The Who's 50 Greatest Songs

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

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1. "Won't Get Fooled Again" ('Who's Next', 1971)

The climactic finish to The Who's best album is rock's – and Pete Townshend's – greatest declaration of independence: an epic storm of doubt, refusal, hypno-minimalist synthesizer and rolling-thunder power chords capped by a truly superhuman scream. "The song was meant," the guitarist-composer said in 2006, "to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the center of my life was not for sale." But with that long, feral howl by Roger Daltrey, "as though his heart was being torn out," as Townshend put it, the song "became something more to so many people" – a thrilling demonstration of rock's power to elevate and unite in the face of any regime. Written for Townshend's star-crossed opera Lifehouse, and first recorded in March 1971 at a discarded session with Mountain guitarist Leslie West, "Won't Get Fooled Again" made its stage debut that April, quickly becoming a fixture of the Who's live shows. Townshend's recent licensing of the song for TV and films has not diminished its power or lyrical contempt for demagogues on both sides. At its core, "Won't Get Fooled Again" – with its chorus image of Townshend on his knees, guitar in hands – is about music as moral force and salvation. "What is there," he confessed, "is prayer."

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