The Meaning Behind “Slit Skirts” by Pete Townshend and the Complex Emotional Territory It Covers

Many famous artists and bands who rose up through the ranks in the musical heyday of the ’60s found the early ’80s to be a rough era. The Who battled through that time with their typical resilience, while their chief songwriter Pete Townshend also found the bandwidth to release some exciting solo music. That includes the confessional rocker “Slit Skirts,” released on his 1982 solo album All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes.

Videos by American Songwriter

What is the song about? How did it represent a difficult time in Townshend’s life? And how did he manage to use solo songs like “Slit Skirts” to separate himself a bit from his band? Let’s take a look back at how this song came to life and what it means.

For Pete’s Sake

Pete Townshend came to a major crossroads in his personal and professional life while making All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. He was keeping up a brutally busy writing and recording schedule: Between The Who and his solo material, he released four albums in the three-year stretch from 1980-1982.

He became increasingly drawn to the solo stuff because he was growing weary of the demands of writing a certain way for The Who, a band that had lost a lot of artistic momentum after the death of drummer Keith Moon. His solo work offered him at least a semblance of artistic freedom.

Meanwhile, Townshend’s marriage was in bad shape, in part because of his substance abuse. In the midst of making All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes in 1982, he underwent NeuroElectric Therapy to combat the drugs and drinking. He came away feeling better, rejoined his family, and found the clarity to finish the record.

Part of the reason he liked writing for his solo work was that he felt he could directly address what was going on in his own life. “Slit Skirts” came from the perspective of an aging rock and roller going through romantic problems, all while trying to decide whether he should be reaching back to younger days or getting a foothold on the present. He explained the song’s impulses in the liner notes to The Best of Pete Townshend:

“‘Slit Skirts’ is about getting to that place in middle age where you really feel that life is never going to be the same—you’re never going to fall in love again, it’s never going to be quite like it was—and it’s a song about getting drunk, being maudlin and sentimental.”

Oddly enough, Townshend didn’t choose to release “Slit Skirts” as a single. With its singalong chorus and rocking arrangement, it seemed ready-made for radio play. The fact that it’s carved out a steady place in classic rock formats ever since argues for its accessibility, even as Townshend tangles with some complex emotional territory.

What is “Slit Skirts” About?

“Slit Skirts” finds a narrator torn between living a life more suited to his age and raging against maturity by longing for the pleasures of youth. The clothing items mentioned in the chorus (slit skirts, ripped shirts, and knee pants) symbolize the abandon of youth that’s slowly disappearing from his life. We have to be so drunk to try a new dance, Townshend complains about the reticence of his age group. So afraid of ever new romance.

The verses allow Townshend to dig deeper into the malaise invading his life. Wandering in a haze is how he describes it in the very first line. He hints at the conundrum of those who repeat the same mistakes: No one respects the flame quite like the fool who’s badly burned / From all this you’d imagine that there must be something learned.

In the second verse, the narrator details the problems in his relationship: I know that when she thinks of me, she thinks of me as him. He also hints at a fast-approaching dead end: Recriminations fester and the past can never change. Faced with the massive shadow of his own musical past, Pete Townshend chose to go his own way, at least briefly. “Slit Skirts” suggests that the tug exerted by those days gone by can sometimes feel more like a violent yank.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by P. Floyd/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Sugarland announced a tour and single with Little big Town

Sugarland Announces New Single, Tour with Little Big Town Ahead of 2024 CMT Music Awards Performance