Recording Information and Background

Recorded in May of 1971 at Olympic Sound Studios in London, "Baba O'Riley" has become a classic of rock and roll. Featuring a VCS-3 synthesizer, it was reduced from Pete Townshend's 9-minute demo. Dave Arbus plays fiddle, and Keith Moon produced it.

As Purvis said, Townshend got the so-very-familiar, beginning synthesizer pulses to "Baba O'Riley" came from Avatar Meher Baba's biorythms. And that's where you get the "Baba" part of the title.

The "O'Riley" is the surname (sorta) of former mod and friend of the band, Terry Riley.

Avaliable on:

and, Pete Townshend's Lifehouse Chronicles.

The Song

Out here in the fields
I fight for my meals
I get my back into my living
I don't need to fight
To prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven

"The anthem of teenagers! It was written about us! I know exactly what Pete's talking about!"

Not quite.

Baba O'Riley is actually
Yes, farmers.

"Baba O'Riley" was part of the failed Pete Townshend opera, Lifehouse. Originally conceived as the follow-up to The Who's Tommy, Lifehouse was a rock opera dealing with a futuristic world in which people lived inside sealed suits to protect them from the polluted world. They experienced life through virtual reality-type performances on a world wide web-like network called "The Grid".

Ray, a farmer; living on the outskirts away from the Grid; has a daughter named Mary. Mary runs away from home to see a concert-Ray and his wife, Sally, have to go find her.

Don't cry, don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland

So, indeed, this teenange wasteland, although open to many interpretations, was rooted in the Lifehouse story line's overt reference to pollution, both enviromentally as a result of overpopulation, and mentally/spiritually at the hands of the voyeuristic and controlling government.

Although, Mary could perhaps be the personification of the counterculture movement of the time- confused and searching, and uncertain of what's right (that's true for any teenager in any time, though, isn't it?).

Sally, take my hand
We'll travel south cross land
Put out the fire
Don't look past my shoulder

Sally and Ray, living in Scotland, must travel south to the Lifehouse and find Mary. They are leaving all inhibitions behind, hoping that maybe, they too can find some sort of salvation with the Lifehouse.

The exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let's get together
Before we get much older

This is sort of the hippie notion that "we should all get out of here and live life" sort of thing. I think the thing about the 1960s and 70s wasn't that people were thinking revolutionary things for the first time, they were just finally saying them.

Teenage wasteland
It's only teenage wasteland
Teenage wasteland

Teenage wasteland
It's only teenage wasteland
Teenage wasteland

The memorable cry of post-teenage anguish,

They're all wasted!

is a lament over the bleak badlands of adolescence.

After Roger Daltrey's distinguishing yell, Pete Townshend's guitar, John Entwistle's bass, Keith Moon's drums, and guest Dave Arbus' violin cascades into a rapid climax. It's almost if that's the point where we find that one note, the whole point of Lifehouse. After all, it was supposed to be an interactive project, touching and reflecting each listener.

Although Lifehouse never fully took off, Who's Next, the scrapings of some of its songs (I won't say it's better songs, they are all great), was released in November of 1971, and hit #1.
"Baba O'Riley", the first track of Who's Next, has remained a rock standard, 31 years after it was released, proving itself to be one of the greatest rock songs (or should I say "symphonies") of all time.

Note inspired by some mean-ish /msgs: I'm sorry if I may have 'ruined' your 'interpretation' of this song, I don't want you to feel that way at all. The whole point of the rock opera that this song is from is that listeners are reflected in each and every note. Take this with a grain of salt. Let it mean what you want it to. Of course it's about you, of course it's about the first time you kissed Suzie...when a musician releases a song, it no longer belongs to them. It is yours.
thanks: Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere: The Chronicle of The Who, 1958-1978 by Matt Kent and Andy Neill, Lifehouse and Who's Next liner notes by Pete Townshend.

"All this world confusion and chaos was
inevitable, and no one is to blame. What had to happen
has happened; and what has to happen will happen...I had
to come, and I have come. I am the ancient one."
-Meher Baba

*Another Note: The mix of "Baba" that appears on the 1995 CD re-release of Who's Next is actually an extended version, clocking in at 5:08. The version that appears on "Deluxe Edition" is the original mix, clocking in at 5:01. The difference? 7 more seconds of synthesizer intro.

CST Approved