The 20 Best Songs by The Who

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Long regarded as one of the pioneer groups in rock ’n’ roll, a brief glance through The Who’s catalog is enough to send even the best young musician toward a long look in the mirror. The Who just kicked off its North American Tour of Quadrophenia and continue to captivate audiences with an undeniable stage presence. Today we celebrate the impact that Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon have had on modern music by ranking their 20 best songs.

20. “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”
The Who’s second-ever single offers a brief taste of the experimentation to come from Pete Townshend with a mid-song breakdown that includes ferocious guitar slides and bits of Morse code.

19. “Pinball Wizard”
Perhaps the Who’s most recognizable track thanks to Townshend’s urgent opening guitar riff, “Pinball Wizard” has grown to embody a life of its own. Though it was a last minute addition to the sprawling rock opera Tommy, most Who fans will agree it was a worthy contribution to the album.

18. “The Song Is Over”
One of the softer tracks off of Who’s Next, “The Song Is Over” offers a poignant lament from Townshend on piano in a great juxtaposition to Roger Daltrey’s masculine delivery. Perhaps most memorable is a reference to the song “Pure and Easy” near the end of the track that hints at Townshend’s song-overlap techniques he would return to on Quadrophenia.

17. “The Seeker”
Continuing themes of spiritual and personal fulfillment, “The Seeker” is a slightly understated Who track that captures the spirit of the times in which it was written and rightfully ponders the true power of cultural icons.

16. “Pure and Easy”
In the aftermath of Townshend’s failed Lifehouse project, the song “Pure and Easy” arose to show just what might have been had the technology been advanced enough to allow for its creation. “Pure and Easy” speaks of the joy of music and features one of the most triumphant final stanzas of any Who song.

15. “Heaven and Hell”
Bass player John Entwistle proved on numerous occasions that Townshend was not the only capable songwriter in the group, and “Heaven and Hell” highlights his abilities beautifully. Often serving as the group’s live act opener during the Tommy years, “Heaven and Hell” rightfully moves Entwistle to the forefront highlighting both his vocals and stunning bass play.

14. “5:15”
Of all the memorable tracks off of The Who’s grandiose triumph Quadrophenia, the first track on side-B, “5’15” packs a particular punch by truly capturing Jimmy’s pent-up angst in a drug-induced train ride. Often a memorable highlight from the live show included an extended bass solo from Entwistle that never ceases to amaze.

13. “Substitute”
One of the Who’s earlier singles, “Substitute” offers multiple clever lyrics from Townshend’s pen and a spectacular rhythm section from Moon and Entwistle. Daltrey also appears to be finding his niche as a frontman and puts forth a memorable performance.

12. “Amazing Journey / Sparks”
This two-song pairing is often grouped together due to the seamless transition between them both on Tommy and in the Who’s live show, and rightfully so. Featuring some of the greatest instrumental work by the band in addition to superb vocal delivery from Daltrey as the lead character, “Amazing Journey / Sparks” unite to create some of the most memorable moments from Tommy.

11. “Who Are You”
With a fabulous story behind its genesis (involving a night of heavy drinking and a moment of recognition from a police officer), one of the Who’s last major hits came in 1978 with “Who Are You.” Instantly recognizable for its chorus and Who-like breakdowns, this track has since grown into a crowd favorite.

Long regarded as one of the pioneer groups in rock ’n’ roll, a brief glance through The Who’s catalog is enough to send even the best young musician toward a long look in the mirror. The Who just kicked off its North American Tour of Quadrophenia and continue to captivate audiences with an undeniable stage presence. Today we celebrate the impact that Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon have had on modern music by ranking their 20 best songs.

10. “I Can’t Explain”
The Who’s first single, “I Can’t Explain,” holds up shockingly well after its release almost a half-century ago. While atypical of pop music being released at the time, “I Can’t Explain” has an unmistakable edge to it that can still be heard today.

9. “The Real Me”
Following a brief introduction, Quadrophenia kicks off in rocking fashion with “The Real Me,” one of the most ferocious tracks in The Who’s catalog. Instantly introducing the desperate and frustrating pains of adolescence, “The Real Me” captures the innate desire for self-fulfillment in us all.

8. “Behind Blue Eyes”
A semi-departure from the typical Who single, “Behind Blue Eyes” proceeds for nearly two-thirds of its duration without the talents of drummer Keith Moon. However, his absence only makes his return all the more memorable. A once-quiet ballad that launches into a full-on rocker, “Behind Blue Eyes” signaled a great step in a positive direction.

7. “A Quick One While He’s Away”
Before Townsend could envision Tommy, he had to test the waters of rock-operas with the mini composition “A Quick One While He’s Away.” Beautifully telling a story of infidelity and forgiveness, each band member shines on this track and it is easy in hindsight to see what they were destined to create in the years that followed.

6. “My Generation”
“I hope I die before I get old.” In a generation full of spokespeople, Townshend may not have been quite as outspoken as his peers, but this simple phrase from “My Generation” continues to capture the essence of its time. Furthermore, the track introduces the arrival of John Entwistle as the undisputed king of his instrument and perhaps the most memorable stutter in all of rock history.

5. “The Kids Are Alright”
In a time consisting of numerous amounts of change, The Who arrived to assure their listeners that all was not lost in the world and that despite signs of destruction on the horizon, all would be well eventually.

4. “I Can See For Miles”
Though not one of the better performing Who singles in the charts, “I Can See For Miles” represents the group’s quintessential song by highlighting all four members with equal recognition and the angst-driven subject that rightfully predicted a bright future for the group.

3. “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
A drum solo and a scream both arguably paved the way to rock ‘n roll immortality for this track. Yet there is more than meets the eye with this epic eight-minute track, including some of Townshend’s best lyrics and synthesizer experimentation.

2. “Baba O’Riley”
A reflection of the aftermath of the music festivals that dominated the late ‘60s, Townshend combined synthesizer experimentation with three simple chords to create one of the most iconic songs in rock history. With both Townshend and Daltrey delivering memorable lines, this song will long endure.

1. “Love, Reign O’er Me”
The conclusion of arguably The Who’s greatest album culminates in a nearly perfect track that transcends nearly every moment leading to its introduction. The track has it all; Daltrey’s soaring vocals; Moon’s vicious drumming; Townshend’s heartbreaking lyrics; Entwistle’s grounding bass line. The Who at their best.

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