Ranking the Top 5 Songs on The Who’s 1971 Masterpiece ‘Who’s Next’

The Who spent much of their career working up ornate concepts to which they could attach their music. But their finest album came when they couldn’t quite wrangle one of those projects into cohesion. We’re talking about their stunning 1971 LP Who’s Next, which arose from the ashes of the unfinished Lifehouse project.

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When people heard the record, they didn’t need any storyline or exposition to tie everything together. They simply rocked out to the wonderful songs as they were. Let’s have some fun and rank the top five from this masterpiece.

5. “Behind Blue Eyes”

By the time Who’s Next rolled around, Pete Townshend was on such a roll that he didn’t need entire albums to communicate his themes. Even individual songs seemed to hold vast concepts within them. Case in point: “Behind Blue Eyes,” which takes us from somber folk to rollicking rock and roll and back again on the musical side. Lyrically, Townshend tells a cutting a tale of a guy whose worst instincts constantly get the best of him, although, in moments of quietude, he can identify his folly and attempt to pray it away.

4. “Getting in Tune”

An out-and-out love song in the middle of an album full of vigorous frustration and disappointment? It was just crazy enough to work, and it did, thanks in large part to Townshend’s open-hearted vulnerability and Roger Daltrey’s ability to bring those emotions across so effectively. Townsend finds parallels in his music and his love. Of course, this being The Who, the song starts to shapeshift as it progresses. By the end of the track, the instrumentalists are double-timing and strutting as if on parade, while Daltrey shouts in elation. It’s the most joyous moment on an otherwise dour album.

3. “Bargain”

Well, OK, this one is technically a love song as well, but the music makes sure you don’t get overly sentimental about it. This is one of those Who tracks where Keith Moon goes with a maximalist drum approach. It’s something about which Townshend often complained, but it also forced him to be forceful and inventive enough with his lyrics to stand out amidst the racket. That’s why you get unforgettable lines like, To win you, I’d stand naked, stoned, and stabbed, or, To find you, I’m going to drown an unsung man. The band includes some quieter interludes to make the thunderous stuff stand out even more.

2. “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Townshend wasn’t quite as enthralled with Woodstock and the whole peace-and-love movement as some of his other rock peers. In fact, he felt corruption and immorality would find its way to whomever might be in power. All this he summed up in one incredible line: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The lyrics suggest his powerlessness, even as a cultural leader, against all this transpiring. Of course, the music says otherwise. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is always surging to new heights with each new blast of his guitar, suggesting that music can transcend all the nonsense. As clear-headed an anthem as you’ll ever hear.

1. “Baba O’Riley”

One of the greatest opening songs on any album features one of the greatest intros of any song. Townshend was way ahead of his rock peers in figuring out how to incorporate the synthesizer into a rock format. The main sections of “Baba O’Riley” almost have a power pop feel to them in the way that each instrument is doing its precise thing independent of the others, yet all are pumping up the overall momentum. Here’s another song that would inevitably be celebrated as a masterpiece by the very same rock fans of whom the lyrics are so skeptical. Dave Arbus’ breathless violin part is the perfect conclusion to this endlessly inventive track.

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