The Who – Substitute

Great song by The Who. The song peaked at #5 in the UK charts in 1966. The twelve string opening riff kicks into one of The Who’s best singles.

Townshend’s favorite song at the time was “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. Townshend loved the way Smokey sang the word “substitute” so perfectly “Although she may be cute she’s just a substitute ‘Cause you’re the permanent one” that he decided to celebrate the word with a song all its own.

After listening to a recording of the song, Keith Moon began to become paranoid, insisting that it wasn’t him drumming and that the band had gone behind his back and gotten another drummer. John Entwistle refuted this paranoia as ridiculous – he could hear Keith screaming on the recording as he did a difficult fill.

From Songfacts.

Pete Townshend made the demo for this song after hearing “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones. Even Townshend admits that he ripped off Keith Richards’ riff. The Stones were a major influence on Townshend, who even got his trademark windmill arm movement from watching Keith Richards warm up before a concert – Richards was stretching his arm by moving it around like a windmill.

On demo versions, Townshend sang this in an exaggerated Mick Jagger accent.

In the US, the line “I look all white but my dad was black” was re-recorded as “I try walking forward but my feet walk back.” Their record company feared any reference to race would keep it off US radio.

This was the first single The Who released after breaking their contract with their manager and producer, Shel Talmy. As part of the deal, Talmy got royalties from this and the other Who records over the next 5 years, which turned out to be a great deal of money.

song released on Atco Records.

The Who played this at most of their concerts. It was very popular at their live shows.

This did not appear on an album until 1971, when it went on the Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy compilation.

In The UK, the single was released 3 times in 1966, with different B-sides each time.

This was the first song Townshend produced himself.

During the “Across The Great Divide” tour, Powderfinger and Silverchair performed this song as their finale together.

The bass solo on this song was originally going to be a guitar solo, but when John Entwistle got to this part when recording it, he decided to turn his bass up and make it a bass solo.

Substitute

You think we look pretty good together
You think my shoes are made of leather

But I’m a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah

(Substitute) your lies for fact
(Substitute) I can see right through your plastic mac
(Substitute) I look all white, but my dad was black
(Substitute) my fine linen suit is really made out of sack

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth
The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south
And now you dare to look me in the eye
Those crocodile tears are what you cry
It’s a genuine problem, you won’t try
To work it out at all you just pass it by, pass it by

(Substitute) me for him
(Substitute) my coke for gin
(Substitute) you for my mum
(Substitute) at least I’ll get my washing done

I’m a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth
The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south
And now you dare to look me in the eye
Those crocodile tears are what you cry
It’s a genuine problem, you won’t try
To work it out at all you just pass it by, pass it by

(Substitute) me for him
(Substitute) my coke for gin
(Substitute) you for my mum
(Substitute) at least I’ll get my washing done

(Substitute) your lies for fact
(Substitute) I can see right through your plastic mac
(Substitute) I look all white, but my dad was black
(Substitute) My fine-looking suit is really made out of sack

Author: badfinger20

Guitar, Bass, song writer,

9 thoughts on “The Who – Substitute”

    1. I don’t know why radio doesn’t play their earlier stuff like this much. It’s always Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again…which is great don’t get me wrong…

      Liked by 1 person

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