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"Won't Get Fooled Again"
The Who
Decca 32846
Aug. 1971
Billboard: #15    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

The Whoon't Get Fooled Again" is a great song -- it's astounding, really -- only it belongs on the Top 40 about as much as Homer Simpson belongs at a MENSA convention. Edited to three minutes and change, the 45 version of "Won't Get Fooled Again" is little more than a miniaturization of the full-length masterpiece. As a single, its appeal is minimal, but at its gloriously dynamic full length of 8:31, it is one of the most important songs of the post-'60s generation. Technically, though. it was a hit single, so as I said, here it is.

"The change, it had to come. We knew it all along."

Although they had been a hugely influential band throughout the revolutionary period of the late '60s, the Who had never really fallen prey to the peace and love crowd. Being a product of England's Mod era, which had to be one of the most narcissistic trends in the history of pop music, the Who tended to be more exclusive than inclusive in their disposition. This lent their music a self-obsessed thrust, which was completely at odds with the "brotherhood of man" approach that was standard currency for the times. For the most part, this added to the Who's unique appeal as a vocal outlet for alienated and frustrated youth. At times, though, they could appear to be outright hostile, so it would have been difficult to deny that the Who was definitely out of touch with the platitudes of the hippie movement. While others were singing "All you need is love," "We can change the world," or "Smile on your brother," the Who railed against conformity by singing "Hope I die before I get old" and "Substitute you for my mum. At least I'll get my washing done," and "It's only a teenage wasteland."

Who's Next
"Won't Get Fooled Again," from the Who's Next album, first charted on Aug. 7, 1971, and spent 10 weeks on the American pop chart. A staple of FM rock radio, Who's Next reached the #4 position on the Billboard Hot 200 and spent a total of 41 weeks on the charts.
Songwriter Pete Townshend seemed to be genuinely disaffected not only from the older generation but from his own as well. While most people of the younger generation vowed never to trust anyone over thirty, Townshend made it his business to not trust anyone who was under thirty either. The band's appearance at Woodstock only exacerbated Townshend's hostility toward hippie politics when he forcibly removed a ranting Abbie Hoffman from the stage so his own band could begin their set. Some were offended by his inability to lay back and accept the hippie agenda at face value, but time may have proven Townshend to be the wiser. Once the smokescreen of rhetoric and posturing dissipated, the politics of youth were revealed to be as one-dimensional and muddled as the values they were rallying against. In 1967, the dream was fresh and new, but by 1970 it had become little more than a deceitful memory. The incident at Kent State University that left four students dead was only one of many that could have sparked an honest to goodness revolution, and God knows that plenty of political activists attempted to capitalize on the fallout for exactly that purpose. Unfortunately, a lack of clarity in the hippies' overall vision made unification all but impossible. Since a large part of the unwritten hippie manifesto had to do with pacifism, evolution seemed to be in direct contradiction to their inherent beliefs. Furthermore, despite outward appearances, most hippies preferred to remain apolitical (read "indifferent"). Like an influenza virus, something was in the air that infected the mind-set of the Western world, leading us to believe that some combination of communism, socialism, democracy and outright anarchy would save the day and result in worldwide peace and brotherhood, but since no consistent ideology came into focus, the youth movement collapsed into a morass of self-contradiction and confusion.

If you ever wondered what could have caused the mind-set of the socially conscious '60s to degenerate into the political indifference of the '70s, then here is where your answer probably lies. If the Nixon/Agnew/Kissinger administration wasn't enough to launch a thorough and permanent counterforce, then it is only fair to say that the agenda of the youth movement failed at its most basic intention. Yes, the war in Vietnam did stumble to an end, mostly due to the efforts of demonstrators, but the quantifiable force of dissension dissipated almost immediately afterward. With no righteous agenda, the movement was dead. Goals that were once lofty became as directionless as the music that was the byproduct of the times. To most people, the failure of the hippie generation to live up to its intentions was a disappointment, but to Townshend the whole thing was an insult to his intelligence -- "Pick up my guitar and play just like yesterday, and then I'll get down on my knees and pray that I won't get fooled again."

Townshend had every right to say "I told you so," and that's exactly what he did with "Won't Get Fooled Again." It was easy to fool ourselves into thinking that things were different than they were, and Townshend was annoyed by the proclivity of youth to blindly endorse an agenda that was as rudderless as it was optimistic -- "Cause I know that the hypnotized never ya?" Worse, he noticed that a healthy portion of these ideals had somehow managed to penetrate his own consciousness, despite his efforts to remain inured, and felt it necessary purge them. Townshend was ready to kick himself for being swayed, and made it his business to let us know that he no longer had "faith in something bigger." In the end, everything changes nothing.

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.

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