Monday, December 28, 2009

Baba O’Riley by The Who

I never gave much thought to The Who until I saw them perform "Baba O'Riley" at Concert For New York City, a fund-raising/tribute concert for the heroes of 9/11.

I knew of songs The Who had done like “My Generation” and had seen parts of Tommy back when VH1 was less concerned with “Celebreality” and more concerned with popular music history.

As I watched The Who opened their set with “Who Are You,” and then they played “Baba O’Riley” and I was blown way. While much of The Who’s music is layered with complex sounds and adventurous musical arrangements, “Baba O’Riley” is simple, powerful and one of the greatest anthems in Rock music.

On the cutting edge of music technology Pete Townsend, the guitarist and main songwriter for The Who discovered a way to create a random flurry of notes within a given note range. Instead of using a synthesizer to mimic strings as a lead instruments, “Baba O’Riley” is one of the first examples of using the synthesizer as a rhythmic instrument.

With the foundation of the song set, Townsend created a simple yet powerful guitar riffs in Rock. The riff is three chords, right square on beats 1, 3 & 4. This riff is like a call to the masses. It’s a brass fanfare for the coming of a King. An invitation to the epic journey of “Baba O’Riley.”

Most bands when they find a good hook, or a catchy bridge, they repeat it multiple times in the song. That’s not the case with “Baba O’Riley.”

Here’s the form:
Verse 1
Verse 2
Instrumental ending

Where most bands try to get their hook as close to the front of the song as possible, The Who save it to last part of the song. As a listener you don’t know exactly what’s happening and part of you wishes you could get a little bit more of the hook, but The Who decides to leave you wanting more. It’s a magical feeling to not know what is coming in a song but be taken to a place that you least expect.

There is a feeling in “Baba O’Riley” that something this song is not just another rock song. There’s a purpose, a conviction that travels through the form of the song. This song is a declaration and a protest. “Baba O’Riley” is everything that we fight for and everything we believe.

“Baba O’Riley” isn’t the first song to come to mind when we think about 9/11, but when you watch the performance and the way the firefighters and policemen react, rock out and sing along with The Who, it makes perfect sense. The world can be a wasteland, but there’s always something to believe in and there’s always hope. And sometimes all it takes is three simple chords to express the spirit of a nation.

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