The Epic Track: “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

the who

Editor’s Note: There are certain tracks that are, well, “epic” — memorable, larger than life, carved into music history. In this series, we look at one of them.


There are certain songs that define the term “rock and roll anthem,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who is certainly one of them. Released as a single in the summer of 1971, the song went on to become a worldwide hit, and a long-running staple of the band’s live performances. The monumental keyboard intro, thunderous guitar, throbbing bass, titanic drums and the fiery vocals combine to create a powerful sound that is unmistakably the hallmark of The Who.

Written by Pete Townshend, the song was originally intended to be part of Lifehouse, a multimedia-based, science-fiction-themed rock opera. Lifehouse was ultimately shelved, but several songs, including “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” were featured on the band’s classic album Who’s Next.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” was first recorded in New York at the Record Plant, and this initial version of the song featured Leslie West on guitar. The band wasn’t fully satisfied with the result, and they made another attempt to record the tune in England at the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, this time with Glyn Johns behind the boards. This version of the song ended up utilizing the keyboard synthesizer track from Townshend’s original demo, which was carefully synchronized to Keith Moon’s drums. Johns went on to produce all of Who’s Next and worked on several subsequent releases by the band, including Quadrophenia and The Who By Numbers.

Who’s Next is widely regarded as one of the band’s greatest achievements, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the perfect climax to this amazing record, bringing the album to a titanic conclusion with eight and a half minutes of high-powered rock and soul-baring fury.

The song is often interpreted as a call to revolution, but it’s a cautionary one. It was inspired, in part, by an incident during The Who’s performance at Woodstock, when activist Abbie Hoffman commandeered the microphone to pontificate, before being removed from the stage by Townshend. At the time, Townshend had become disillusioned with the concept of a revolution that could change the world for the better. He felt that any new regime would end up just as corrupt as the one they’d replaced, hence lyrics such as “And the world looks just the same…And history ain’t changed” and the climactic “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is one of the greatest songs in The Who’s impressive catalog of rock and roll masterpieces, and for many years, it was performed as the climax to the band’s live sets. It’s been featured in a number of TV shows, movies, and commercials, most notably as the theme for CSI: Miami.

The song has been covered by Labelle, Van Halen, Hayseed Dixie, and Richie Havens. In 2019, Townshend and Daltrey made a memorable appearance on The Tonight Show, performing the song on classroom instruments, along with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is one of those tracks where everything about it (insert Daltrey-esque wail here) screams epic.

-John Visconti

Photo: Getty Images

John Visconti is a lifelong music and movies aficionado with wide-ranging tastes, from The British Invasion and Motown, to the blues, a dash of jazz, on through to power pop, funk, retro soul, folk, bubblegum and metal. He digs film noir, screwball comedies, classic B movies, and Toho’s original Godzilla series. In the late 1980s, John was a writer and editor for the KISS fanzine Fire. A friend once called him “the human incarnation of an entertainment encyclopedia.” After long stints in the worlds of publishing and IT, he’s currently working in healthcare. You can check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue at http://jveclectic.blogspot.com.

4 comments on “The Epic Track: “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

  1. Gregory M DeWitt

    This wasn’t even the last song on “Lifehouse” if it was ever released–that was “Song Is Over”. This album would include the original “Teenage Wasteland” (NOT Baba O’Reilly) but sets up the scene of the environmental global catastrophe and to survive in the outside world, all must wear Experience Suits controlled by the government. Then Bobby (main character) sets up the Who to play at the Old Vic for a never ending show that will embrace the entire crowd and transform us into one pure and easy note everlasting. We are in tune. Just as Tommy’s Holiday is destroyed, “We’re Not Gonna Take it”, so is Bobby’s “Lifehouse.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” So, The song is over and I’m left hoarse
    Greg DeWitt,

  2. Really nice job, John.

    Townshend’s autobiography, “Who I Am”, puzzlingly gives short shrift to “Who’s Next”, including “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. I and a few other fans believe this to be the group’s finest album.

    However, Pete goes on and on about “Lifehouse” in the book. Ultimately, our lad gathers that nobody will EVER comprehend what in the HELL he’s talkin’ about!

  3. Harry S

    Won’t Get Fooled again was a major part of my growth from a kid listening to rock/pop tunes to looking for meaning and understanding of the world through rock. Further, musically it changed my understanding of what a rock song can be.

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