Behind Blue Eyes
Writer(s): Pete Townshend (see lyrics here)
First Charted: October 30, 1971
Peak: 34 US, 24 CB, 27 HR, 1 CL (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.2 UK, 0.65 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 39.2 video, 147.66 streaming
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About the Song:
This was the second single from the Who’s 1971 album Who’s Next. Like most of the songs on that album, this was written for the intended Lifehouse sci-fi rock opera, but abandoned when guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend struggled to bring clarity to the concept. This song was written for the villain, Jumbo. He laments that no one understands the pressure he faces. He “was forced to subsume his more noble impulses in the serve of corrupt power structure.” AMG Townshend said it was about “how lonely it is to be powerful” SF and that the character “felt…he was forced into a position of being a villain whereas he felt he was a good guy.” WK
In the context of Who’s Next, “Behind Blue Eyes” had to stand on its own instead of being part of a greater story. It became a “meditation of one man’s dual nature, and the result was one of the most powerful and mature performances on the album.” AMG Townshend’s initial inspiration came from being tempted by a groupie and writing a prayer asking for help in resisting temptation. SF
The song starts out quietly with Roger Daltrey, “in the clear voice of a schoolboy,” AMG singing “No one knows what it’s like / To be the bad man / To be the sad man / Behind blue eyes.” John Entwistle comes in with his bass, but subtly instead of with “his usual dive-bombing fretboard runs.” AMG Daltrey then “conjures the image of a man desperately holding himself back from an explosion of anger and wrath.” AMG
“A little more than two minutes in, the dam finally breaks.” AMG Keith Moon’s drums “burst onto the scene, Townshend’s guitar wails and full force” AMG and the song “breaks out into a full-scale rock anthem” WK before eventually returning to the quieter theme that opened the song. This was a technique Townshend had also employed on songs for the Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy. WK It was a contrast to the band’s reputation for the “bash-and-crash amphetamine overdrive of their live show.” AMG
First posted 8/12/2021; last updated 8/3/2022.