This is the last track on The Who's rock opera Quadrophenia. The main character Jimmy suffers from a four-way split personality, with each personality reflecting a member of The Who. This is Pete Townshend's theme. The personality is described as "A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign over me."
At the end of the story, Jimmy steals a boat and takes it to a rock out on the sea. What happens out on the rock is described in this song.
Townshend was a follower of the spiritualist Meher Baba. Meher Baba's teachings were incorporated into some of Townshend's songs, including this one.
Townshend (from the Quadrophenia liner notes): "(Love, Reign O'er Me) refers to Meher Baba's one time comment that rain was a blessing from God; that thunder was God's Voice. It's another plea to drown, only this time in the rain. Jimmy goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it's over and he goes back to town he'll be going through the same s--t, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he's moved up a level. He's weak still, but there's a strength in that weakness. He's in danger of maturing." (thanks, Jon - Sunnyvale, CA, for all above)
In 2007, Adam Sandler starred in a dramatic film titled after this song, named Reign Over Me. Sandler played a widowed dentist who can only relate to old Rock music since losing his family in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The soundtrack of the film featured a cover version of this song by the band Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder is a huge Who fan, and has covered many Who songs in the past. (thanks, Bert - Pueblo, NM)
Roger Daltrey was asked by Q magazine March 2008 about Pete Townshend struggling to write songs for his voice. The Who vocalist replied: "It's what makes The Who what it is. That's always been Pete's thing: writing songs with a different lead singer in mind. When you listen to something like 'Love, Reign O'er Me,' he wrote it as an enlightened, spiritual piece of music, and I went and sang it with this scream of frustration from the street. Not what we had in mind. But the great thing about The Who was that we all had the intelligence to realize when someone was putting in something valuable."
In a January, 2010 press release, Pete Townshend explained why Quadrophenia remains his most multi-dimensional work. Said Townshend: "Quadrophenia is music, it's angry music, it never lets up, it's full of energy. But it's also simply a story of a kid who has a bad day. It rains and he goes and sits on a rock. And he contemplates the future and the present, and he decides to do something that he's never done before - he prays." (thanks, DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation)
When Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry were given Kennedy Center Honors in 2008, Bettye LaVette performed this song at the ceremony. LaVette started recording in the '60s, but never scored a Hot 100 hit. She gained widespread recognition in the '00s when her releases began attracting attention, especially her striking renditions of famous songs. At the ceremony, Townshend and Daltry were clearly stunned by the performance, and LaVette earned a bevy of new fans.
In her Songfacts interview
, LaVette explained that she didn't know these famous songs when they were first recorded, so she was free to create her own interpretations. Said LaVette: "Since the songs didn't mean anything to me, they aren't the altar I worship at the way people heard them growing up in the '60s. I don't have that reverence for them. I don't have anything that would hinder me from making them a totally different tune."