Meaning of “Baba O’riley” by The Who
First off, it should be noted that this song is set in a fictional, apocalyptic version of England. That is to say to a large extent it is being sung from the perspective of a certain character (Ray, a Scottish farmer, though his name is never mentioned) rather than The Who themselves.
And in the first verse we see that he is truly dealing with dire circumstances, as he “fight for (his) meals” and to “prove (he’s) right”.
In the second verse, he addresses Sally, his wife, as they begin their trek to England. The listener is made privy to these details by observing the story, “Lifehouse”, that this song is actually based upon. And their purpose of going there is to view an underground concert, where they also hope to run into their estranged daughter.
The chorus of this song is actually the most-popular part. In it, Roger Daltrey refers to a “teenage wasteland”. This is actually a reference to Woodstock – a legendary music festival which took place in 1969 – and not a flattering one. Via this statement, he is indeed referring to “wasted” teenagers – as in those high on drugs – but not in the idolized manner of popular depictions of the 1960s. Rather his intention is to allude to them literally wasting their lives through the abuse of potent drugs.
So overall “Baba O’Riley” tells two tales, though in a related fashion. A challenged family is going to visit a music concert in a fictional depiction of the United Kingdom. And at this venue they are set to meet teenagers in a disparaging state of existence.
Facts about “Baba O’Riley”
- “Baba O’Riley” is actually the opening track on The Who’s 1971 album, Who’s Next, which dropped in August of 1971.
- It was re-released by Polydor Records as a single in select European countries a couple of months later on 23 October 1971.
- Even though “Baba O’Riley” was never released as a single in the United Kingdom, it still managed to gain platinum certification (1,000,0000 copies sold) there.
- Moreover “Baba O’Riley”, being a fan favorite, is performed live regularly by The Who, with these renditions being featured on a number of their later albums. Furthermore, it makes appearances on a couple of their “greatest hits” collections.
- This track was originally intended to be featured in a play by its writer, The Who’s Pete Townsend, entitled “Lifehouse”. This is where the characters of Ray (the singer) and Sally (who is mentioned in the song) originate from.
- The title is actually a combination of the names of two real-life individuals. The first is Meher Baba (1894-1969), a 20th century spiritual teacher from India. The second is Terry Riley, a music composer and performer. Accordingly Pete Townsend looked up to both of these individuals.
- When it was originally composed, the track was entitled “Teenage Wasteland”. However, it was later renamed “Baba O’Riley”, and its former title was given to a different (yet related) track.
- However instead of being referred to by its proper title, this track is still often called “Teenage Wasteland” due to the phrase being repeated multiple times in the chorus and the fact that its actual title is never mentioned in its lyrics.
- When it was originally composed, this song was actually 30 minutes’ long.
- On Rolling Stone’s 2011 list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, “Baba O’Riley” placed at number 349.
- This track was also recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.
- “Baba O’Riley” has been featured in a wide range of popular music. For instance it was the theme song of the television drama “CSI: NY”, which ran for nearly 10 years. It has also been used in commercials for Nissan and Cisco. Moreover the Los Angeles Lakers play this song at home games during their player introductions.
- The Who produced “Baba O’Riley” in partnership with English musician Glyn Johns.
Covers of “Baba O’Riley”
This song has been covered by a number of artists, most notable amongst them being the Grateful Dead and Pearl Jam, the latter of who’s rendition has also been formally acknowledged by Rolling Stone by reaching number 8 on their “Readers’ Poll: The Greatest Live Cover Songs” list.