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Who Are You? by The Who

Album: Who Are You?Released: 1978Charted:
14
18
  • 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?" >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Tim - Waterloo, Canada
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Frank - Brandon, Canada
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Conrad - Los Angeles, CA
  • 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."
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Comments: 92

Barry, there's a SoHo in Manhattan.Luke - Manchester, Uk
On August 20th 1978, "Who Are You" by The Who entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #70; and on October 29th, 1978 it peaked at #14 {for 2 weeks} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
Between 1965 and 1984 the English quartet had twenty-seven Top 100 records; their biggest hit was "I Can See For Miles", it peaked at #9 {for 2 weeks} on November 19th, 1967...
Even though they only had one Top 10 record, eleven of their albums made the Top 10 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart...
Sadly, two original members have passed away; Keith John Moon {1946 - 1978} and John Alec Entwistle {1944 - 2002}...
May they both R.I.P.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
And by the way soho is in England not New York because in the song Pinball Wizard he says "from soho down to Brighton I must have played them all" and Brighton is a city in southern England which is still way north of New York.Alex - Johns Creek, Ga
I always thought he meant that when he was in the club he saw the sex pistols perform and seeing that they were very popular and having never heard of them himself realized that he was being replaced as a popular artist and was saying who the f___k are you to the sex pistolsAlex - Johns Creek, Ga
Not debating any possible meaning(s) of the song. But there was an article that stated that Pete wrote the lyrics just to see how many times he could get Roger to sing the band's name in a single song.Jeff - Santa Clarita, Ca
no one seems to get that "who are you" isn't a question, it's a statement to the Sex Pistols saying "The Who are you" as in The Who are The Sex Pistols, The Who are the original punks.
----HERB IN NY: you are so right it's gotta be HOUND!!!!
Jack - Mesa, Az
from reading several books on the Who, Pete had left a meeting finally freeing them from Allan Kliens management. (who the stones had recommended to the band after the modfather Pete Meadon had led them down their first path of fiancial instability) Klien had taken advantage of the band, as it is well known many "managers" did in that time period. There was a settlement that day in London with Klien that made the entire band solvent millionaires for the first time. (although Klien or his estate i believe to this day continues to get paid on a portion of the caltalogue) Pete feeling the ambiguity of finally being paid what he was worth vs, the bands relevance with the "punk" expolsion of 1986 wandered from the meeting into SOHO, and preceded to get loaded at a well known happening music club. At the club were Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, obviously not only the new rage musically, but in Petes's mind everything that he had left behind. (idealism, politics, the voice of youth, as he was now a millionaire) Petes, "preaching from his chair" was his lecture to the boys on how they were socially and musically the next wave of at one time the Who had represented as the leaders of the "new revolution." Townshend upset with not only his perception of his own bands sell out and the horrible 70's indulgence of rock, lectured the lads on what the pistols meant as the future of music. To verify this actually event occuring there is a foto of the 3 sitting at i believe the roxy. Evidently the new, wave of cook and jones quizzed pete about cars, bird,s and all the other indulgences of rock stardom. Not sure if there were fistucuffs, but Pete obviouly let it be known his disappointment. This lead to the obvious first verse of what transpired, Pete waking after a blackout facing a constable. There is the, "lost second verse" that is a lot more relevant to his experience that day, "I used to check my refection, jumping with my cheap guitar, i must have lost my direction because i ended up a superstar, what happens in the boardroom, One night I'm in the board affected by the human race, you can learn from my mistakes but your posing in the glass again." Seems to speak to his prior meetings ad then his random with the pistols and there inquires of breaking the charts and being rockstars, no revolutionaries. Sources,( probably jones and cook) insist that pete in his cups continued after numerous corrections to call them both johnny and rotten assuming he was speaking to John Lydon, who obviously would have been more receptive to being the new guard.) So at the end of the day, the version that camed out was about a dreadfully hungover Pete returning home 3rd verse you got me? On can assume after what pete had experienced that day lead to the ultimate in self reflection, Who the f@ck are you"Chis - Huntington Beach, Ca
My impression of this song has always been that someone's trying to figure out who THEY are and what their life means. In other words, "Who am I?" (as if looking in a mirror and seeing "you" as their own face).Jim - Pleasant Hill, Ca
even though Roger Daltrey is traditionally acknowledged as the leader of the Who - by Townshend himself - Townshend was the ballsy guy who had to cope with record company executives, and battle for the Who to get their money. record companies always try to screw artists out of money and many artists never fight for heir wages. who are you is about such a bout - Townshend won. The Who never got paid for Woodstock!!John - Honolulu, Hi
(Remember won't get fooled again" Nixon, vietnam etc.)... WFGA was not about Nixon or Vietnam. It was about Townshend's ultimate disappointment with the promise of the '60s revolution. In his mind, it had failed all its beautiful promise. It's his vision of the future in which we're all still at each others' throats. Won't Get Fooled Again is about the death of naivete; it refutes anti-intellectualism. Nixon/Vietnam has nothing to do with it. By the way, I'm a liberal.Paul - Seattle, Wa
EVERYONE IS WRONG SOHO that he is speaking of is London's Soho in the UK. The Tin Pan is Londons Tin Pan Alley on Denmark Street in Londons West End where Petes Studio was. The Policeman was a British Bobby and The fight with the sex Pistols was in LONDON not New York.
ALSO the lyric is I felt a little like a dying HOUND not clown HOUND. I know alot of the lyric sites have it wrong but it is dying hound with streak of rin tin tin a dog!!
Herb - New York, Ny
According to Rolling Stone, "'Who Are You' was spun out of the night that Townshend, already drunk after hours of financial haggling, half-recognized two members of the Sex Pistols in a bar: that is, he thought either Steve Jones or Paul Cook was Johnny Rotten. Corrected, he felt even more confused: Why can't I see straight? Cook and Jones, supposedly arrogant young punks working out their rock & roll Oedipal complex, were thrilled to meet Townshend and horrified at what he had to tell them: the Who were finished, used up, wasted. The incident left Townshend passed out in a Soho street, which is where the song begins. Townsend (in the voice of Roger Daltrey) wakes up with one enormous question: Who are you? It's addressed to Cook and Jones (Who are these upstarts, who would never have played a not had not Townshend picked up a guitar more than a decade back?); to the cop who, recognizing Townshend, sends him home without a bust (Who are the fans?); to himself (What does it mean to be a rocker? What kind of wreck has the life made him?); and, finally, to anyone who's listening. 'Whooooooo/Are you?' hums the chorus. 'I really want to know!' Daltrey shouts back, echoing Donovan's 'What Goes On,' but while Donovan communicated hippie certainty that all things would come, Daltrey is desperate, sure of nothing."
- Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone, 10/19/78.
Kenny - New York, Ny
The way I heard him explain it many years ago, was he was speaking to Rock and Roll for putting him in his drunken state.Sal - Brentwood, Ny
To add to comments already made yes Vincent is quite a way off the mark. Firstly the Who were undoudtedly a major influence on punk - this was acknowledged by many, but at the same time it was part of punk's "Year Zero" rhetoric to dismiss the past. As for the Pistols, Rotten(who had quite avant-garde taste in music) slagged them off, but Steve Jones(guitarist) and Paul Cook(drummer)were not-so-secret Who fans, and the Pistols covered "Substitute" in their very early days.
The song refers to an incident at the Speakeasy Club in London (a well known meeting place for established rock musicians) when a very drunk Pete Townshend, tortured by the Who's "selling out" was bemused to see Cook and Jones and started haranguing them telling them "You've got to take over where the Who left off- and this time you've got to finish the f***ing job". Pete became even more exasperated when Cook and Jones' response was "The Who aren't splitting up are they?", and stormed out. This is based on Dave Marsh's comprehensive biog "Before I Get Old", and Townshend has always been obsessively analyitical and concerned about the Who's relevance to current music.
As for Brandon's question about the final verse (on the album version, not the single release) about "Spit out like a sewer" I think this is probably about him getting back to his long suffering wife the following morning! Simple!!
Ross - Leicester, United Kingdom
My #1 favorite song of ALL TIME!!! The Who is awesome!!! :)Jj - Washington, Dc
I've read all the comments listed below and Neil from London is the only one Who got it right. Ryan from Eaton, are you sure you listened to "Who Are You?" it IS an acoustic guitar solo, "My Generation" is the ONLY Who song to have what you would call a "bass solo". THe explanation for this song is simple, but the other interpretations listed have some interesting ideas.David - Brisbane, Australia
I love this song. Of course, I'm a CSI NUT but hey, it's a good song.Kaila - Ottawa, On
Someone below mentioned the "acoustic guitar solo", and states what an amazing guitarist Pete is. Yes, he's an amazing guitarist....but that's a bass solo.Ryan - Eaton, In
The boys in class sing this all the time and ms. pritchard gets *ANGRIFIED*!!! and and and she's not *SISSIFIED*!!! she's *MANIFIED*!!!Shamomo Apaulo Onono - Liverpool, Oh
I remember when the song came out - at the height of punk. It blew everyone away and gave The Who a new lease of life. I've always thought it was about a night out in Londons Soho, sleeping it off in a doorway, and a friendly cop advising Pete to go home. London can be like that sometimes. Everyone happy.Jim - Canvey Island, United Kingdom
This is one of my favorite songs by the who. it's kinda easy to see what it's aboutCj - Normal , Il
Used as the theme music for the CBS show "CSI"Marshall - Salem, Or
Actually even with all the analyzing the lyrics seem pretty lame. That seems to be sort of par for the course. The Who's music is great. The arrangement is what is so compelling. But the lyrics are sort of...........well, Paul Simon will always be a better lyricist.


I feel retarded now.......
Jezebel - Lincoln, Mo
No 4 Top Albums in Oct 1978, source Billboard 10 years ago list Oct 8, 1988Donna - College Station, Tx
Actually even with all the analyzing the lyrics seem pretty lame. That seems to be sort of par for the course. The Who's music is great. The arrangement is what is so compelling. But the lyrics are sort of...........well, Paul Simon will always be a better lyricist.Heather - Los Angeles, Ca
The first paragraph of the text is way off. It's *not* New York. Sorry, but Pete was in London. He lives there. London, England. Soho is the night-club area and Pete was drinking with Steve Cook and Paul Jones of the sex pistols. He was telling them that they were the future of music and they had to take the "baton". Hence the line "preaching from my chair". They told him in no uncertain terms to go away. After Pete left, he passed out in a doorway. A policeman recognised him, and told him if he didnt get a move on, he'd run him in. Pete took the tube home. I tried this same feat when I first arrived in London and travelling on the tube in that state is not easy. Respect, Pete. Respect. BTW "The Tube" is what Londoners call the underground rail system. NYers call it the subway. Anyway, any Who fan knows all this as Pete has gone on and on about it. Some people here looking for hidden meanings. This is just Pete recounting a night out on the p*ss and going through his anti-star period where he was fed up with who he was and what he'd become. See "Cache Cache" from the next album. He felt out of touch with reality and punk was taking off, and he wasn't part of it. The producers of CSI must be Who fans. By the way, the way to pronounce "The Who" is "the 'oo".. Otherwise you just ain't London...Neil - London
I can't remember if I read it or heard it from a friend who read a bunch about The Who. But my understanding is this is Townshend thanking Daltery for saving his life. ( Pete was strung out on heroin ). Thus the line " I spit out like a sewer hole and still receive your kiss, how can I measure up to anyone else after such a love as this ". The earlier parts are autobiographical, with him getting into the Sex Pistols and repeatedly and sarcastically asking them who they think they are. " preaching from my chair "Drew - Lincoln, Ne
I love this song. Keith Moon is sooo funny and talented. The video is soooo cool. The Who are the best.Shannan - Wilmington, De
Must rank as one of the great Who songs. The musical invention is simply stunning, theres been nothing like it before or since.

A fitting tribute as well to Moon the Loon.
Paul - Worthing, England
Saw the Who preform in November of last year, and when they played this I knew then and there this was one of the highest points of my life. It was amazing. Townsend is a god.Alex - Lagrange, Ga
well vincent could be right if he just changed "80's" to "late 70's" cause the punk revoltion was in the mid and late 70sJeff - Sothington, Ct
This, to me, is the best song by the Who. Other songs by them that rank up there include "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Behind Blue Eyes", "I Can See For Miles", "Baba O'Riley", "Love Reign O'er Me" and "Bargain".Jonathon - Clermont, Fl
I heard this song play on the radio recently. Not only did it have the F-word both times, but it also had another verse that I don't have on my version on my I-pod. Something with the line "spit out like a sewer hole, but I still receive your kiss." What gives and how does this verse fit in with the rest of the song???Brandon - Peoria, Il
Plus Vincent, as another poster mentioned, this song came out in 1978.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
Vincent, Syd Vicious died in 1979. That would be impossible.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
I like the long version the most because the album version runs six minutes and 21 seconds.Melissa - Fairborn, Oh
um...no vincent that's impossible considering this song was released in 1978. It is in fact about Pete's terrible night out with two of the Sex Pistols.
By the way the acoustic guitar solo in this song is absolutely phenominal. Pete Townshend is such an underated guitarist.
Griffin - New York, Ny
I believe some of you have some of the facts regarding this song.

In the eighties when Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and other members of the Punk Revolution went around stating that "they" were the original punks/anarchists.

One of them went on the BBC and said, "The Who were not responsible for the social revolution" Whoever that was, either Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious this was nevertheless a lame attempt to discredit the work Pete Townsend and The Who did over the many years creating and changing the awareness of the hazards of government. (Remember won't get fooled again" Nixon, vietnam etc.

Pete Townsend, aware of this attitude by the punks wrote a song "Who are You?" as a rebuttle to the lame statement as to who were actually responsible for the revolution. As the social revolution was in the sixties I believe it was bands like The Who and not the later day eighties punks who were ironically born during the sixties and who never experienced this social change.

Pete wrote the song kind of as a "Day in the Life" sort of idea, reflecting on a punkers day trying to make it. I don't believe God is in there in some symbolic reference. "I staggered back to the Underground, where the breeze blew back my hair". Perhaps a reflection of the rebelists hair, and the Underground as a symbolic place to gain noteriety since underground music was hot in the eighties. "Tin Pan Alley" is a fictional place, like "Gasoline Alley" both are places where members congregate for auto work or budding artists. "I remember throwing punches around and preaching from my chair", more attempts to get their point across. "Rin Tin Tin",, well he had brandy around his neck and he saved many people. Pete did love Remy Martin Cognac in fact he dedicated an album to the stuff. All in all it's about responding to the crap from the eighties punks who attempted to take responsibility for the punk movement away from the grandfather of punk..Pete. "Who are you?" Really who are you to stay something that upsurd. At the end of the song, the lyrics pretty much say,, were are all in this together. I accept you for you and you for me.
Vincent - Newington, Ct
This is such a good song, but I don't think the album it was off (Who Are You) is particulary good. Nothing on the album comes even close to this.Mark - Perth, Australia
Haha, I ALWAYS have this one in my head. Its really good, but I agree, Roger didn't sing it very well, and it does kinda sound like a hangover.Lola - Chapel Hill, Nc
Well the last Who song with the whole bandDan - Lee, Nh
Larry this was the last Who song
- Dan, Lee, NH

They did like three more albums after this.
Ben - Nyc, Ms
Yes. I like to impress my friends. I love the ending to this song.Deo - Annandale, Va
Jmes, it's definitely about Pete on a night out, not Keith.Fintan - Cheltenham, England
There is no scream in "Who Are You", that's in and even better song "Won't Get Fooled Again".Evan - Schererville, In
I think in an interview Pete said something about this being religious. Greatest scream in a song ever.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
Brian in Grand Forks is correct. However, he fails to mention that Pete ripped up that sizable check in front of two of the Sex Pistols. It was a royalty check. The tin pan being Tin Pan Alley, the songwriting capitol of the world. In NYC. Broadway in the sixties. Home of Ascap and other music publishers. The rolling pin is his wife obviously.Michael - Nyc, United States
Larry this was the last Who songDan - Lee, Nh
The last great Who song.Larry - Vancouver, Wa
Ive read somewhere that this song was about a recollection by keith moon of a wild nite out drinkin'.

Either way, it's a top song, timeless.

PS: It's 1 of the 1st song to mention the word "f*ck" without it getting blipped out, way to go roger.
James - Sydney, Australia
This song is superb. Its the last song that Keith Moon played in the studio. It sounded amazing at Live 8, and Pete added a little Gutair Solo in it.Vincent - St. Davids, England
The song is a slap in the face for people to look in the mirror
"Aww who the f**k are you?
Well...who are you?
Rex Jackson - Sleze Lans, Ma
The lyric is metaphoric. It alludes to a punk - but refers to Townshend himself - the two give aways are firstly, "dying clown" - Townshend referred to himself autobiographically as a "paper clown" in the first line of "However Much I Booze" on Who By Numbers, and secondly, "eleven hours in the Tin Pan" - referring to the recording studio.

Always loved Daltry's interpretation and angry delivery - perfectly reflects the punk analogy.

- KAT, Adelaide, Aust
Jonothan - Adelaide, Australia
I don't buy the homeless argument. A policeman probably knows many homeless persons by face, but few by name. The cop says "you can go home"... but homeless folks don't have homes. He takes the tube... which costs money. He goes "Back to the Rollin' Pin" ... a reference to fighting with his wife (over being drunk). And the kicker: "my busy day
Eleven hours in the Tin Pan
God, there's got to be another way".... which is an obvious reference to Pete's profession: Tin Pan Alley is old slang for music publishing. Not many homeless people are in that business.
Terry - Ocean Springs, Ms
I have to agree with the spiritual explanation of this song. Pete Townshend always seems to have some sort of spiritual meaning in a lot of his songs. Also to disagree with the Sex Pistols arguement, in Johnny Rotten's autobiograpy he mentioned meeting Pete Townshend and liking Pete because of his open mindedness.Tony - Roanoke, Va
It's sad that a lot of people know this song more for CSI than the great Who song that it is without the TV show.Matt - Millbrae, Ca
this song is awesome and is always stuck in my head!!!Nicole - Hampstead, Nc
actually CSI uses this as well as Wont Get Fooled Again, from which it borrows Roger's "YEAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!"Mason - San Antonio, Tx
Ben's exegesis is excellent. I would just argue that "rollin' pin" is slang for the wife ...i.e., standing in the doorway with a rollin' pin awaiting the return of her loutish hubby.Bill - Washington, Dc
I always heard the Sex Pistols story. But what I heard was that Pete failed to recognive them and he passed out after some heavy drinking. when he came to, the policeman recognized him, and that leads into the song. why would Pete all of a sudden be saying that the song was written in religious context?Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
the comment saying roger daltrey writes most of the vocals,,, thats is a lie...a pure lieTommy - Oceanport, Nj
This is the song that got me into the Who.

The Sex Pistols story is really interesting... the God explanation is plausible too. Roger Daltrey definitely didn't sing it, well, "piously" though.
Maya - San Francisco-ish, Ca
Okay, here is what I know about the meaning of the song. I recall reading that in some article profiling Pete. During the period 1976-1978, Pete was going through a tough time - drugs, alcoholism, disillusionment,etc. Apparently, he hit rock bottom and actually found himself face to face with a cop after collapsing in public. A cop found him and was going to cite him for disorderly conduct, however, he let him go on his own. After that incident, Pete was trying to come to terms with his life and felt completely lost as I am sure any of us would under the same circumstances. "Who are you" was Pete asking himself who "he" had become. Obviously, he didn't like what he saw. If you listen to the lyrics it makes sense.Mark - Manassas , Va
The remastered version of the album includes a version of the song with a different second verse:
I used to check my reflection
Jumping with my cheap guitar.
I musta lost my direction
'Cause I ended up a superstar.
One night I's in the Boardroom
Head check by the human race.
You can learn from my mistakes
But you're posing in the glass again.
Jim - Rochester, Ny
this has GOT to b ethe best song EVER.
the words, the beat, the music.
moon never played hi-hats live, only in the studio.
i wonder why?
Andrew - Ny, Ny
Now the Sex Pistol fight explanation:

"I woke up in a Soho doorway" -now implying drunkenness "A policeman knew my name He said, 'You can go sleep at home tonight If you can get up and walk away'" -the cop recognises him and seems togo easy on him because of it. this might be an insult though, for a radical revolutionary to be respected by a poloce officer... "I staggered back to the underground And the breeze blew back my hair" -still just the subway "I remember throwin' punches around And preachin' from my chair" -this time, the flash back is to the 'preachin' to the Sex Pistols as Brian suggested, which reportedly lead to a fist fight "Who are you" -a message to the Sex Pistols, maybe violent and asking who they think they are, or maybe a challenge to really defign themselves and step up to take The Whoo's place"I took the Tube back out of town Back to the Rollin' Pin" -still the subway. 'the Rollin' Pin' might be a refrence to the Rolling Stone Magazine and the mass produced music it represents "I felt a little like a dying clown With a streak of Rin Tin Tin" -a clown, one of the lowest of entertainers, painting a smile on their face so you can't see how unhappy they may be; dying, or giving up; and trained and obediant to the masses like a dog; all in all feeling like a sell-out "I stretched back and I hiccupped And looked back on my busy day" -still sarcasticly feeling useless, still drunk "Eleven hours in the Tin Pan" -Dallas' idea of the 'Tin Pan' being the recording studio fits right in here "God, there's got to be another way" -a better way to pay the bills than selling out like he feels he's doing "Who are you" -this time asking himself, and of corse the band Who are you, Who? "I know there's a place you walked Where love falls from the trees" -again, a different mood after the long interlude, he's winding down and either refering to an older artist that inspired him or the kind of movements of the late 60s and early 70s, in any case, he says 'falls' present tense, suggesting it can be returned to "My heart is like a broken cup I only feel right on my knees" -he feels empty, broken, and frighteningly comfortable being subservient "I spit out like a sewer hole" -he disgustingly spews out terrible music he doesn't believe in (in his own oppinion) "Yet still recieve your kiss" -but the fans still eat it up anyway "How can I measure up to anyone now After such a love as this?" -How can he measure up to his idols if he's sold out to the 'love' of these fake fans that will buy his music even, or maybe only, when he compramises himself? "Who are you? -this time he asks the listener... "Notes: over all, this explanation fits better, though it leaves off unresolved. Also, a mahjor problem with the destitute man explanation, how does the destitute man afford to use the subway so cassually?
Ben - Mount Vernon, Ia
Either way, here's how the song could break down, begining with the posted explanation of the destitute man and God:

"Who are you?"
-Questioning God's plan and why He would let him suffer like this

"I woke up in a Soho doorway"
-implying homelessness
"A policeman knew my name"
-so they've had run-ins before
"He said, 'You can go sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away'"
-It could be as sinister as Steve said...

"I staggered back to the underground
And the breeze blew back my hair"
-meaning the subway, the 'brease' a passing train
"I remember throwin' punches around
And preachin' from my chair"
-this flashes back to hard times, but what he was 'preachin' about is debateable

"I took the Tube back out of town
Back to the Rollin' Pin"
-took the subway, but where is 'the Rollin' Pin'?
"I felt a little like a dying clown
With a streak of Rin Tin Tin"
-feeling overlooked and useless, like a beat-up dog

"I stretched back and I hiccupped
And looked back on my busy day"
-sarcasticly feeling useless, still drunk
"Eleven hours in the Tin Pan
God, there's got to be another way"
-Where is the 'Tin Pan'? angry at God

"I know there's a place you walked
Where love falls from the trees"
-more mornfull after the long interlude, some of the anger gone, thinking of heaven
"My heart is like a broken cup
I only feel right on my knees"
-now instead of demanding from God, asking to serve, seeking salvation

"I spit out like a sewer hole"
-representing being unclean, even disgusting
"Yet still recieve your kiss"
-God still loves him though
"How can I measure up to anyone now
After such a love as this?"
-How can he follow His path as lowly as he feels?

Notes: the analogies and locations don't seem to fit as well as the fight explanation, however, it does reach greater resolution in the end.
Ben - Mount Vernon, Ia
Ok, here's the deal. Good 'ol Pete has made both claims on the song's original meaning. The idealist in me wants to believe that he made the song to make a deep statement through a passed-over, societally insignificant person's view; but the more cynical side of me thinks it's more likely that this song originated from his fight with the Sex Pistols, and the conversation with God is no more than a cover.Ben - Mount Vernon, Ia
Just a minor thought. The line "You can go sleep at home tonight/If you can get up and walk away" always struck me as more sinister. As in, "After I'm done walloping the s**t out of you, if you can still walk, then you can go home." I know this is late in the Who's timeline, but it always seemed (for me) to hearken back to their more revolutionary days--"My Generation" and all that.Steve - Center Valley, Pa
Hey "Paul, Rothesay" Sorry man, but you're thinking of the song "Happy Jack".Mic Calla - Toronto, Canada
Brian from Grand Forks, is pretty much right on the money. This whole story is in the biography of The Who "Before I Get Old, the Story of The Who" by Dave Marsh, one of the founding editors of Creem magazine, and columnist for Rolling Stone back in the day. See pages 483-485. It may be a prayer for the destitute man. But that destitute man was Pete.Steve - Fremont, Ca
Listen carefully, at the very end of the song you can hear Pete Townsend yelling something like "I
saw ya", refering to Keith Moon, who was ordered
out of the recording studio. Apparantly, he was
out of control and disrupting things. Not Keith!
Paul - Rothesay, Nb, Canada
Having been in that same doorway too many times, I tend to believe Paul's take on the story. But this is deeper, an everyman's tribute to what was and continues in every bluesman's angst. In that respect, it is indeed a religious thread....Pete - Kansas City, United States
Shana, he does say who the f*ck are you. At concerts Roger makes sure he yells the f word to entertain the crowdJp - Kelowna, Canada
Josef from Corpus Christi, TX the real name for the song Teenage Wasteland is Baba O'RileyKieran - Albury-wodonga, Australia
This song is great...I had a feeling that it said Who the F**k are you, but i wasnt sure....Shana - Pembroke, Canada
CSI Ney York also uses Teenage Wasteland...very appropriate for the setting of the show.Josef - Corpus Christi, Tx
I read where Townsend said it is a question and answer to Who fans, fans that made the Who. "Who are you?' "You are Who" "Who the f--- are you?" "You are, f---k the Who". Townsend was always very quick to praise Who fansDavid - Waco, Tx
It is based on Pete waking up in a doorway, I can remember hearing this when it was released.John - Durham, England
Kinda neat that the whole song is like a parallel with the song The Punk Meets The Godfather on Quadrophenia.Tyler - Farmington, Mi
Song is one of the Who's most memorable songs. Edited several different times (single, 3:30; radio edit, 5:00), etc. Also, the CSI theme songRobert - Chicago, Il
pete was drunk in a bar, sex pistols, come in start talking to him, and hes like "who the f--k are you"Alex - Sacramento, Ca
elven hours in a tin pan. could that reflect on spending so much time in a recording studio. just a thought.Dallas - Iowa, Ky
Where did you guys come up with the Religious angle on this...

Here's the story that Pete Told about the song... Paraphrased by Me...

He just recieved a Royalty check for about a Million bucks or so... And instead of being happy about it... He looked at the check and thought that he and the band was selling out... The Sex Pistols and bands like that were taking the place of the Who when it came to the social issues of the time... The Who were being called Dinosaurs... Pete was questioning what had happened to the Who... That same night... He went to a Bar in Soho... Feeling Depressed he started drinking heavy... Members of the Sex Pistols walked in... And Pete started screaming at them... Saying that it was up to them(The Sex Pistols) to continue what they(The Who)Started a decade ago... He then angrily stormed out of the bar and passed out a block away... A Policeman woke him up and recoginized him and said the famous line... You can go sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away... That is what the song is about... That was a paraphrased quote from Pete Townshend...
Brian - Grand Forks, Nd
Ok, in case you didn't notice Pete seems to write about his experiences...this being one of them. The song is about him getting wasted one night and ending up at a Police Station and the Policemen ask him "Who Are You" he simply replies "Well who the f**k are you". When he wakes up in a "Soho Door where policemen knew his name" he is drunk in Soho, England. They tell him he can "go home if you could get up and walk away" and this leads into the song.Joe D - Hamden, Ct
Pardon my opinion, but the words to this song don't mean jack squat. You could insert any lyric in any one of the verses. This song is about Pete Townsend and John Entwistle playing great, great music. There is suspense and power in the music. The "Who are you" is a hook we can all relate with, but the image that comes in my mind when I see the title is Pete Townsend doing with arm fully extended crashing onto his guitar strings over and over. This is bigger than just a rock song...it is an icon.Paul - Greenwood, Sc
Black Sabbath also had a song called "Who Are You?" which some people say is about Jesus. I think it's about the Antichrist.Brett - Edmonton, Canada
"I woke up in a SoHo doorway,
a policeman in my face,
he said you can go sleep at home tonight,
if you can get up and walk away"
From word one it is quite obvious that it is about a destitute man.
Bill - Mather, Pa
I as well thought this song to be about a hangover in a foreign country or something... but I also can see how Townshend thought it lost its religious context the way Daltry sang it, cuz i never would have thought it as a religious song whatsoever..Dylan - Abby, Canada
It sounds to me like this song is about a hangover.Cody - San Antonio, Tx
My favorite of all "rowdy" tunes. Pete isn't only speaking to God now, he is praying like hell...and speaking to a lawyer.Chris - Hull, Ma
This song is about a fight that the ho had with the sex pistols.Dornan - Lagrange, Ga
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