The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ Is Named After 2 People

TL;DR:

  • Pete Townshend named The Who’s “Baba O’Riley after two people.
  • Townshend was a follower of one of them.
  • The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” became a modest hit.
The Who at a table during the "Baba O'Riley" era
The Who | Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Who’s Pete Townshend became a follower of a famous religious leader. Subsequently, the leader inspired one of the most famous classic rock songs of the early 1970s: The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” In addition, another musician helped inspire the song’s title.

An avant-garde performer inspired The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’

Terry Riley is an avant-garde composer. His album A Rainbow in Curved Air is considered a landmark of electronic music. During a 2001 interview by JazzHouston posted on Mark Town’s website, he discussed “Baba O’Riley.”

“I had a good friend who was doing the light shows for The Who, and he turned Pete Townshend on to A Rainbow in Curved Air on an [LSD] trip,” Riley said. “The song ‘Baba O’Riley’ was dedicated to both me and Meher Baba. Pete has always said that I had a big influence on him.” Rolling Stone reports Townshend combined the names of Meher Baba and Riley for the title of “Baba O’Riley.” The “O'” in “O’Riley” was a nod to the Irish influences in the song.

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How The Who’s Pete Townshend became familiar with Meher Baba and his views on the cosmos

Who exactly was Meher Baba? He was a guru who taught that he was god in human form. In his 2012 book Who I Am: A Memoir, Townshend discussed becoming familiar with Meher Baba.

“Mike tossed me a book called The God Man, written by an eminent British journalist of the ’30s called Charles Purdom,” Townshend wrote. “I opened the book and saw a photograph of a strange-looking, charismatic fellow with a large, rather flattened nose, flowing dark hair and a generous moustache. 

“He was an Indian teacher, Meher Baba, which means ‘Compassionate Father,'” Townshend continued. “I read a few lines, and found that everything Meher Baba said fitted perfectly with my view of the cosmos.” Townshend became one of Meher Baba’s most high-profile followers. 

Meher Baba wearing a suit
Meher Baba | Bettmann / Contributor

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How ‘Baba O’Riley’ and its parent album performed on the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom

“Baba O’Riley” was not a single in the United States so it didn’t chart on the Billboard Hot 100. The song appeared on the album Who’s Next. The album reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 42 weeks.

“Baba O’Riley” became far more popular in the United Kingdom According to The Official Charts Company, the track hit No. 55 in the U.K., staying on the chart for one week. Meanwhile, Who’s Next peaked at No. 1 for one week, staying on the chart for 18 weeks altogether. The song would later appear in Robot Chicken‘s parody of Star Wars.

Meher Baba and Riley might not be household names but they inspired one of The Who’s most famous songs.

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