Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Won't Get Fooled Again" - The Who

It's maybe the most grizzled warhorse on this list, and like several other selections, it just barely complies with our post-1970 rule. But "Won't Get Fooled Again" is also "post" in another sense: perhaps rock's first post-modern protest song. It has the air of post-Sixties cynicism -- despite the fighting words at the outset ("We'll be fighting in the streets, with our children at our feet / And the morals that they worship will be gone"), it's more an expression of regret and contempt than a call to rebellion. For that reason among others, it remains an indelible, whip-smart protest song; its concluding and most famous line -- "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" -- is proverbial in the culture. With its media-and-propaganda savvy, and the resuscitation of Who songs for TV's C.S.I., "Fooled" again sounds contemporary ... and the spooky synthesizer that Pete Townshend wove through it is now so retro (but still so haunting) that it seems ahead of its time.

Townshend in his home studio.
The anthem status of "Won't Get Fooled Again" is hardly in doubt. It served forever as The Who's set-closer in concert, and it remains an FM radio staple. But given that the song doesn't really have a chorus, and "won't get fooled again" by itself doesn't take us very far, I propose the following passage, close to the end. It's melodic and lyrically fluent and politically sharp, and by adding a couple of Roger Daltrey's bluesy vocal flourishes from the Shepperton Studios performance of the song (see below, 5:41-5:47), it loops back nicely into the opening line: 

There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now a parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

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

Don't get fooled again
No no, no no no!
Don't get fooled again ...

(Link to full lyrics)

It would work well for any anti-government protest, especially when a government has betrayed its commitments. Everyone can also blow off stress by chanting "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," and imitating Roger Daltrey's famous final scream ("Yeahhhhhhh!" -- there's a more modest version immediately preceding the passage I propose for our anthem).

The video evidence should serve as a reminder that this is one of the most thunderous musical performances in rock history. It should be savoured for its sheer adrenalin kick, and the punky "skeptical rebel" stance that Townshend and The Who pioneered.

The original recording, on Who's Next (1971; see also a very muscular remix, recently released):

The truncated (three-and-a-half minute) single version, played (or played along with) on British TV's "Top of the Pops" in 1971.

Audio only of a 1971 live performance at the Young Vic theatre in London:

Many consider the classic filmed performance of the song to be the 1978 Shepperton Studios show, The Who's last with Keith Moon on drums, filmed for the documentary The Kids Are Alright. Moon, who would be dead within the year, hammers away manfully but is clearly past his prime. The rest of the band is on fire: Townshend pissed off, called back by the documentary director after what he thought was the end of the show for one more reprise of the song they'd just played. He plays and swaggers furiously throughout, culminating in his epic leap as Daltrey unleashes the climactic scream.

Other Resources

Available on The Who, Who's Next (Decca, 1971), track 9 ... and more greatest-hits and live packages than anyone cares to remember.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" Wikipedia page.

The documentary on Who's Next in the "Classic Albums" series provides insights into the sonic landscape of "Won't Get Fooled Again," as well as Moon's drumming style.

Keith Moon's drumming on "Won't Get Fooled Again" is rarely visible for long in the filmed performances (and as noted, he's solid but not spectacular in the Shepperton show above). So thank heavens for a wonderfully limber young American drummer named Beau Ferchaud, who has posted his note-for-note (but by no means rote or static) rendering of the drum part. It has become one of my favourite videos on YouTube, and it confirms my conviction that Moon's performance on this song is the definitive drumming in rock. Moon (and Ferchaud) rarely throw in the same fill twice. It's meticulous, endlessly creative, ferociously propulsive playing.

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