the acid started flowing and I got on the end of some psychotic conversations."
This song was played by the remaining members of the band at "The Concert for New York City," a fundraising concert in the wake of the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001. Daltrey omitted the last line of the song: "Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss."
Part of this song is used in the opening sequence of the CBS TV series CSI: Miami
, which launched in 2002. This was the first spin-off from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
, which went on the air in 2000 with "Who Are You?
" as the theme song. Every subsequent CSI
featured a song by The Who: CSI: NY
used "Baba O'Riley
," and CSI: Cyber
went with "I Can See For Miles
This was played in Super Bowl XLI (2007) as the Indianapolis Colts came out of the locker room. The Colts won the game.
In The Simpsons
episode "A Tale of Two Springfields," Homer forms "New Springfield" and gets The Who to play there. Pete Townshend blasts the wall between old and new Springfield by blasting the guitar riff from this song.
In its May 26, 2006 issue, the conservative National Review
magazine published a list of "The 50 greatest conservative rock songs." "Won't Get Fooled Again" was ranked song number one. Pete Townsend responded on his blog as follows:
"It is not precisely a song that decries revolution - it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets - but that revolution, like all action can have results we cannot predict. Don't expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything.'' Townsend then goes on to explain that the song was simply ''Meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the center of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause.''
Pete Townshend refused Michael Moore permission to use this song in his 2004 anti-George W. Bush documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, citing the left wing filmaker as a "bully."
This was used in commercials for the 2000 Nissan Maxima. Some people considered this the biggest sellout in rock, but The Who made lots of money in the deal. The same year, Nissan used The Who's "Baba O'Reily" in an ad for their Pathfinder.
DJs like to play this as their last song before leaving a particular radio station because of the line "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - a snub directed at station management because they might not be leaving on the friendliest terms.