Writer: Pete Townshend
Producer: The Who
Recorded: 1971, Stargroves, Berkshire, England
Released: June 25, 1971
Pete Townshend–guitars, synthesizer, vocals, organ
|Album:||Who's Next (MCA, 1971)|
“Won't Get Fooled Again” served as the Who's standard concert finale (before the encore), even as late as the band’s 1982, 1989, and 1996 tours. The group usually used the original synthesizer tape in concert.
The single, cut in half for radio airplay, hit Number Nine in the U.K. and Number 10 in the U.S. on the Billboard singles chart. Who's Nextwas the band's sole album to hit Number One In England, and made it to Number Four on the Billboard album chart in the U.S.
The song was the centerpiece of Lifehouse, which was supposed to be a major rock opera spiritually uniting band and fans. Instead, it gave singer-guitarist Pete Townshend a nervous breakdown. The aborted project became Who's Next.
It was the first Who song–and, some would say, the first successful rock song–to use a synthesizer. At Mick Jagger's country house Stargroves, where the Who recorded Who's Next, Townshend unveiled a backing track he'd created with the then-new ARP 2600 synthesizer and a guitar “envelope follower.” “This definitive classic '70s rock song actually came from an indulgent experiment in electronic music,” Townshend told biographer Geoffrey Giuliano.
Like Buffalo Springfield's “For What It's Worth,” “Won't Get Fooled Again” is less an encouragement for revolution than a disillusioned behind-the-scenes critique of uprising. The closing line, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” sums up Townshend's point, which is that the new leaders may have longer beards and different-colored flags, but nothing ever changes.
Townshend, in Giuliano's 1996 biography Behind Blue Eyes, says, “The hero of the piece warns, 'Don't be fooled, don't be taken in.' It's interesting it's been taken up in an anthemic sense when in fact it's such a cautionary piece.”
Townshend continues: “The song is from a position of a secure family: 'I'll move myself and my family aside.' That's the whole thing. I was writing in a sense to say, 'Don't f**k around with revolution for my benefit. I've seen them come and go and everything ends up the same. And I'd prefer it if my kids didn't get involved.'”
Townshend, in a mid-'70s interview, said, “The first verse sounds like a revolution song and the second like somebody getting tired of it. It's an anti-anti song. A song against the revolution because the revolution is only a revolution and a revolution is not going to change anything in the long run, and a lot of people are going to get hurt. I've never taken as heavy a political stand on anything as Bob Dylanor John Lennon, even, either musically or in things I've said or done in public. In fact, the most political thing I've ever did was kick Abbie Hoffman off the stage at Woodstock.”
During the late '80s, the notoriously soul-searching Townshend told interviewers he hated the song. “It was the dumbest song I've ever written,” he told Giuliano. “It was dumb to deny the political role of the individual. Burning your draft card is a purely political act. Throwing your vote away is an apolitical act, and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' was an apolitical song. Luckily, people didn't listen to the verses…It was an irresponsible song. It was quite clear during that period that rock had the ear of the people, and people were saying, 'Pete, you've got to use the Who. You've got to get the message across.'”
Townshend demonstrated his fast-strumming skill during an acoustic rendition of the song at “The Secret Policeman's Ball” charity concert, with John Williams as second guitarist.
Townshend, lead singer Roger Daltrey, and bassist John Entwistle played it as an acoustic encore during the 1996 Quadropheniashows.
The live version on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack is one of the last Who songs drummer Keith Moon played before he died, and it showed. Always an anarchic, unpredictable player, Moon sounded purely out of shape on the Kids recording. After Daltrey's famous scream, Moon comes in a couple of awkward moments too late.