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Pete Townshend of The Who smashes a Fender Telecaster guitar into the speaker cab of his amplifier during a concert at the Oberrheinhalle, Offenburg, Germany, 17th April 1967. Marshall amplifier heads are visible behind the speaker cabs and the guitar is fitted with a Fender Stratocaster neck. (Photo by Chris Moprhet/Redferns)

Pete Townshend of The Who smashes a Fender Telecaster guitar into the speaker cab of his amplifier during a concert at the Oberrheinhalle, Offenburg, Germany, 17th April 1967. Marshall amplifier heads are visible behind the speaker cabs and the guitar is fitted with a Fender Stratocaster neck. (Photo by Chris Moprhet/Redferns)

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A songwriter since he was still a teenager, Pete Townshend, now 77, has amassed a considerable catalog of work. Many of those songs, both with The Who and solo, are rock classics. Among them are “I Can’t Explain,” “My Generation,” I Can See For Miles,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Love, Reign O’er Me,” “Who Are You,” “Rough Boys,” “Let My Love Open The Door,” “You Better You Bet,” “Slit Skirts” and “Eminence Front.” But there are many lesser-known songs by Townshend that also merit attention. A number of them are examined below.

  

SONG: “A Legal Matter”
The Who
ALBUM: My Generation (1965)
The first song on which Townshend performs the lead vocal, “A Legal Matter” is about the fear of commitment and includes lines such as “It’s a legal matter, baby, marrying’s no fun.” The performance of the song is terrific, with standout drumming by Keith Moon and nice piano work courtesy of guest musician Nicky Hopkins.

  

SONG: “Circles” (also known as “Instant Party”)
The Who
ALBUM: Ready Steady Who EP (1966) in the UK. The Who Sings My Generation album (1966) in the USA (as “Instant Party”)
The song is known as both “Circles” and “Instant Party” due to a legal dispute with the record producer Shel Talmy. It’s a power-pop song featuring horns by John Entwistle, a tour de force performance by Moon on drums and a somewhat downbeat lead vocal by Roger Daltrey.

  

SONG: “So Sad About Us”
The Who
ALBUM: A Quick One (1966)
Townshend originally wrote the song for the Liverpool-based vocal duo The Merseys. The Who recorded their own version for their second studio album, 1966’s A Quick One. Quite arguably one of the best songs of The Who’s pre-Tommy era, “So Sad About Us” is an explosive bit of power pop about still being in love with someone but knowing that the relationship is not going to work. It’s been covered by several bands, including The Breeders, Primal Scream and The Jam. Townshend performed an acoustic version of the song with Paul Weller at The Who’s inaugural Teenage Cancer Trust show at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2000.

A powerhouse live performance of “So Sad About Us” by The Who from 1967 at London’s Marquee Club that aired on the German TV music program Beat Club can be seen below:

  

SONG: “Tattoo”
The Who
ALBUM: The Who Sell Out (1967)
A genuinely beautiful song, “Tattoo” concerns a young man’s distorted idea of manhood and masculinity. It drives the point home with lyrics such as “Our old man didn’t like our appearance / He said that only women wear long hair.” An introspective song in its own way, it examines themes that Townshend expanded on in 1973’s Quadrophenia album.

  

SONG: “Christmas”
The Who
ALBUM: Tommy (1969)
One of the most rocking songs on Tommy, “Christmas” was something of a gutsy move for inclusion on the album since it touches on religious themes. (“He doesn’t know who Jesus was or what praying is.”) It’s one of the highlights of the album.

   

SONG: “Love Ain’t For Keeping”
The Who
ALBUM: Who’s Next (1971)
It has a homey, countrified feel to it, and a terrific lead vocal by Daltrey. An outstanding piece of work, it often gets overlooked unfortunately as it shares space on the Who’s Next album with several of the band’s best-known songs.

   

SONG: “Let’s See Action”
The Who
Non-album single (1971)
Part of the abandoned Lifehouse project, “Let’s See Action” was not included on Who’s Next and released instead as a single. It’s exclusion from the album is more than a bit surprising. Inspired by the teachings of Townshend’s spiritual avatar Meher Baba of whom he became a follower in 1967, “Let’s See Action” is a rollicking rocker that features a powerful lead vocal by Daltrey, terrific performances by Townshend, Moon and Entwistle as well as some great piano playing by guest musician Nicky Hopkins. Townshend included the song, titled as “Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action),” on his 1972 solo debut Who Came First. The Who performed the song with special guest at Eddie Vedder at the 2000 Teenage Cancer Trust show in London.

  

SONG: “Parvardigar”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM:
Who Came First (1972)
Credited to Townshend and Meher Baba, “Parvardigar” is one of the most spiritual songs of Townshend’s long career. Townshend put music to the words of Meher Baba’s Parvardigar Prayer. It’s the closing track on Who Came First, and one of the album’s standout songs.

   

SONG: “Cut My Hair”
The Who
ALBUM: Quadrophenia (1973)
Probably the track that best captures Quadrophenia’s theme of youthful alienation, “Cut My Hair” is one of the most deeply personal songs that Townshend wrote for The Who. It’s stunning, and it cuts to the bone with lyrics such as “Why do I have to move with the crowd of kids that hardly notice I’m around? / I work myself to death just to fit in.” Like several of Townshend’s other overlooked songs, “Cut My Hair” just happens to be on an album with a number of better-known classic Who tracks.

  

SONG: “We Close Tonight”
The Who
ALBUM: Odds & Sods (remastered version, 1998)
An outtake from Quadrophenia, “We Close Tonight” is a jaunty song that presents that narrator as being so unsure of himself that he resorts to lying to impress girls: “Every lie I tell weaves another spell, another road that ends up blind / The Bird that shook my hand was a wanted man, I think you knew that all the time.”

  

SONG: “However Much I Booze”
The Who
ALBUM: The Who By Numbers (1975)
Another of Townshend’s more personal compositions for The Who, “However Much I Booze” is a study in contrasts. The upbeat, bouncy music of the song stands quite opposite of the track’s dark, self-loathing lyrics in which Townshend, as narrator, describes himself as “nothing but a well-f---ed sailor” and “a faker, a paper clown.” The Who performed the song live only on their 1975 tour and never again.

  

Townshend performs with The Who at Oakland Stadium on October 9, 1976 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images)

Townshend performs with The Who at Oakland Stadium on October 9, 1976 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images)

  

SONG: “Heart To Hang Onto”
Pete Townshend solo track with Ronnie Lane
ALBUM: Rough Mix (1977)
Sung as a duet with longtime friend and former Small Faces and Faces bassist Ronnie Lane (with whom Townshend made the Rough Mix album), “Heart To Hang Onto” is one of Townshend’s standout solo tracks as well as one of his most beautiful compositions. Starting out slow-paced and dreamy, it grows in power as the song goes on and becomes a bit of rocker in places. Entwistle played the horns on the track. Townshend has performed the song live with Eddie Vedder several times, including a November 1999 appearance on CBS-TV’s The Late Show with David Letterman.

   

SONG: “New Song”
The Who
ALBUM: Who Are You (1978)
“New Song” is The Who’s blast at FM rock radio’s desire for bands to repeatedly replicate their older hits. Townshend wrote, “I write the same old song with a few new lines / And everybody wants to cheer it.” Given how punk and New Wave were changing the face of rock music at the time, Townshend knew that regurgitating their previous hits would have been a death knell in creative terms for the band. The performance of the song is quite powerful, with a terrific lead vocal by Daltrey. It’s somewhat surprising that The Who never performed it in concert.

   

SONG: “No Road Romance” (bonus track)
The Who
ALBUM: Who Are You (remastered and expanded edition, 1996)
Recorded during the sessions for Who Are You, “No Road Romance” was left off of the album for some reason. It appeared as a bonus track on the 1996 remastered release of Who Are You. It’s a terrific track with an outstanding lead vocal by Townshend.

  

SONG: “Get Out And Stay Out”
The Who
ALBUM: Quadrophenia soundtrack (1979)
One of the two songs recorded by The Who specifically for the soundtrack to the Quadrophenia film, “Get Out And Stay Out” featured Kenney Jones on drums in his first recorded appearance with The Who following the death of Moon. It’s a rocking song with a powerful lead vocal and nice guitar work by Townshend. It soundtracks a key sequence in the Quadrophenia film.

   

SONG: “Jools And Jim”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: Empty Glass (1980)
A blistering answer song to comments made by two NME journalists with whom Townshend disagreed, “Jools And Jim” may be the punkiest song that Townshend had written since “My Generation.” Bristling with energy, the song asks: “But did you read the stuff that Julie said? / Or little Jimmy with hair dyed red? / They don’t give a shit Keith Moon is dead / Is that exactly what I thought I read?” And in defense of his fallen bandmate, Townshend declares: “Morality ain’t measured in a room / He wrecked.”

  

Townshend, at the Rosemont Horizon, October 5, 1982, in Rosemont, IL. (Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images)

Townshend, at the Rosemont Horizon, October 5, 1982, in Rosemont, IL. (Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images)

  

SONG: “Stop Hurting People”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)
Delivered in part in spoken word, “Stop Hurting People” has the feel of a poem set to music. It’s quite unique, and very different from anything else in Townshend’s song catalog.

  

SONG: “Somebody Saved Me”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)
“Somebody Saved Me” is a powerful song with outstanding lyrics that tells the tale of Townshend’s experiences with a girl that he knew when he was 16. He was in love with her but did not date her. Townshend sings at one point: “She finally bored with seducing me / And took up with some geezer from the Ealing scene / It nearly killed him like it would’ve killed me / When her original man snaped his fingers and she obeyed, she obeyed.”

  

SONG: “All Lovers Are Deranged”
David Gilmour solo track
ALBUM: About Face (1984)
Townshend and Gilmour collaborated on two songs for Gilmour’s 1984 solo album About Face, “Love On The Air” and “All Lovers Are Deranged.” Townshend wrote the lyrics and Gilmour the music for both. The latter, which is the harder edged of the two songs, has a Pink Floyd meets The Who vibe. It's a powerful song with spectacular guitar work by Gilmour. The lyrics somewhat cynically opine: “You know that you don’t really fall in love / Unless you’re seventeen / The break of day will make your spirits fly / But you can’t know what it means / Unless you’re seventeen.”

  

SONG: “White City Fighting”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: White City: A Novel (1985)
At the time that Townshend recorded the LP, he was also working as an editor at the London publishing house Faber and Faber, and he saw the album, which was a concept piece, as an audio novel, hence the title White City: A Novel. (A companion film, directed by Richard Lowenstein and featuring Townshend in a supporting role, was released on VHS and Laser Disc in conjunction with the release of the album.)

On the song “White City Fighting,” Townshend and Gilmour continued their creative partnership, with Townshend once again penning the lyrics and Gilmour the music. In the White City film, Townshend’s character is a successful musician who grew up in the area. While his character no longer lived there, he enjoyed coming back to visit. As the song’s opening states: “The White City, that’s a joke of a name / It’s a black violent place if I remember the game / I couldn’t wait to get out but I love to go home / To remember the White City fighting.”

Following the release of the White City album, Townshend and Gilmour performed together in the band Deep End at several concerts, two of which have been released commercially.

  

SONG: “Hiding Out”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: White City: A Novel (1985)
The jaunty music of the song stands in contrast to the lyrics, which paint a grim picture: “I look over chequered fields / And the towering web of steel / Young and old will sit and judge unfeeling / While the empty church’s bells are pealing / And the green hills lay ignored, untended / The lonely watchers remain unbefriended.” It's a beautiful piece of work.

   

SONG: “Secondhand Love”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: White City: A Novel (1985)
A terrific, bluesy song with a direct Townshend lead vocal, “Secondhand Love:” is one of the standout tracks on the White City album. It’s about the album’s protagonist no longer trusting his partner: “I can guess where you’ve been tonight / You’ve been hanging out on the street / Wearing your dress too tight / You’re showin’ out to anyone you meet / But I don’t want your secondhand love.”

  

SONG: “Night School”
Pete Townshend solo track
Bonus song on the White City film’s VHS tape and Laser Disc (1985)
A great song that was left off of the White City album, “Night School” is a driving rocker propelled by Phil Chen’s bass and Clem Burke’s drums with Townshend’s stinging guitar leads slicing through perfectly. Backing vocals on the song were by Townshend’s daughter Emma Townshend and her friend, Justine Frischmann. (Frischmann would later gain fame in the 1990s as lead vocalist and guitarist with the band Elastica).

A video showing scenes from the recording of “Night School” can be seen below:

   

SONG: “All Shall Be Well”
Pete Townshend solo track with Deborah Conway and Chyna
ALBUM:
The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townsend (1989)
A gorgeous song with nice piano in the intro. Townshend shares lead-vocal duties with the singers Deborah Conway and Chyna. They trade off on the vocals quite well. A real showstopper.

  

SONG: “Don’t Try To Make Me Real”
Pete Townshend solo track
ALBUM: Psychoderelict (1993)
An outstanding song that rocks and has a great Townshend lead vocal at its center. It’s very surprising that it’s not better known as it’s the standout track on the Psychoderelict album. The biting lyrics include the following: “Stop trying to make me real / I haven’t got the kind of heart a lover can steal / Stop crying, I just can’t feel / Any sympathy for someone trying to make me real.”


Townshend during the 16th annual Midnight Preserves at Preservation Hall on April 30, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Preservation Hall Foundation's Midnight Preserves benefit series welcomes prominent artists from a variety of genres alongside the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for intimate midnight concerts. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images).

Townshend during the 16th annual Midnight Preserves at Preservation Hall on April 30, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Preservation Hall Foundation's Midnight Preserves benefit series welcomes prominent artists from a variety of genres alongside the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for intimate midnight concerts. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images).