Won't Get Fooled Again

The Who

Song Review by Mark Deming

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 MCA Masterdisc / MCA 8:33
Tales from the Who 1974 Trademark Of Official Quality
Who's Next/Odds & Sods 1974 MCA
The Story of the Who 1976
The Kids Are Alright [Video] 1979 Sanctuary
Who Rocks America 1983 CBS / Fox
Who's Greatest Hits 1983 MCA 8:33
The Who 1985 Grupo Laser Disc
Who's Better, Who's Best 1988 MCA 3:38
Who Collection 1991
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B 1994 MCA 8:30
My Generation: The Very Best of the Who 1996 MCA 8:32
The Ultimate Rock Collection Gold and Platinum, Vol. 2: 1971-1973 1997
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 8:33
All Shapes & Sizes Family Album 1998 VSOP 9:41
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Who 1999 MCA 8:34
Outside Providence 1999
Original Soundtrack
Warner Bros. 8:33
Le Concert du Siecle 2001
Various Artists
Remedy Records 8:42
The Ultimate Collection 2002 Universal Distribution 8:32
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: 70's Rock 2003
Various Artists
Universal International 8:32
Essential 70's [Universal] 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 3:38
Then and Now: 1964-2004 2004 UMVD 8:32
First Singles Box 2004 Universal International 3:40
CSI: Miami 2004
Original TV Soundtrack
Hip-O 8:31
Festival 06 [#1] 2006
Various Artists
Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. / Warner Music / Warner Music TV / Universal 3:37
Endless Wire 2006 Universal Republic 0:00
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 8:33
Greatest Hits 2009 Geffen 8:33
Greatest Hits & More 2010 Polydor 8:38
Icon 2011 Geffen 8:33
Icon 2 2011 Geffen 8:33
The Who Hits 50! 2014 Geffen 3:40
Maximum A's & B's 2017 MCA / Polydor 3:39
WHO 2019
Interscope / Polydor 0:00
1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything
Various Artists
Island / Universal 3:38
70s Rock Essentials
Various Artists
Universal 8:33
Cleaning at Home [Rock Edition]
Various Artists
Universal 8:35
Game Day: Football
Various Artists
Universal 8:32
Game Day: Hockey
Various Artists
Universal 8:32
Rock Vintage
Various Artists
Universal 8:35
Seventies Collected
Various Artists
Universal Music 8:33
Vintage Rock [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 8:35