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Who Are You (song)

Not to be confused with the Black Sabbath song of the same name
"Who Are You"
UK single sleeve
Single by The Who
from the album Who Are You
A-side "Had Enough"[1]
Released 14 July 1978 (UK)
5 August 1978 (US)
Format 7"
Recorded 4 October 1977
Genre Hard rock, art rock
Length 6:20 (Album Version)
5:01 (Single Edit)
3:24 (US Single Edit)
Label Polydor 2121 361 (UK)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Glyn Johns & Jon Astley
The Who singles chronology
"Squeeze Box"
"Who Are You"
"Trick of the Light"
Who Are You track listing

"Who Are You", composed by Pete Townshend, is the title track on The Who's 1978 album, Who Are You, the last album released before drummer Keith Moon's death in September 1978. It was released as a double-A sided single with the John Entwistle composition "Had Enough", also featured on the album. The song became one of the band's biggest hits in North America, peaking at number 7 in Canada and at number 14 in the US.


  • Background 1
  • Lyrics 2
  • Video 3
  • Live performances 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • Charts 6
  • References 7


Musically, the origins of "Who Are You" can be traced back to "Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)", a 1971 synthesizer instrumental track that was later released on Pete Townshend's solo album, Psychoderelict. Early performances of the song were seen in both 1976 and 1977.

The lyrics of "Who Are You" were inspired by an incident Townshend experienced. After going out drinking with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Townshend was found in a "Soho doorway" by a policeman, who let him go if he could safely walk away.[2]

"Who Are You" was written about meeting Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols after an awful 13-hour encounter with Allan Klein who, in my personal opinion, is the awesome rock leech-godfather. In one sense the song is more about the demands of new friendship than blood-letting challenge. Roger's aggressive reading of my nihilistic lyric redirected its function by the simple act of singing "Who the fuck are you..." when I had written "Who, who, who are you..." Steve and Paul became real 'mates' of mine in the English sense. We socialized a few times. Got drunk (well, I did) and I have to say to their credit, for a couple of figurehead anarchists, they seemed sincerely concerned about my decaying condition at the time.
— Pete Townshend[3]

"Who Are You" was released as a double-A side with the John Entwistle song, "Had Enough", but "Who Are You" was the more popular song, reaching the Top 20 in both the US and UK. The song has since been featured on multiple compilation albums. The single mix contains an alternate acoustic guitar solo to the album mix.


The album version includes a third verse compared to the much shorter single. Additionally, a "lost verse" mix of the song was released on the 1996 reissue of Who Are You, with a completely different second verse: "I used to check my reflection / Jumping with my cheap guitar / I must have lost my direction, cause I ended up a superstar/ One-nighters in the boardroom/ Petrify the human brain/ You can learn from my mistakes, but you're posing in the glass again".

The song is unusual in that it contains two instances of the word "fuck" – at 2:16 and 5:43 (at 2:14 and 4:27 in the single edit version) – yet has been played frequently in its entirety on rock radio stations (although, in the wake of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction and ensuing crackdown by the FCC, this song is now often heard in an edited form, expunging this word and replacing it with "hell"). The expletives, while not clearly enunciated and slightly obscured by Moon's drum fills, are nevertheless quite audible. This led to some controversy when ABC's unedited broadcast of The Who's Live 8 performance retained them.[4] The American single edit changes this to "Who the hell are you?" and can be heard at 1:55. Other versions replaced the phrase with just one of the main choruses, "Tell me, who are you" and "I really want to know".


A promotional video was filmed on 9 May 1978 for The Kids Are Alright documentary; originally, the intent was to have The Who simply mime to the single version's backing track with Roger Daltrey adding live vocals, but the decision was made to also re-record the guitars, backing vocals, drums, and piano. Only John Entwistle's bass and the synthesizer backing remained intact from the original version.

Live performances

This song was first performed live at the Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn on 15 December 1977, albeit without synthesizers and only a portion of the lyrics. This can be seen in the DVD At Kilburn 1977 + Live at the Coliseum. Despite that being the first performance, this song had its roots in jams in the band's 1976 concerts, most notably at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto on 21 October 1976, drummer Keith Moon's last North American appearance with The Who, where the band played a very early version of the song with Townshend on vocals. The first live performance with synthesizers (via a backing tape of the same synthesizer track found on the studio version of the song) was at the Rainbow Theatre, London on 2 May 1979, which was also Kenney Jones's first live show with the band. Since then, it has remained a staple for their live shows. The Who opened their segment of The Concert for New York City on 20 October 2001 with the song and performed a medley featuring the song in Super Bowl XLIV. They also used the song to begin their set at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief on 12 December 2012.[5] In later performances, Roger Daltrey also plays acoustic rhythm guitar.

In popular culture

  • It is the theme to the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. An episode - Season 1 Episode 6 - even took its title from the song, and Roger Daltrey guest-starred in season 7 episode "Living Legend".[6]
  • The video game Rock Band features the song as part of a 12 pack of downloadable tracks from The Who. (In this version, the expletive "fuck" has again been replaced with "hell." Also, the version here is the single edit excluding the US.)
  • The Blanks/Worthless Peons in the TV show Scrubs perform part of the song in the episode "My Identity Crisis".
  • An abbreviated version of the song was performed during the Super Bowl XLIV Half-Time Show
  • Louis C.K. sings along to the song in the "Country Drive" episode of Louie.


Chart (1978) Peak position
Canadian RPM Top Singles 7
UK Singles Chart 18
US Billboard Hot 100 14


  1. ^
  2. ^ Grantley/Parker, Steve/Alan. The Who by Numbers: The Story of The Who Through Their Music. Helter Skelter. p. 196. 
  3. ^ "The Hypertext Who : Liner Notes : Who Are You". 
  4. ^ FMQB: Parents Television Council Complains About "Who The F**k Are You" Lyric July 14 2005
  5. ^ Anderson, Kyle (13 December 2012). "Bruce Springsteen, the Who, Billy Joel, and Beatlevana: On the scene at 12-12-12". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  6. ^ "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Season 7, Episode 9 Living Legend (23 Nov. 2006)". IMDb. Retrieved 2 June 2015. 
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