Slip Kid

Album: The Who By Numbers (1975)


  • The Who guitarist Pete Townshend wrote this song, which uses war imagery as metaphor for life in the music business. Much of The Who By Numbers album deals with his frustrations with the industry, and trying to cope with becoming an aging rock star. Said Townshend: "'Slip Kid' came across as a warning to young kids getting into music that it would hurt them - it was almost parental in its assumed wisdom."
  • This was released in August 1976 in Canada and the US with "Dreaming From The Waist" as its flip side.
  • Pete Townshend's original demo was released on his 1999 solo album Lifehouse Chronicles. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Fintan - Manchester, England, for all above
  • The Who played this at a few of their shows in 1976, but rarely thereafter. It was surprising then when it showed up in the setlists for their 50th anniversary tour in 2015. "It feels very new," Pete Townshend told Rolling Stone. "You could put it into the voice of some young Islamic student who decides to go fight in Syria and ends up in ISIS being forced to chop people's heads off, and it would fit."

Comments: 11

  • Dr Ace from IowaMebbe the "anti-music industry" reason was a valid/subconscious/after-thought (or very possibly another Townsend jovial comment) but this is totally an anti-IRA song, which so rocks(!), with the overlaying instruments as truly only the precious Who can deliver. Cant quite make out at the start whether Moon is counting correctly or being goofy and counting non-chronologically? Listen to it again...
  • Mike from PhoenixMy parents were country and western fans and I didn't have a problem with that at all until I got my own stereo and found rock. Fortunately they had decent taste in country music and, after a few years of rejecting that genre outright as dated and made for old, old people, I heard Luchenbach Texas on a jukebox and welcomed the genre back into my heart. With some reservations, or boundaries, this time. I have boundaries in rock now as well and I find there are artists I appreciate and those I don't, regardless of genre. I enjoy variety so the old radio station format of playing artists from one genre only didn't satisfy me for long. The Who was an early favorite band and this song a standout for what it meant to me personally. I still sing along and was surprised just now when I looked up the lyrics for the first time. First I realized how few there are, then that some I had got wrong and others I had no idea what they meant. Still it resonates. None of it says anything about the music industry to me. My formal education was put on hold at the age of 14 when I was discovered indulging in forbidden flowers with a group of youngsters off campus during school hours. It was the institution's choice, or perhaps the state legislature's, not mine. Two weeks later I left my parents home by my choice and the two events are related by cause and effect. I found the experience even better than I had anticipated and I was employed within six or eight months, laboring on a construction site. Except for waking up early I found nothing objectionable about the work. This song was in rotation at both the local rock stations then and it was easy to relate to. For me it was about the transition from school to work and it didn't matter what it was actually about if not that. It was memorable lyrically and musically, and motivational. It made me want to move and validated my choices and my experience. Verse one is about nearly missing the school bus, running to catch it. Clipboard, textbooks where else was the singer going but school, and first hour history lecture on the civil war? My big black engineer's boots fit the bill and a kit bag, I supposed, was what they called a backpack over there. Chorus one was about freedom and what you had to do to have it. Namely, hard work like the kind I was doing for the freedom I had. It wasn't easy but it was worth the effort. I have no idea what verse two is about, unless it's being late for work after a doctor's appointment, leaving your lunch beverage at home, forgetting to close the door behind you on your way out, and then leaving the keys in your ignition when you got to work. Getting to work, like getting to school, was done in a rush and mistakes were inevitable that soon after waking. I had no idea what the rest of the lyrics meant, except for the line "I'm a soldier at 63." And the line is "at 63" not "of 63." This echoes the earlier line "I'm a soldier at 13." These refer to the singer's age and not some historical date, fairly certain. A construction site is a bit like a war and construction workers are therefore a bit like soldiers. The loud noise and violence of heavy equipment, the loud voices barking orders over the sounds of machinery or bombs, the bare earth where not even grass could grow, the buildings half finished mirroring the ruins in a war zone, the violence of swinging a hammer, striking a nail or stake, the physical force required to complete the task, the sense of urgency, the extreme conditions and lack of comfort, the hard hat and the combat helmet, the heavy boots, the injuries and potential for death all contribute to a convincing analogy. And I was one of these soldiers at 15 which was pretty close to 13. I remember wondering if I would still be working construction when I was 63 years old. Baba O'Reilly contained similar cues that reminded me of my life at that time and still do. I think they're both great songs regardless of the maker's intent.
  • Casey from Chicago, IlI think that it is possible that Pete Townshend was writing about the American Revolutionary War. Although, he is British, he has shown special interest in America by promoting their government, and even saying, "I think America makes a great police force for the world". It makes sense he's talking about the Revolutionary War, because that basically was a civil war for Great Britain, and calls it a civil war in the song. At one point in the song it says, "Keep away old man, you won't fool me. You and you history won't rule me". During the American Revolutionary War, Americans adopted the nickname "old man" for Great Britain. During WW1 many American immigrants who fled from Europe said the war began because of "the rottenness of old Europe", referring to there old-fashion monarch governments at the time. Also what is supposed to be mentioned in the song, as Jim from New York pointed out, is "soldier of '63" which could be referring to the end of the French and Indian War(aka Seven Years War) which was fought by the the American colonists for the British. The British promised the colonies that they could settle on land to the other side of the Appalachian Mountain Range if they fought, which they did, but were not given the land. This sparked fuel for the revolution and ties in nicely to what I think this song is about. If you close enough, you can find other lyrics that make sense about what this song is about, but I'm not going to write anymore because I'm afraid my thumbs might fall off from all of the typing I've done.
  • 00spy from CalgaryThe comment of this being an anti-IRA song makes sense when you consider Townsend's own words in the 2015 Rolling Stone interview equating the lyrics to kids today fighting for ISIS. Thanks David for the post.
  • Valerie Harmocy from Vjharm@comcast.netTotally agree with David-Danville. If you want to hear a really great version of this song, check out the Soundtrack of Sons of Anarchy, Slip Kid by Anvil (Franky Perez) Great hard rock version!
  • Jim from None, NyI'm pretty sure the lyric should read "soldier of sixty-three", as in 1963.
  • David from Danville, PaSlip Kid is not a warning about the music industry. Anyone with any knowledge of the last centuries history in the United Kingdom should be able to discern that this is an anti- IRA song. A 'slip' is a type of traditional Irish folk dance, hence a slip kid is an Irish Kid. A 'kit bag' is a home made bomb. "Second generation, only half the way up the tree" is a reference to kids being born into IRA families, yet held low on the totem pole as pawns. "Keep away old man, You won't fool Me. You and your history won't rule me. You might have been a fighter but admit you have failed " is being spoken towards the older IRA members who recruited young teen boys for violence and public disturbances some 40+ years after a peace accord was signed. .It
  • Rat from Chicago, IlPete once said that as a youth, he saw music as his way of seeing the world, etc. He came from a musical family, I think. Why would he warn others not to do the same?
  • None from None , WyI think this song sort of means that no matter what you do, no matter what you become, that being that thing or doing that thing isn't a straight ticket to freedom. It seems like Pete's saying that people who seek freedom shouldn't seek it through a profession (such as being a musician), and there truly is "no easy way to be free."
  • Rose from Boston, Mathis song is awesome, classicly amazing Who.
  • Allie from Pine Knob, MiI love this song!!!!
    The piano rocks out!
    The heavy Keith Moon drumming; very typical Who but still awesome Mr. Moon was a rarity of superb talent!!!!
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