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Album: Who Are You?Released: 1978Charted:
This song is based on a day in the life of Pete Townshend. It began with a very long meeting dealing with royalties for his songs: "Eleven hours in the Tin Pan, God, there's got to be another way." The "Tin Pan" he is referring to is "Tin Pan Alley" which is the name given to the collection of New York City-centered music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States. After this excruciating meeting he received a large check for royalties, left and went to a bar and got completely drunk. In that bar he encountered Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols, who thought very highly of Pete for paving the way for Punk rock music. Townshend was conflicted because he feared The Who had sold out, and seeing The Sex Pistols, who were icons of rebellion, exasperated him even more. Pete left that bar and passed out in a random doorway in Soho (a part of New York). A policeman recognized him ("A policeman knew my name") and being kind, woke him and and told him, "You can go sleep at home tonight (instead of a jail cell), if you can get up and walk away." Pete's response: "Who the f--k are you?"
According to the 1985 Pete Townshend "My Generation" radio special, the song came out different than intended when Roger Daltrey sang it. Townshend said the song became a prayer from a destitute man. The man is on the street, looking up to the sky and asking God, "Who are you?"
The cover picture on the album features the band with drummer Keith Moon sitting on a chair that has the words "Not to be taken away" on the back of it. Moon passed away weeks after the photo was taken, and this was his last album.
Daltrey says the F-word twice in this song: "Who the f--k are you." It can still be heard today with the expletive in it on many Classic Rock stations.
This is the theme song for the CBS TV series CSI
, which went on the air in 2000 (although when the huge "YEAAAHHH!!!!" is heard it's actually from "Won't Get Fooled Again," also by the Who, which was is spliced in). The song is an appropriate choice, as the crime scene investigators try to determine "who" the victims are and "who" killed them. Fans of the The Who also fit the demographics of the show, which is targeted to baby boomers.
When CBS created spin-off shows, they used more Who songs: CSI Miami
(2002) uses "Won't Get Fooled Again
"; CSI New York
(2004) uses "Baba O'Riley
"; CSI: Cyber
(2015) uses "I Can See For Miles
The Who and CBS have gotten along quite well, as the shows enjoyed stellar ratings and the group has profited from the use of the songs.
The documentary The Kids Are Alright shows The Who in a studio recording this song. John, Keith, and Pete do the clapping part, but John comes in early, which leads the rest of the group to laugh hysterically. John also amuses Keith by twirling his hands between claps. Pete mocks Keith fixing his hair, and at the end holds his hand out for a high five, and you can hear a smack and him screaming, "OW!"
Townshend has only vague memories of writing this song, as he composed it with a hangover. He explained: "I'd like to think that where the song came from wasn’t the feet that I was drunk when I did the demo, but the fact that I was f--king angry with [manager] Allen Klein, and that the song was an outlet for that anger."
Roger Daltrey recalled to Uncut magazine: "We were getting incredible accolades from some of the new Punk bands. They were saying how much they loved The Who, that we were the only band they'd leave alive after they'd taken out the rest of the establishment! But I felt very threatened by the Punk thing at first. To me it was like, 'Well, they think they're f---ing tough, but we're f---ing tougher.' It unsettled me in my vocals. When I listen back to 'Who Are You?' I can hear that it made me incredibly aggressive. But that's what that song was about. Being pissed and aggressive and a c---!"
"It was only a few years after that I realized what a great favor Punk did the business," Daltrey added. "We toured with The Clash in 1982, we took them to the US with us, and I used to f---ing love watching 'em. I'm still a huge Joe Strummer fan."