Study Guide

Baba O'Riley Introduction

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Baba O'Riley Introduction

In a Nutshell

Wait, isn't this song called "Teenage Wasteland"? Nope, it really is "Baba O'Riley." 

The mass confusion starts with the title, and from there it only gets worse. Some say the song is about Vietnam, others say Woodstock, and, of course, many are sure it's about drugs. After all, isn't every song from this era about Vietnam, hippies, or drugs? 

Maybe it would be nice—though a bit boring—if things were that simple. Instead, "Baba O"Riley" is a complicated song shaped by the equally complicated spiritual and musical path that The Who's leader Pete Townshend was wandering by 1970. Don't worry: The power chords are still there. The Who is still The Who. Windmilling Pete Townshend is still windmilling Pete Townshend. He was never about to abandon his rock and roll roots. Still, by 1970 he wasn't quite the same guy he had been in 1965, when he penned "My Generation."

That means we can only really understand "Teenage Wasteland"—er, "Baba O'Riley"—by looking at how Pete Townshend changed between 1965 and 1970. Then we can turn to the real questions. Like, who is Baba O'Riley? What does he have to do with some girl named Sally? And where exactly is this teenage wasteland?

About the Song

ArtistWho, The
LabelDecca, Polydor
Writer(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)The Who, Glyn Johns
Musician(s)Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (vocals, synthesizer, piano, guitar), John Entwhistle (bass), Keith Moon (drums), Dave Arbus (violin)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumWho's Next

Music Video

Influences on Who, The

Bo Diddley
Hank Marvin
Link Wray
Henry Purcell
John Lee Hooker
Mose Allison
Ray Charles
Jimmy Smith

Influenced by Who, The

Led Zeppelin
Green Day
Black Sabbath
Van Halen
Deep Purple
Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Clash
The Ramones
The Sex Pistols
Pearl Jam

Baba O'Riley Resources


Dave Marsh, Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who (1983)
First published in 1983 (and never revised), this book leaves more recent ground uncovered, but it still provides the best coverage of the band's origins and early years.

Pete Townshend, Lifehouse (1999)
Townshend continued to rework the playscript for his never-produced rock opera until 1999, when it was finally released.

Mark Wilkerson, Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend (2008)
Wilkerson adds new material in this latest edition of his biography of Townshend. Detailed, and in places even dense, the book explores events through 2007. Although focused on Townshend, it's a nice companion to Marsh's treatment of The Who's earlier years.


Lifehouse Chronicles (2000)
Townshend released this six-CD boxed set in 2000. It includes early demos of the music and a 1999 BBC radio enactment of the story.

Live at Leeds (1970)
Considered by many to be the greatest rock and roll live album ever recorded, the original vinyl contained a 14-minute version of "My Generation." Re-released as a CD in 1995, the expanded recording offers an exhausting set of high-octane performances.

Tommy (1969)
The first real rock opera, written almost entirely by Townshend, is an epic contribution to rock and roll. Several songs became singles hits, including "Pinball Wizard," "I'm Free," "See Me, Feel Me / Listening to You."

A Quick One (1966)
This album is perhaps most important as a sign of things to come. It includes less R&B and more pop/rock, a ten-minute mini-opera, and a hit-single ("Happy Jack") that anticipated some of the themes of Tommy.

My Generation (1965)
The critics liked The Who's debut album more than the band did. Rushed into production after their chart success with the singles "I Can't Explain," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," and "My Generation," the album includes the much-covered "The Kids are Alright."


The Who at Woodstock
John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend.

And Another Guitar Bites the Dust
Pete Townshend finishes up a performance.

Meher Baba
The Indian mystic who inspired Pete Townshend.

Inayat Khan
His theories on music and universal harmony interested Townshend.

Terry Riley
The composer and musical theorist whose ideas influenced "Baba O'Riley."

Movies & TV

The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests (2005)
A three-disc bonanza, Elton John, Phil Collins, Billy Idol, Patti LaBelle, and Steve Winwood join The Who for this 1989 performance of Tommy at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre. The performance of Quadrophenia was filmed during the 1996-97 tour.

The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival (1970)
There are a half dozen Who concert films to draw from, but this is the earliest and the best.


The Who Official Site
A bit below average as far as "official" websites go, but it does include a detailed timeline as well as usable biographies of band members.

Video & Audio

"Baba O'Riley" Live
Worth watching.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...