The Who

Won't Get Fooled Again

Composed by Pete Townshend

Song Review by

In 1971, John Lennon traveled to Ann Arbor, MI, to appear at a combination benefit concert and political rally organized around the cause of freeing activist and author John Sinclair, who had been arrested for possession of marijuana, and ended up with a ten-year sentence for holding two joints. (It was Sinclair's third conviction on marijuana charges.) Midway through a short set of political songs, Lennon stopped to address the crowd, saying "I'm here to say, apathy isn't it...So flower power didn't work. So what? We start again." Lennon was hardly the only rock star having such feelings about where the counterculture that had so quickly bloomed in the late '60s was headed in the new decade; in the wake of Kent State, Altamont, and the escalating Vietnam War, it had become increasingly difficult for anyone to remain optimistic about the hippie movement, and as Lennon succinctly put it, what most people called "flower power" had ceased to be a force to be reckoned with. Pete Townshend seemed to be having similar feelings in 1971 as he was recording what would become the album Who's Next, and the set's final song, "Won't Get Fooled Again," seems to be a more thoughtful -- and more cynical -- variation on Lennon's statement. "Won't Get Fooled Again" records the thoughts of one musician as he watches the changing of the political guard; revolution brings down the old leaders and the new firebrands take over, but very little actually changes besides the faces and the names. Bemused, our protagonist declares, "I'll tip my hat to the new constitution/Take a bow for the new revolution/Smile and grin at the change all around/Pick up my guitar and play/Just like yesterday/Then I'll get on my knees and pray/We don't get fooled again." Townshend seems to take the view that there's little we can do to change the system, that power will inevitably corrupt even the most noble, and so rather than change the world around us, perhaps we need to begin by changing ourselves. While Townshend's view appeared to be that widespread political change could only accomplish so much, the performance of "Won't Get Fooled Again" burns with the passion of a true believer. Townshend's pioneering use of sequencers and synthesizers gives the song an air of mystery at first, and then a rock-solid pulse that at once imposes an unusual degree of discipline upon drummer Keith Moon, and makes his bursts of tom-tom fire all the more furious. Meanwhile, Townshend's crisp, precise guitar chords and John Entwistle's fluid but thundering bass rock with both muscle and a keen intelligence, while Roger Daltrey's howling vocal is one of his finest moments on vinyl. The song became the standard closing number at the Who's concerts, and has popped up on any number of Who compilations over the years; it's also appeared on Townshend's collections of material related to the ill-fated Lifehouse project, and Pete also recorded a live acoustic version for a benefit album with some help from classical guitarist John Williams.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Who's Next 1971 Geffen / Polydor
No Image 1974 MCA
No Image 1976
The Kids Are Alright [Video] 1979 Sanctuary
Who's Greatest Hits 1983 MCA 8:33
Who's Last 1984 MCA 11:19
The Who 1985 Grupo Laser Disc
Who's Better, Who's Best 1988 Definite Article / Universal Distribution 8:31
No Image 1989 The Swingin' Pig
Join Together 1990 Geffen 9:29
Live: Featuring Rock Opera Tommy 1990 Sony Music Distribution
No Image 1991
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B 1994 Polydor / Universal 8:31
My Generation: The Very Best of the Who 1996 Polydor 8:33
The Ultimate Rock Collection Gold and Platinum, Vol. 2: 1971-1973 1997
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 8:33
Best of the Best: 25 Years of Rock 1998
Various Artists
King Biscuit Entertainment 8:44
No Image 1998 Killing Floor
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Who 1999 Geffen 8:35
Outside Providence 1999
Original Soundtrack
Warner Bros. 8:33
The Vegas Job: Reunion Concert Live in Vegas 1999 Passport Audio
Who's Next [DVD] 2000 Image Entertainment
The Blues to the Bush 2000 MusicMaker.com 8:53
Top of the Pops, Vol. 2: 70's Rock 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 8:36
Le Concert du Siecle 2001
Various Artists
Remedy Records 8:42
No Image 2001
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 9:20
The Ultimate Collection 2002 Geffen 8:31
Live: Tinley Park, Illinois, August 24, 2002 2002 Hi-Spot 13:12
The Singles 2003 Polydor 3:38
Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2003 SPV
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: 70's Rock 2003
Various Artists
Universal International 8:32
Essential 70's [Universal] 2004
Various Artists
Universal 3:37
Simply the Best Guitar Album 2004
Various Artists
WEA/Warner
Then and Now: 1964-2004 2004 Polydor 8:31
First Singles Box 2004 Polydor 3:40
CSI: Miami 2004
Original TV Soundtrack
Hip-O / Universal 8:34
Live in Boston [Video] 2004 Rhino / WSM 8:59
Rock Hits [Universal] 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Tommy and Quadrophenia: Live [DVD] 2005 Rhino/Warner Bros.
Live from Toronto 2006 Immortal 10:07
Festival 06 [#1] 2006
Various Artists
Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. / Warner Music / Warner Music TV/Universal 3:37
Endless Wire 2006 Polydor 10:42
Live from Toronto [DVD] 2006 Immortal
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 8:33
View from a Backstage Pass 2007 thewho.com 8:54
No Image 2008
No Image 2008 Image Entertainment
Greatest Hits 2009 Geffen 8:34
Maximum R&B Live 2009 Geffen
Greatest Hits & More 2010 Polydor 8:38
Greatest Hits Live [Geffen] 2010 Geffen 8:38
Live Generations USA 1982: Live in San Diego, California [Video] 2010 Intergroove
The Best of Flower Power 2010
Various Artists
8:40
Icon 2 2011 Geffen 8:33
The Bridge School Concerts: 25th Anniversary Edition 2011
Various Artists
Reprise 9:09
The Boys Are Back in Town 2012 2012
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:38
The  Studio Albums 2012 Geffen / Universal 8:32
Live: Wantaugh, New York August 31, 2002 2014 All the Music / EP / JBL / TheMusic.com 13:13
Quadrophenia: Live in London 2014 Universal 9:06
Quadrophenia: Live in London [Video] 2014 Universal 11:23
Live in Hyde Park 2015 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision
Vol. 4: The Polydor Singles 1975-2015 2016 Polydor
100% Rolling Stone
Various Artists
Frequency Records
Live Greatest Hits Geffen / Universal 8:39
Live at Charlton 1974 Midas Touch
Rock 'N Roll All Nite
Various Artists
Somerset Entertainment 8:33
Seventies Collected
Various Artists
Universal Music 8:33
The Track Singles 1967-1973 Geffen / Polydor
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