In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine just after this song became a hit, Townshend referred to it as "just a ditty." He went on to say that he preferred another song from Empty Glass, "A Little is Enough," which only reached #72 on the US charts.
Pete Townshend has been a follower of the Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba (1894-1969) since 1968 and this appears to be a devotional love song to his religious guru. However, in the liner notes of Townshend's Gold (Remaster) CD, he refers to this song as "Jesus sings."
The "love will set you free" message in this song is something Pete Townshend aspired to in his spiritual life, but wasn't able to sustain as he turned to drugs and alcohol around this time.
When The Who drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, the band carried on, but with loads of tension. Townshend felt it acutely, as his whole life was tied up in the band, including his friendships and his finances. His creative output stayed strong - The Who released albums in 1981 and 1982, and he put out solo albums in 1980 and 1982 - but he nearly killed himself with his vices.
After two stays in rehab, Townshend got clean in 1982 and was able to reflect on this time. He realized he was pushing his guru, Meher Baba, out of his life as a defense mechanism because he couldn't deal with his issues.
Among the films to use this song are Look Who's Talking (1989), Mr. Deeds (2002) and Along Came Polly (2004). A different version was recorded for Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), and It was also the end credit song for Jersey Girl (2004). The song played a prominent role in the 2007 movie Dan In Real Life, where Steve Carell and Dane Cook perform the song to Cook's girlfriend, whom Carell has deep feelings for.
Two of the musicians on this track, the bass player Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki, formed the Scottish rock quartet Big Country in 1981.
Townshend released a slower version of this song in 1996 that he called the "E. Cola mix," which he remixed with Jack Hues of Wang Chung along with Chris Hughes and Tim Oliver. This version was used in the 1997 film Grosse Pointe Blank and appeared on the soundtrack. In 2017, this version of the song was used in the "So Swayze It's Crazy" episode of The Goldbergs, and also in a Walmart commercial titled "Christmas Like a Rock Star," where families open the door to find items delivered by the store.
This was Pete Townshend's only solo American Top 10 hit, but it charted as high as any Who song released in America - "I Can See For Miles
" also hit #9.
According to the 1985 Pete Townshend "My Generation" radio special, Townshend's manager hated this track and felt it should be left off the album because it didn't sound like a Pete Townshend song. Weeks after the release, Pete's manager called to apologize when the song became the first hit single from Empty Glass.
Two different versions of the song were used on the season opener of Showtime's Californication on April 13, 2014. A re-mix from Los Angeles producer Philip Stier opened the show and Townshend's 1980 original version closed the episode.
Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia covered this on her 2014 album Male. "Without sounding corny, this one connects to my heart," she told Entertainment Weekly.
The Christian rock-pop band Audio Adrenaline remade this song on their 1999 Underdog album. In their case the "my love" was referring to God's love.