“Baba O`Riley”


“Baba O`Riley”
Written by: Pete townshend
recorded at: olymPic studios,
london, may 1971
Produced by: the who
associate Producer: Glyn Johns
Violin solo Produced by: Keith moon
Vocals: RoGeR daltRey
Guitar, orGan, Piano, Vocals:
Pete townshend
bass: John entwistle
drums: Keith moon
daVe arbus: Violin
Art Kane
First released on: who’s next (1971)
Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle
“Baba O’Riley”
songwriter Pete Townshend was looking for
answers. Like many artists, he had discovered
that actually achieving the fortune and fame
he had sought did not fill the spiritual void in
his life. “I was bitter, cynical and angry most
of the time,” he once recalled of this period.
“But most of all I was really very stupid.”
He sought answers in psychedelic drugs
before friend Mike McInnerney suggested he
read the teachings of an Indian guru named
Meher Baba. Unlike many of the spiritual
guides pop stars seem drawn to, Baba
asked his followers for no money and
welcomed adherents from all faiths. He
taught simple values of love and compassion.
“Baba only asked people for their love,
not their possessions or even their lives,”
Townshend wrote in 1970, the year after
Baba died (or “dropped His body,” as his
followers prefer).
As the ’70s dawned, Townshend was
also cooking up Lifehouse, a projected
concept album and film about an imaginary
future in which many people spend their lives
inside a virtual “grid” that keeps them happy
and pliant. Among those who resist this
comfortable conformity is a farmer named
Ray, who travels south to London with his
wife, Sally, to find their runaway daughter and
take part in a subversive musical experiment
in an abandoned theater. Townshend wrote
of their journey in “Teenage Wasteland,” a
song he intended to open Lifehouse.
At around the same time, he was at
work on another piece of music heavily
influenced by American Minimalist composer
Terry Riley (in particular his piece “A Rainbow
in Curved Air”). Townshend at first had the
notion of inputting numerical biographical
information about Meher Baba into the
modular ARP 2500 synthesizer with which
he had been writing—giving him, as it were,
Baba in the manner of Riley. He eventually
played the part on a Lowrey TBO-1 home
organ on the “marimba repeat” setting (and
a wah-wah-style preset called “Wow-Wow”),
constructing a 13-minute demo he cheekily
dubbed “Baba O’Riley.” Eventually he grafted
the lyrics of “Teenage Wasteland” onto the
main body of this track, which nonetheless
retained its original title.
When it became clear that all the
facets of the ambitious multimedia Lifehouse
project weren’t going to come together,
Townshend and his bandmates elected to
at least record the songs that had been
written for it. The Who set up shop with
co-producer Glyn Johns, first at Stargroves
(Mick Jagger’s Berkshire home) and then at
Olympic Studios in London. The sessions
produced enough material for a double
album, but Johns convinced them they’d be
better off slimming it down to a hard-hitting
single record.
Kicking off that album, now dubbed
Who’s Next, was the audacious “Baba
O’Riley.” Beginning with a full 30 seconds of
what seemed to be synthesized bleeps and
bloops (really the Lowrey organ, transferred
directly from Townshend’s demo), the track
proceeded through thunderous power chords.
Daltrey howled a lyric that once carried a
specific piece of plot—Ray’s journey to
London, “south ’cross land”—but now spoke
more abstractly of optimism in the face of
disillusionment. “Baba O’Riley” came to a
climax with a skittering solo from violinist Dave
Arbus of the English progressive rock band
East of Eden, added at Moon’s suggestion.
Meher Baba has remained a spiritual
guidepost for Townshend. “I have been
through periods of intense engagement
and immense doubt,” he said in 2007.
“At the moment I am uncertain what
I feel, but my faith in Meher Baba as
a genuinely gifted teacher full of
extraordinary insight is capable of surviving
some uncertainty.”
— Chris Neal
M mag 2_HBa.indd 78
3/23/10 2:31:42 AM

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