A Quick One While He's Away

Album: A Quick One (1966)


  • The Who had 10 minutes left to fill on the LP. Kit Lambert, The Who's manager, suggested to Pete Townshend that he write "something linear... perhaps a 10 minute song." Townshend responded by saying that rock songs are "2:50 by tradition!" Lambert then told Townshend that he should write a 10-minute story comprised of 2:50 songs.
  • The song was a "mini-opera," paving the way for the other mini-opera "Rael" and eventually full length rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.
  • The plot of the story is strange and uncomfortable. A girl is sad that her boyfriend is away. Her friends suggest she take a substitute lover, Ivor The Engine Driver. When the boyfriend returns, she confesses her infidelity and is forgiven.

    It's implied that Ivor has bad intentions and forces himself on the girl, which seemed to be Pete Townshend's intention. He later admitted to doing years of therapy after being molested as a child.
  • The Who performed this on the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus, which was going to be a TV special. It never aired on television but it was released on VHS in 1996 and DVD in 2004. The Who's performance of this was included in The Kids Are Alright, a 1979 film about The Who.
  • According to legend, Rock And Roll Circus didn't air because the Rolling Stones felt that they were showed up by The Who. Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithful, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell all appeared on Rock And Roll Circus.
  • A live version of this song appears on Live At Leeds and on the soundtrack for The Kids Are Alright. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jon - Sunnyvale, CA, for all above
  • The Who wanted to put Cellos on the track but Kit Lambert said they couldn't afford it. So they sang "cello, cello, cello, cello," where the Who thought they should go. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Ashland, OR
  • This was used in the Wes Anderson film Rushmore starring Jason Shwartzman and Bill Murray. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mason - San Antonio, TX

Comments: 28

  • Sal from Brentwood, NyLegend has it that the Rolling Stones felt they could not show this, because it topped anything they could ever do. That is the rumor I have heard for these many years.
  • Jo from Helsinki, FinlandThe escalating 'Forgiven' section at the end takes to the subject matter of the song to a more spiritual level of forgiveness aimed at the wider world. Its live performance would usually end with Pete addressing the audience direct with the words 'You're ALL forgiven' (in the sense of 'for all your sins, whatever they may be'). On some unofficial recordings you can also hear Pete interjecting the 'Forgiven' section by repeatedly singing the improvised lines 'by the very act of creation', thus underlinign the spiritual dimension one is supposed to have reached by the close of the song. This is around the time he was developing his own spiritual awareness with regard to Meher Baba. The most interesting varient can be heard on the bootleg 'Fillmore East' (or 'Ox & Sox') where Pete ends the song with the line: 'That certain someone, who shot that certain someone, is forgiven!' There's no further explanation but discographies show that it was performed 5th April 1968. Black civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, was assassinated the day before on April 4th.
  • Brad from Lexington, KyPete Townshend introduces it on Live at Leeds as "Tommy's parents". This could have double meaning as it "parented" Tommy by giving Townshend the idea to make a full-length rock opera. But a lesser known theory is that the song's story is actually very similar to the story of Tommy's parents at the beginning of the Tommy album. Think about it: Tommy's dad has gone missing at war ("Her man's been gone for nigh on a year, he was due home yesterday, but he ain't here.") So, thinking Tommy's dad is dead, Tommy's mom finds another lover ( "We have a remedy! Little girl guide, why don't you stop your crying? Here comes Ivor the Engine Driver to make you feel much better.") But Tommy's dad survived and comes back home. ("We'll soon be home, soon be home. We'll soon, soon, soon, soon be home.") When he comes back, he forgives Tommy's mother. ("You are forgiven, you are forgiven!") The only major difference is, as far as I can tell anyway, he forgives Ivor the Engine driver as well, and, unlike in Tommy, does not kill him.
  • Paul from York, United KingdomI have loved this song since I first heard it. The live version is even better than the album. By the way I am a teacher and use this page as an example of why you shouldn't use texting. My compliments to all on the excellent english in every other comment.
  • G from Potomac, MdIt's really amazing how the same song can be performed so differently by the same band. Frankly, the lifeless LP version sucks , but the performances on R & R Circus and Live at Leeds are nothing less than sublime. This reminds me not to underestimate the importance of producers and engineers.
  • Andy from Columbus, OhI've heard the studio version and the "Live at Leeds" one. At Leeds, Pete does a hilarious monologue intro about the whole thing. It's priceless. The Leeds version definitely rocks harder on "Crying Town", and "We Have a Remedy". I'm bummed they cut out the second verse on "Ivor the Engine Driver", and that Roger sings lead instead of John. Probably my favorite song about some randy seduction ever (whatever the age of the "girl guide"!). On par with some of AC/DC's stuff, really. They really jam and stretch out "You are Forgiven" compared to the studio version. I'd like to hear something like it when I get to heaven. Still have to hear the "definitive" Rock and Roll Circus cut before I can make a final call, though. Also, A Quick One has nothing to do with Mr. and Misses Captain Walker. Tommy is the "spiritual successor", if you will, of A Quick One.
  • Scott from Boston, MaI feel like the entire Quick One/Happy Jack album was a joke, but in a good way. Every song on it just has such a fun sound to it. It's definitely different than any other Who album.
  • Andy from Cleveland, OhI've always thought this was one of The Who's best. Unlike others here, I always suspected that the song was about child abuse, but after getting more familiar with the lyrics, now I'm not so sure. I have watched the Townshend interview on the RSR&RC DVD, so maybe that's why I thought that way originally. But I do recall (maybe on Live at Leeds) hearing him describe the song as being about a girl having sex with the engine driver because she misses being with her boyfriend. It's hard to know when Pete's feeding us a line of BS.
  • James from London, Englandoh yh nd 2 da prson dat sed bout da girl guide fings, we ad dem first
  • Vincient Black from Eureka, CaJust a note, the version used in Rushmore is from Rock and Roll Circus not the LP version. Found that out the long and hard way.
  • Amber from Phily, PaMy name is Ivor! Im an engine driiiiva!!!
  • Shawn from Lansing, MiVincent was correct-- the comment about child abuse is accurate. If you don't believe it, buy or rent the Rolling Stones Rock N'Roll Circus dvd. In the bonus features, there is a good lengthy interview with Pete Townshend where he says (exact words) "I suppose it's really a song about child abuse". He goes on to elaborate that it was inspired by the fear and uncertainty of being left in the care of creepy old train drivers while he would take several hour train rides to his grandmothers house as a child by himself. The song itself and the story of the girl and her affair are self-explanatory but I think what he meant was that the underlying feeling that inspired the song in the first place was a story of child abuse or fear of it. Obviously the same themes were explored more thoroughly in Tommy.
  • Susan from Npr, FlI can't believe someone got "child abuse" out of this song! Did you read the lyrics? "Her man's been gone..." (They're not referring to her dad.) I think sometimes people read things into a song that aren't really there. It's a playful farce and very cleverly done. This is one I missed as a teenager, but it's one of my favorites now.
  • Mr. Pitters from Funky Town, CaIf this song is about child abuse, where does the whole "you are forgiven" part come in?
  • Steve from Fenton, MoUh...is this song about drugs???
  • Maggie from Chapel Hill, NcI thought it was supposed to be A Quick One (coma)While He's Away.
  • Kelly from Burbank, CaThis is my all time favorite Who song. I haven't heard all the versions of it (I will definitely check into them, however) but my favorite I have heard is The Rock and Roll Circus version. The pace and switch in melodies make it such a fun and well done song. It also sounds so definable "Who", with all the jumbled instruments and chorus of voices. The facts were really interesting on here, especially the child abuse thing. Kind of scary, but it still remains my favorite song. Which I had something more to input about it...
  • Chris from Corte Madera, CaAnother awesome part of this song is that each of the memebers of The Who contributed to the writing process of this song. Like the song facts said, its made up of 4-5 shorter songs, however all members of The Who helped write these songs. Yeah even Keith...Also, on the Live At Leeds version of this song Pete talks about how the band likes to joke that A Quick One is the story of Tommy's parents.
  • Jon from Sunnyvale, CaI had wondered why Pete Townshend calls the main character a "girl guide" in live versions. I found out that Girl Guides are the British equivalent of the Girl Scouts. I thought..."exactly how old is this girl?" The child abuse idea makes a lot of sense now. Now I feel creeped out when I rock out to this tune.
  • Vincent from Austin, TxA Quick One While He's Away is actually about child abuse. Check out Townsend's commentary on the Rock and Roll Circus DVD for more information.
  • Clayton from Blount County, AlContrary to the Songfact the Rock and Roll Circus was released for VHS in 1996, it was released on DVD in 2004.
  • Barry from New York, NcProbably the most satisfying version of this tune was performed at the Monterey Internatinal Pop Festival in June 1967. Footage of this can be seen in the Who's 30 YEARS OF MAXIMUM R&B video.
  • Sam from West Covina, CaI think it's when Bill Murray's character notices that someone is filling his hotel room with bees with a tube. It starts on the "Dang" part of the song.
  • Jon from Sunnyvale, CaI haven't seen Rushore and I'm surprised that a song like this can be used in a movie. What scene is it used in and what part of the song is played?
  • Mason from San Antonio, Txused in one of my all time favorite movies, Rushmore. the cello fact is hilarious btw.
  • Eddie from Petaluma, CaThe Live at Leeds cut rocks
  • Jon from Sunnyvale, CaOn Live at Leeds, Pete says "Here comes Ivor the engine driver to make you feel much better." After that, Keith adds "Dirty old sod!"
  • Ryab from Lackawanna, NyAwesome Song On Live At Leeds
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