Depending on the way you approach it, the opening track on the 1971 album Who’s Next by the Who can appear to be very complicated or startlingly simple. First, the complicated: Pete Townshend wrote “Baba O’Riley” as part of a rock opera called Lifehouse that he never completed. He wanted to take the ideas of the Indian spiritual guru Meher Baba and somehow translate them into music — specifically, the kind of repetitive, modal sounds produced by minimalist composer Terry Riley. The result was a frenzied, computerized-sounding pattern that Townshend played on a Lowrey organ. He named the resulting tune “Baba O’Riley” in deference to his idols. Toward the end of the five-minute track, guest musician Dave Arbus (of the band East of Eden) breaks in with a violin solo and suddenly the distinctly modern song switches into what can only be described as an Irish romp.
The simpler explanation: the Who have written a beautiful ode to that painful, lost feeling known as adolescence. Or, as they put it, the teenage wasteland.
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