The Shimmering Brilliance of “Baba O’Riley”

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this song yet given that I literally wrote an entire essay on it in college. I heard it playing tinnily out of a car’s radio as it drove past the other day so that’s what’s got me thinking about it again.

No, the song isn’t called “Teenage Wasteland”. The title refers to guitarist Pete Townshend’s musical and philosophical influences. You can almost hear that mysticism in the high, wavering organ in the background of the song. The beat starts out confident in mono then becomes unsteady, shifting, adjusting itself into Keith Moon’s iconic drum lines.

But what about the song makes it “shimmer”? I think that organ, to be sure, but also the rawness of Roger Daltrey’s vocals. “Out here in the fields,” he declares, “I fight for my meals/I get my back into my living.” I shiver every time the song starts because his voice immediately transports you into that rough and slightly desperate world. Moon’s drumming continues and almost sounds like a heartbeat.

Daltrey’s high wail is mixed with power as he describes how he doesn’t need to be forgiven. That assertion is emphasized by Moon’s drumming. This song gives me a confidence boost whenever I listen to it for that very reason.

Another thing that stands out to me about the song is how ageless it feels. Not just because it’s iconic, although of course it is, but those teenagers could be the subjects of the song (Sally?) or those the narrator decries.

I had the privilege of seeing The Who perform this song live last year. Fittingly, it came at the very end of their set. And just as I predicted I started crying. There is something so spiritual, so transportive about music, and this song in particular, that to experience it in its full force was beautifully overwhelming.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.