Top 10 The Who Songs

Along with The Kinks and The Small Faces, The Who were one of the defining bands of the mod movement — a youth subculture that surfaced in London, UK, in the late 1950s and 60s.

Raucous and ritualistically destructive with their wild on-stage antics and excessive volume levels capable of damaging the exceptional hearing of elephants, they were one of the first genuinely noisy, powerful hard rock outfits.

Let’s all board the magic bus and find out where it stops on our definitive list of the top 10 The Who songs.

10. “Substitute

Some will say “Substitute” sounds like so many other catchy 60s pop-rock songs, but it has an edge to it with the rolling rhythm of Keith Moon (drums), John Entwistle (bass), and Pete Townshend (guitar) backed up by some whimsical lyrics and a subtle depression in the melody.

It’s a great look at the band in a slightly restrained mood on their way to massive fame, while still delivering a bowlful of energy and soul.

9. “I Can See For Miles

The Who’s biggest stateside hit and, in Townshend’s words, “one of the best songs I’ve ever written,” “I Can See For Miles” is sonically dreamy with Moon’s double drums adding so much heaviness and sizzle. It has a dynamic element few can match, with the singalong chorus cooing like a romantic tale of long-distance love.

Yet, if you look a little closer to the lens, the song is a sinister reminder from Townshend to his future wife Karen that despite being on the road, he would be watching her.

Legend has it “I Can See For Miles” even energized Paul McCartney to write “Helter Skelter” after seeing it described as the loudest, dirtiest rock and roll song ever written.

8. “Behind Blue Eyes”

With its haunting synthesizer melody and dramatic transition from calmness and desolation to rage, “Behind Blue Eyes” combines a powerful arrangement with thought-provoking lyrics (‘My dreams they aren’t this empty as my conscience seems to be’) to create an iconic moment in The Who’s back catalog.

Taken from the band’s 1971 masterpiece Who’s Next, it’s impossible not to go wild when Moon crashes in like a group of rhinos. However, this genius songwriting piece is once again Townshend’s work. From the chord progression to the driving guitar riff and use of quiet to loud dynamics, this is one of the greatest sad uplifting songs you’ll ever hear. 

7. “Love, Reign O’er Me”

Guaranteed to send shivers down the spine, “Love, Reign O’er Me” is so crushingly huge. Whether you pigeonhole it as a beautiful ballad or a classical composition melded into modern rock and blues, it showcases the golden-haired Roger Daltrey as one of the best rock vocalists ever to grace this planet.

Just listen to the epic yell of ‘Love’ at the very end, with Moon’s breathtaking drum assault making me feel the same way I do when I listen to a blissful guitar solo. Undoubtedly the high water mark of the Quadrophenia double album (1973), it’s built around ruminative piano and a forlorn introductory sound of falling rain.

6. “Pinball Wizard”

Propelled by its recognizable acoustic intro and a legendary guitar riff that will live on forever, “Pinball Wizard” also features one of The Who’s catchiest melodies. With its clever lyrics based around a story of a young kid named Tommy who overcomes being deaf, dumb, and blind to become a pinball champion, this could well be the band’s signature slingshot.

Brilliantly structured with an exquisite bassline and trademark frenetic Moon drumming (akin to a pinball machine), this is another Townshend-penned number that hits the jackpot and gets you pumped to play the silver ball every time.

5. “Who Are You”

A bastion of the late Moon’s impeccably erratic playing style (like he’s at war with his kit), he somehow slings fills into the closing title track of their 1978 LP without entering total insanity. The band throws plenty of punches around in this super-heavy epic that combines elements of hard (almost prog) rock (check out the lengthy instrumental break) with the all-out assault and attitude of punk rock. The latter is perfectly captured in the cocky vocals of Daltrey, who somewhat bellicosely hollers the F-word twice (‘Who the f—k are you?’).

“Who Are You” was written about Townshend’s struggles with sobriety after being found in a ‘Soho Doorway’ by a policeman. It also incorporates synthesizers (a clear departure from the band’s earlier output), infectious backing vocals on the chorus, and some incredible bass runs during the bridge. However, Moon’s intensity shines brightest here on his final eclipse, losing his life three months later following an accidental overdose.

4. “I Can’t Explain”

The Who’s timeless debut single is a mod classic and gave us our first glimpse into Townshend’s composing genius. With an opening guitar lick so simple yet so immortal, “I Can’t Explain” grabs you instantly. Such is its danceability and heartwarming vocal harmonies, many will interpret it as a great pop record played by a noisy rock band.

But make no mistake, this groovy two minutes and four seconds of being able to communicate the worry and confusion of young love was a ‘dizzy in the head’ breakthrough moment for the band’s classic line-up.

Reaching the top 10 on the UK Singles Charts, it sounds so energetic and raw, yet rich and full — simply put, a brilliant composition.

3. “Baba O’Riley”

Intended for a rock opera called Lifehouse that Townshend never completed, “Baba O’Riley” got its name from its two main influences — Indian spiritual guru Mehar Baba and minimalist musician Terry Riley. The heroic intro synthesizer arpeggios sound almost computer-like, played in a mesmerizing repetitive sequence. 

Possibly The Who’s most famous song and one that never gets old, it’s often erroneously referred to as its chorus refrain, “Teenage Wasteland.” Whether it’s Moon’s excessive cymbal bashing or the famous violin part performed by Dave Arbus of the group East of Eden, it’s a song that spawns instant excitement.

2. “My Generation”

Three minutes and 18 seconds of pent-up teen angst, “My Generation” is a barrage of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll bravado. Driven by Moon’s explosive drumming and a revolutionary Entwistle bass solo, it also contains the famous line (‘I hope I die before I get old‘) in the first verse that went on to define the spirit of the genre.

Yet Daltrey’s sneer here is almost overshadowed by his deliberate stuttering throughout the song, which came about as he attempted to fit the lyrics to the music. Thankfully, producer Shel Talmy elected to keep the tripping over the tongue for this post-war punk blast.

An enduring anthem that continues to transcend generations, it still sounds as fresh and furious today.

1. “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

A juggernaut of a track with arguably the greatest throat-ripping scream in rock history, followed by the lyrics ‘meet the same boss, same as the old boss,’ “Won’t Get Fooled Again” gets my vote with its anti-establishment venom towards the political elite.

With stunning musical dialogue between synthesizer and drums, this is the satisfying noise of four outstanding musicians at the top of their game. Moon plays with his usual wild abandonment, while Entwistle’s punchy authoritative bass, and Townshend’s crisp power chord guitar all culminate in a song as prophetic as it is poised with its dramatic build-up in force, musicality, and tension.

Providing the climactic finish to their Who’s Next album, the band well and truly took a bow for the new revolution.

Are you a Happy Jack with our choices? Let us know in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Top 10 The Who Songs

  • Eminence Font????

    • That was a song by Pete Townsend’s solo band.

  • Won’t get fooled again, number 1 spot in your poll, get a thumbs up from myself.
    Their album Who by numbers as some great tracks on it, just a shame sadly that none of them songs made it onto this poll.

  • Where is I’m a boy

    • Good choice overall, I would like to add Join Together, Relay, Let’s See Action, The Seeker, Success Story and Long Live Rock plus a few more, but that would be Top Twenty. Saw them perform live in Berlin’s Waldbuehne just three weeks ago. Daltrey and Townshend are still great, and then this young lady playing the violine solo at the end of Baba O’Riley, oh boy.

  • Greatest band ever..nuff said…named my late son roger after the daltrey..keep rocking boys.LOUD N LARGE,

  • Heard the scream at Charlton Who put the boot in ,was blown away .
    Heard it last night O2 arena ,tears flowed .
    Won’t get fooled again ,gets my vote

  • What about the song that’s sounds on the ending scene in Tommy? And their best performance at Woodstock. Where Roger persona was hail as rock’s new idol. I’m talking about See me, Feel me. As I scrolled down the poll and songs passed by I thought to me that it was going to become number One. But no. I can’t get it. A no mention it’s too much


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