songbook: baba o’riley

In M|H’s weekend feature, songbook, I’ll be looking at some of my favorite songs. Some I haven’t listened to in years, some I keep in regular rotation, but all having in some way informed my life, my taste, and and how I view music.

The Who – Baba O’Riley

(studio version here)

“Baba O’Riley” came on the radio the other day and I was immediately nostalgic for the summer of 2004, aka The Best Summer Ever. In (and for) a short time I became very close with a new group of people, playing in the sun, having arts & crafts and movie nights, and, more often than not, turning every outing into a dance party. Sometimes our friends played host, and sometimes we would end up at semi-random places and literally take over the sound system and the living room. One friend, Jamie, always had a messenger bag and in that messenger bag was a mix CD. I’m fairly certain I’ve danced through that CD a hundred times. The disc was filled with great jams and turned me on to bands like The Rapture, !!!, and Ratatat. There was one song that was different from all the rest, though – The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”.

It stood out because it worked. It wasn’t a dance song but was totally danceable. Somehow everyone knew the words. Classic rock was the new white belt. For most of the song there was lots of lunging and fist shaking and people doing their own thing, but when the breakdown kicked in at 3:35, everyone knew what to do. A circle formed, clapping began, and people started bouncing up and down. At 4:25 the stomping started. Stomping that shook the floor, rattled the pictures on the wall. As the tempo picked up, so did the pounding. From 4:55 on there was jumping and whooping and spinning until a final crash at the end of the song ten seconds later. It went like this without fail every time.

Whenever I hear “Baba O’Riley” at a bar or some other public venue, I always expect to see people gathering in circles, ready to stomp – but it never happens. I’m glad that, for a short while at least, I knew the people who knew what needed to be done. “The happy ones are here / let’s get together / before we get much older.”