What Do the Lyrics of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” Mean? –

“Baba O’Riley” is a song most of us have heard many, many times. It rocks, it wails. It gets your blood pumping. But what does it mean?

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American Songwriter uncovers the lyrics and the song’s meaning.

The Lyrics

The meaning of the song, of course, can be found in the lyrics. What’s remained most consistently humorous about the song, though, is that most listeners think it is called “Teenage Wasteland,” since the words are sung so many times on the track.

The name of the song, though, comes from two of The Who’s Pete Townshend’s favorite thinkers: Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and American composer Terry Riley.

Names aside, however, the song is about hard work, rebellion and the oblivion of youth. Sings The Who’s Roger Daltrey,

Out here in the fields
I fight for my meals
I get my back into my living.

I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Again, hard work. In the “fields,” the singer puts his “back” into his “living.” What’s more, the singer knows he’s right about his point of view, he doesn’t need to prove it to anyone else. He has the confidence of a dutiful worker.

Then the rebellion. Sings Daltrey,

Sally, take my hand
We’ll travel south cross land
Put out the fire
And don’t look past my shoulder.

The exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let’s get together
Before we get much older.

Run, run, run. Get away. Youth and ambition mean breaking free from the past. “Sally, take my hand.” As for the lyrical content of the rest of the song, Daltrey sings of that numinous feeling of “teenage wasteland.” That in-between space where fiery souls meet novice minds.

The Legacy

Released on the band’s 1971 album, Who’s Next, this song remains perhaps their most popular to date, along with one or two others like “My Generation” and “Pinball Wizard.”

The song originally was meant to be part of a rock opera from Townshend called, Lifehouse, which was to be a follow-up to the acclaimed concept record, Tommy. But it was scrapped. One of the songs, though, saved from the original batch was “Baba O’Riley.”

The refrain, said Townshend, was inspired by a festival gig the band played, after which the fields were covered in rubbish. Ironically, wasted drunk teenagers began to shout it during shows like a battle cry.

Today, the song has been covered a myriad of times and used in countless moves, television shows and commercials. It’s iconic. Even if the title remains confusing to most.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


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