|B-side "My Wife"|
Genre Hard rock
|Format 7-inch single|
|Released 23 October 1971 (1971-10-23)|
Recorded May 1971, Olympic Studios, London, England
"Baba O'Riley" is a song by the English rock band The Who. It is the opening track to the band's studio album Who's Next, and was issued in Europe as a single on 23 October 1971, coupled with "My Wife".
Roger Daltrey sings most of the song, with Pete Townshend singing the middle eight: "Don't cry/don't raise your eye/it's only teenage wasteland". The song's title is a combination of the names of two of Townshend's philosophical and musical influences, Meher Baba and Terry Riley.
"Baba O'Riley" was included in Time magazine's list of the All-Time 100 Songs, Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Background and composition
Townshend originally wrote "Baba O'Riley" for his Lifehouse project, a rock opera that was to be the follow-up to the Who's 1969 opera, Tommy. In Lifehouse, the song would be sung at the beginning by a Scottish farmer named Ray, as he gathers his wife Sally and his two children to begin their exodus to London. When Lifehouse was scrapped, eight of the songs were salvaged and recorded for The Who's 1971 album Who's Next, with "Baba O'Riley" as the lead-off track.
Townshend stated in an interview that "'Baba O'Riley' is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where audience members were strung out on acid and 20 people had brain damage. The irony was that some listeners took the song to be a teenage celebration: 'Teenage Wasteland, yes! We're all wasted!'"
"Baba O'Riley" title combines the names of Meher Baba and Terry Riley, two of Townshend's philosophical and musical mentors. The song is often mistakenly called "Teenage Wasteland", after the phrase repeated in the song. "Teenage Wasteland" was in fact a working title for the song in its early incarnations as part of the Lifehouse project, but eventually became the title for a different but related song by Townshend, which is slower and features different lyrics. A demo of "Teenage Wasteland" is featured on Lifehouse Chronicles, a six disc set of music related to the Lifehouse project, and on several Townshend compilations and videos.
The song uses a I-V-IV chord progression and is composed in the key of F major. However, it was recorded using the European "A" which is 446 HZ rather than the standard 440 HZ.
Recording and release
"Baba O'Riley"'s backing track was derived from the Lifehouse concept, where Townshend wanted to input the vital signs and personality of Meher Baba into a synthesiser, which would then generate music based on that data. When this idea fell through, Townshend instead recorded a Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ using its marimba repeat feature as the backing track. This modal approach was inspired by the work of minimalist composer Terry Riley.
The song was derived from a nine-minute demo, which the band reconstructed. "Baba O'Riley" was initially 30 minutes in length, but was edited down to the "high points" of the track for Who's Next. The other parts of the song appeared on the third disc of Townshend's Lifehouse Chronicles as "Baba M1 (O'Riley 1st Movement 1971)" and "Baba M2 (2nd Movement Part 1 1971)".
"Baba O'Riley" was released in November 1971 as a single in several European countries. However, in the United Kingdom and the United States, it was only released as part of the album Who's Next.
Reception and legacy
"Baba O'Riley" appears at No. 349 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". The song is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. The band Pearl Jam regularly plays a cover of the song during concerts, and a readers' poll in Rolling Stone awarded this cover as #8 in their Greatest Live Cover Songs.
The Tubes performed the song on 9th September 1978 at the Knebworth Festival in tribute to Keith Moon, who had died two days earlier.
"Baba O'Riley" was used as the theme song for the popular television series CSI: NY (2004–13); each CSI series used a Who song as its theme. The song plays in the opening segment of the Miami Vice episode "Out Where the Buses Don't Run" (season two, 1985). One of the working titles of That '70s Show (1998–2006) was "Teenage Wasteland," a reference to the repeated lyric in the song. The song was also used in trailers for A Bug's Life (1998), American Beauty (1999), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), and The Peanuts Movie (2015). The song has also been used in episode 14 of season one in the TV series House and in episode 10 of season one in the TV series The Newsroom. A remixed version of this song, re-done by Alan Wilkis, appears in the 2012 remake of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, as well as episode 11 of season one of Superstore.
Since 2003, "Baba O'Riley" is played during player introductions for the Los Angeles Lakers during home games at the Staples Center. The song is played prior to live UFC events during a highlight package showing some of the most famous fights in the mixed martial arts company's history. It is also the official theme song of competitive eater Joey Chestnut.
At both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the track "The Road Goes On Forever" by High Contrast is used during a countdown to the start of the proceedings, this song samples Baba O'Riley with a higher tempo as a 120bpm dance track. Baba O'Riley was then performed by the Who as their first number during the last musical segment at the closing ceremony, with Daltrey singing a changed lyric of "Don't cry/Just raise your eye/There's more than teenage wasteland". The song was also sampled in the song "Best Song Ever" by One Direction.