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Intro

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 (if 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 Who 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

ArtistThe Who Musician(s)Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (vocals, synthesizer, piano, guitar), John Entwhistle (bass), Keith Moon (drums), Dave Arbus (violin)
AlbumWho's Next
Year1972
LabelDecca, Polydor
Writer(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)The Who, Glyn Johns
Learn to play: Tablature
Buy this song: Amazon iTunes
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
"Baba O'Riley" is another of The Who's innovative contributions to rock and roll. But the story doesn't end there. In writing the song, Pete Townshend was influenced by Eastern philosophies, just as were other Western artists like Herman Hesse and E.M. Forster.

This song was also meant to be just a small part of a dystopian rock opera. In the fictional world Townshend imagined, people are forced to live life through "experience suits" and are stuck drifting away from their own humanity. This scary world in which people aren't in control of their own lives is, of course, reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and a whole bunch of other dystopian literature.

But "Baba O'Riley" probably has a catchier beat.

On the Charts

Rolling Stone put "Baba O'Riley" at #340 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
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