Next Generation: The Top 10 Covers of Songs by The Who

by Josh Hart, Damian Fanelli
Posted Jan 11, 2013 at 11:28am

In this month's issue of Guitar World, we pay tribute to the high-flying genius of Pete Townshend by taking a look back at the Who's most creative — and most volatile — years.

Townshend also is the latest guitar hero to be voted into our Hall of Fame in our annual readers poll, joining the likes of Kirk Hammett, Jimi Hendrix, Slash, Joe Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughan and other six-string legends.

It's hard to understate the importance of Townshend as both a composer and a guitarist, and no shortage of great bands have taken a cue or two from the Who's songwriting wizard over the years. Several have even tipped their hats to the band by putting their own spin on one of the many classic cuts in the Who's back catalog.

As a bonus, we've rounded up our 10 favorite Who covers of all time. What a bargain!

For more about the Who, including an analysis of their legendary output between 1969 and 1973, plus the tab for "Behind Blue Eyes" (with performance notes), check out the February 2013 issue of Guitar World. It's available now on newsstands and at the Guitar World Online Store.

10. Iron Maiden — "My Generation”

If ever there was a bassist who could pay fitting tribute to the nimble four-string work of the late John Entwistle, it's Iron Maiden's Steve Harris. This deep cut from Maiden — who were just named 2012's best live act in our annual readers poll — features Blaze Bayley on vocals and was originally released as a B-side to their 1995 single, "Lord of the Flies." The song would re-appear in 2002 on the somewhat rare Best of the B-Sides compilation.

09. Elton John — "Pinball Wizard"

Yes, we just went from Iron Maiden to Elton John. But it just so happens that John's version of "Pinball Wizard" is one of the highlights of the 1975 Tommy film soundtrack, which also features performances by Ann-Margret and a be-robed Eric Clapton. Besides its powerful vocals and spirited performance, John's rendition, a hit in its own right, is noted for its undeniable "'70s-ness," from its instrumentation, to its glam feel to the gigantic shoes in the video below.

08. Green Day — "A Quick One While He's Away”

Green Day have always had a thing for this multi-part song, which can be considered Townshend's first — albeit mini — rock "opera." They like to perform bits of it at soundchecks, and the song has been a Green Day concert highlight on more than one occasion. The band finally got around to recording this spine-tingling studio version of the tune, which was released as a bonus track on their 2009 album, 21st Century Breakdown. They are "forgiven" for waiting so long!

07. The Jam — "So Sad About Us”

The Jam — Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler — would often make half-hearted attempts at covering the songs that inspired them (case in point: their weak version of the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing"), but they gave it their all when it came time to record this tune from A Quick One. This version, originally released as the B-side to "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" in 1978, sounds polished off and updated (at least by '78 standards) and stars Foxton's expert often-overlooked bass playing.

06. David Bowie — "I Can't Explain"

One of two Who covers on 1973's Pin Ups, this laid-back, almost parochial take on "I Can't Explain" brings an unmistakable cool to the band's first hit single. Bowie's vocals on this album have been infamously maligned by critics over the years, but factor in Ken Fordham's baritone sax and Mick Ronson's tasteful licks and you still have a fitting tribute to Townshend and crew.

05. Rush — "The Seeker"

In 2004, Rush honored some of the bands that inspired them by releasing Feedback, an eight-song EP packed with covers of songs by the Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield and Cream.

The EP also featured a cover of "The Seeker," which was originally released as a single by The Who in 1970.

Although the track doesn't give these three master prog-rockers a chance to "spread out," they put the emphasis on the song's strong, steady beat and high-flying vocals, which are handled rather nicely by Geddy Lee.

04. Sex Pistols — "Substitute"

While this song may seem like an oddball cover for a band that made a short career of toppling rock and roll dinosaurs, frontman Johnny Rotten has never had anything but positive things to say about the musical and personal influence of Pete Townshend. "Every now and then, when you feel down and despondent, a fellow like him can really put a good word in your ear, and it's unfortunate that that side of his character hasn't really come through in the media," he said in a 2012 Guitar World interview. "He's a very important person for us, and let's not for forget that. And he wrote some bloody excellent songs along the way!"

03. Oasis — "My Generation"

If any modern rocker has the die-young persona to pull off Roger Daltrey's lyrics in "My Generation," it would have to be Liam Gallagher. Oasis were as combustible a group of musicians as any in the last two decades, but when they pulled it together, they could put distorted guitars and debauched lyrics together as well as anyone, making them an ideal candidate to take on this Who classic. Four-string enthusiasts may find the bass solo a bit lacking, but one thing's undeniable: Liam means every word.

02. Van Halen — "Won't Get Fooled Again" (Live)

It takes a powerful band to truly do justice to what some consider The Who's greatest song — 1971's "Won't Get Fooled Again" — but the Sammy Hagar-fronted Van Halen take no prisoners. Their live version of the song, which is featured on 1993's Live: Right Here, Right Now, is noteworthy for its spot-on performances by all involved, especially Eddie Van Halen, who covers the iconic keyboard parts on his guitar. The video below shows them rehearsing the tune in a studio, but the energy is there.

01. Pearl Jam — "Love, Reign O'er Me"

Few bands carry on the spirit of the Who quite like Pearl Jam. In 2008, when VH1 assembled a cadre of modern-day rockers to pay tribute to the Who, there was no doubt that Pearl Jam — whose cover of "Baba O'Riley" has been a staple of their live shows since 1992 — would be providing the climax of the evening. As predicted, Eddie Vedder put everything he had into a medley of "Love, Reign O'er Me" and "The Real Me." The former was released in 2007 as part of the soundtrack to the film Reign Over Me, as well as on the band's 2006 fan club Christmas single. According to lore, Vedder would only agree to cover the song after getting Roger Daltrey's approval.

For more about the Who, including an analysis of their legendary output between 1969 and 1973, plus tabs for "Behind Blue Eyes" (with detailed performance notes), check out the February 2013 issue of Guitar World. It's available now on newsstands and at the Guitar World Online Store.

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