The Who's 50 Greatest Songs

From power-pop anthems to operatic epics to stadium-size rockers and beyond

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31. "Who Are You" ('Who Are You', 1978)

One of the last great lionhearted Who anthems, "Who Are You" summed up Townshend's disillusion with where rock had gone during the late Seventies, and his desire to find authenticity amid the malaise. "It's actually a prayer," Townshend said later. "I was trying to sort out who, where, what God was." He wrote it after a contentious business meeting about unpaid royalties devolved into a drunken spree, during which Townshend ran into two members of the Sex Pistols in a club called the Speakeasy. Falling on his knees at the feet of drummer Paul Cook, he told the young punk musician, "Rock has gone down the fuckin' tubes." The incident planted the seed for a high-powered song that Townshend called "an encyclopedia for up-and-coming groups about how not to get caught." Finishing "Who Are You" required some effort. Producer Jon Astley said that Townshend "turned up with this very long demo of the track … with all this stuff happening on it." Astley got to work cutting five minutes out of the song, and the end result became a Top 20 hit in America and the U.K., proof that the Who weren't done just yet.

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