Ranking The Who’s 5 Best Album-Opening Tracks

Because a few of The Who‘s finest albums were based on finely honed themes or concepts, they often used opening tracks as table-setters. Some of these musical pieces don’t quite hit as hard when they’re taken out of the context of the rest of the record.

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But the band did indeed manage to record several album openers through the years that not only kicked off those particular records in a perfect way, but also stand along as killer tracks. Here are the five best:

5. “Athena” from It’s Hard (1982)

The Who weren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders in the early 1980s. Pete Townshend was struggling with personal problems, as well as the demands of trying to write enough for his solo career and the band. Still, he delivered a couple tracks that allow The Who’s albums from that time period to come out of the gate flying. “Athena” features lyrics that are a mouthful, but Roger Daltrey does a great job of giving them little melodic twists and turns. The music shifts from breezy pop to urgent rock with aplomb. An underrated track on the whole from this legendary band.

4. “Overture” from Tommy (1969)

Tommy is one of those albums that has been around long enough to go through different stages in public opinion, from overrated to underrated and back again. But it’s important to remember just how ambitious this project was and how easily it could have gone awry, instead of so heroically right. Obviously, “Overture” doesn’t make a lot of sense without knowing the musical motifs it includes are going to be repeated throughout the rest of the album. But it’s still a scintillating piece of music, and the band members manage to navigate through the different sections quite well.

3. “Slip Kid” from The Who by Numbers (1975)

After three straight monumental albums, it was understandable The Who might have been struggling to rise to the occasion again on The Who by Numbers. Townshend explained after the fact the band used up every bit of their song backlog because he couldn’t quite come up with anything to write. It’s a testament to their chemistry and professionalism that the album came out as well as it did, and the energetic opener “Slip Kid,” another great Townshend tale of disaffected youth, gets it all going in the right direction.

2. “You Better You Bet” from Face Dances (1981)

Back in the days before the epic albums, The Who unabashedly churned out winning pop singles that were as catchy as anything their British Invasion competition could devise. “You Better You Bet” is a throwback to that in a way, albeit one infused with the more muscular rock textures the band had developed over the years. The quartet is hitting on all cylinders on this recording, and let’s throw some extra credit to drummer Kenney Jones, who had some of his finest moments within the group on this song. Townshend’s lyrics are funny and relatable, and Daltrey gets inside them with desperate passion.

1. “Baba O’Riley” from Who’s Next (1971)

It’s an interesting hypothetical to wonder what might have happened if The Who hadn’t abandoned their Lifehouse project. It probably would have been amazing, but then again, would the power of songs like “Baba O’ Riley” have been diluted somewhat as the band tried to squeeze them into the larger concept? As it is, this song is not only The Who’s best album opener, it’s also one of the greatest album openers in rock history. Townshend’s windmill chords, Keith Moon’s thunderous drums, the gypsy breakdown, and so on: Every moment of this track is iconic.

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