We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at one of The Who’s most beloved songs and the isolated guitar of Pete Townshend.
While Townshend may have put his band in the spotlight for an electric-charged effervescent performance but one thing that is undeniable, is that the guitarist is a wonderfully gifted songwriter. On The Who’s ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, Townshend’s guitar track is a delicate testament to that fact and highlights his ability to tread the line between rock and pop.
Released in 1971, the song was the second single from their iconic Who’s Next LP and represents the band’s more vulnerable side, opening up their emotions outside the realm of pure rock. The song was written by Pete Townshend following a gig in Denver in 1970 where Townshend was tempted by a young groupie.
Instead, Townshend went back to his hotel room alone with some pointing to the teachings of his spiritual leader, Meher Baba, as the main reason he turned down the temptation. When he reached his room Townshend set about writing a prayer, the first words being “when my fist clenches, crack it open…” These words would find their way on to the page and on the lyric sheet of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’.
The song was originally written for The Who’s abandoned rock opera Lifehouse and was for the villain of the story, Jumbo. Despite this, Townshend said of the song: “‘Behind Blue Eyes’ really is off the wall because that was a song sung by the villain of the piece [Jumbo], the fact that he felt in the original story that he was forced into a position of being a villain whereas he felt he was a good guy.”
The delicate arpeggiated acoustic guitar the song begins with is a complete change for The Who, in fact, it would spark Townshend to claim that the song was “too much out of character” for the British singles market and the perception of The Who. But the song would go on to become one of The Who’s most beloved tracks.
While the power and beauty of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ do largely reside in the ethereal vocals which build and crescendo, it’s actually Townshend’s cultured guitar that delivers the climactic finish. The building energy of Townshend’s guitar reaches the top of the mountain with devastating effect and shows off the intelligence of Townshend’s writing.
Listen below to Pete Townshend’s impeccable isolated guitar track on The Who’s ‘Behind Blue Eyes’.