5 Songs You Didn’t Know Pete Townshend Wrote for Other Artists

Nearly 60 years ago, Pete Townshend began building the songbook for The Who, writing their classics, “Substitute,” “I Can’t Explain,” “Baba O’Riley,” ‘The Kids Are Alright,” and the majority of songs within the band’s catalog as the principal songwriter.

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Along with The Who’s 12 albums, numerous compilations, singles, and visual projects throughout the decades, Townshend has also collaborated with David Bowie (“Because You’re Young,” “Slow Burn”), The Rolling Stones (“Slave”), Elton John (“Ball and Chain,” “Town of Plenty”) and Paul McCartney (“Angry,” “Move Over Busker”) among other artists.

Townshend’s own solo work also spans his 1972 debut, Who Came First, through Psychoderelict in 1993.

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At the start of his earliest days with The Who, when they were known as The Detours, then briefly as The High Numbers, Townshend was already writing songs that were getting recorded by other acts throughout the 1960s, and later collaborated with Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour.

Here’s a look at five songs that Townshend wrote for other artists.

1. “It Was You,” The Naturals (1964)
Written by Pete Townshend, Barry Gray, Eula Parker

The earliest composition by Townshend, “It Was You,” was released by The Naturals in 1964. The Australian group, made up of vocalist Ricky Potter, guitarist Doug Ellis, rhythm guitarist Bob O’Neale, bassist Mike Wakelin, and drummer Roy Heather, released the song as a B-side to their song “Look At Me Now.”

At the time it was written, Townshend was in the earliest iteration of The Who — with singer Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon—who were going by the name The Detours, who later released their first single “Zoot Suit”/”I’m the Face” as The High Numbers.

“We recorded my first song, ‘It Was You,’ in late 1963 at the home studio of Barry Gray, who wrote music for children’s TV puppet series like ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Fireball XL5,'” recounted Townshend in his 2012 memoir, Who I Am. “Dick James, The Beatles’ co-publisher at the time, heard ‘It Was You’ and signed me to his company.”

Townshend added, “The song was recorded by The Naturals, a Merseybeat-style band [from Essex], and a couple of other groups. It wasn’t a hit, but the fact that it was published at all gave me tremendous confidence. I felt I now had a right to speak up about the band’s musical direction, and even get bossy about it. Roger [Daltrey] was definitely in charge, but there was a new tension between us. We were both really keen to make it and had our own ideas about how to do so. Still, we developed a grudging respect for one another that would last a lifetime.”

In 1996, “It Was You” was also recorded by another Australian band called Chaos and Co.

2. “Join My Gang,” Oscar (1966)
Written by Pete Townshend

Born Paul Oscar Beuselinck, the singer and actor known as Paul Nicholas went by the stage name Oscar during his pop career in the 1960s. In 1966, Oscar released the Townshend-penned “Join My Gang” as one of his first singles with Reaction Records. A year earlier, the label released its first single, “Substitute” by The Who. The band never recorded “Join My Gang.”

Nicholas went on to star in the lead role in London musical Jesus Christ Superstar in the early 1970s and Much Ado About Nothing, among many stage productions and in television, including a recent role on the long-running British drama EastEnders. In 1977, Nicholas returned to music and released “Heaven On The 7th Floor,” which hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Baby when I offer you my hand I expect you to take it
But I don’t want you to hold it I want you to shake it
Just cause you’re a girl don’t mean that we can’t get along
They say it won’t work but I can prove them wrong

3. “The Magic Bus,” The Pudding (1967)
Written by Pete Townshend

Written by Townshend while The Who was working on their 1965 debut, My Generation, he later began circulating a demo of the song “The Magic Bus” around, and a band called The Pudding recorded and released the track in 1967. It wasn’t a hit for the band, and it was the first and last single ever released by The Pudding.

The Who eventually released their version of the song in 1968 on their fourth album, Magic Bus: The Who on Tour, and the song has continued to slip into their live setlist over the years.

Every day, I get in the queue
To get on the bus that brings me to you
I’m so nervous, I just sit and smile
Your house is only another mile
Thank you driver for getting me here
Let’s ride the magic bus

4. “Lazy Fat People,” The Barron Knights (1966)
Written by Pete Townshend

Before touring with bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Barron Knights were more of a parody band, who first found fame with their 1964 hit, “Call Up the Groups,” which parodied a number of the biggest pop groups of the time, along with their take on The Dave Clark Five’s “Bits and Pieces” with their more absurd “Boots and Blisters.” 

Though “Lazy Fat People” was never released as a Who single, Townshend did lay down a demo of the satirical track. At first, the band Episode Six (featuring future Deep Purple members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover) considered the song but turned it down before The Barron Knights ended up releasing “Lazy Fat People” as a single in 1967.

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Not as blatant or derogatory as the title suggests, Townshend was writing about “lazy fat” and “beautiful young” people of the world. The “lazy fat” were the ones obsessed with money, who fare better than the “beautiful young.”

Lazy and fat they are, they are.
And because they are all the same..
They laugh and exclaim
“The young are so funny”

They burn in the sun, the sun
And though painfully pink, when it rains
They always complain
“We all paid our money.”

5. “Love On the Air,” David Gilmour (1984)
Written by Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend and David Gilmour had crossed paths a few times since the late 1970s and eventually met while Pink Floyd was recording their 1982 album, The Final Cut. Prior to that, both guitarists also appeared on Paul McCartney’s 1979 album with Wings, Back to the Egg.

For David Gilmour’s second album, About Face, Townshend penned two songs, the harder “All Lovers Are Deranged,” and the softer, radio-friendly “Love On The Air”—a song about a love song playing on the radio. Townshend wrote the lyrics for both songs within a day after Gilmour asked him for some help. Gilmour later returned the favor by co-writing and playing on Townshend’s “White City Fighting,” released on his 1985 solo album, White City: A Novel.

Love on the air
I keep transmitting but reception is hazy
I don’t get an answer
Keep sending it faster
Always knew it was crazy
To put my love on the air

Photo by Chris Morphet/Redferns

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