Who – Behind Blue Eyes

And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And if I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

Pete Townshend originally wrote this about a character in his “Lifehouse” project, which was going to be a film similar to The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia. Townshend never finished “Lifehouse,” but the songs ended up on the great album Who’s Next.

Townshend was going to use this as the main song in the Lifehouse film for the villain, Jumbo.

I wrote this next part in my review of the album…Behind Blue Eyes is a song that lulls you with a beautiful melody with sparse accompaniment (probably the longest Moon ever sat on his hands while recording) and then it happens…all hell breaks loose and Roger sings…no correction…he doesn’t sing…he demands When my fist clenches, crack it open, Before I use it and lose my cool… it’s like getting hit by a bus that you didn’t see coming…and then it’s over.

The original demo version is a lot quieter and stripped-down. Townshend released this version on his 1983 album Scoop.

The song peaked at #34 in the Billboard 100 and #23 in Canada in 1971.

From Songfacts

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both have blue eyes, but the song is not autobiographical. Townshend has said that he wrote it to show “How lonely it is to be powerful.”

Pete Townshend has explained that he never behaved like a typical rock star when he was on tour, especially when it came to groupies, which he tried to avoid. He says it was a run-in with a groupie that was the impetus for this song. Townshend, who got married in 1968, was tempted by a groupie after The Who’s June 9, 1970 concert in Denver. He says that he went back to his room alone and wrote a prayer beginning, “If my fist clenches, crack it open…” The prayer was more or less asking for help in resisting this temptation. The other words could be describing Townshend’s self-pity and how hard it is to resist. 

Roger Daltrey did a new version of this song with the Irish group The Chieftains, which was released on the group’s 1992 album An Irish Evening. This rendition, which was recorded live at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, features traditional Irish instruments, including fiddle and bodhrán.

The lyrics are based on Townshend’s own feeling of angst – that no one knows what it’s like to be him, with high expectations and pressure to be someone he’s not. Knowing what a miserable sod he can be, he’s telling us not to let himself enjoy it because he doesn’t want to enjoy making us (the fans) happy. It’ll mean we will ask for more!

This is one of the most popular live songs from The Who, played at the majority of their concerts. Pete Townshend has said at various stages of his career that while he believes it’s a great song, he doesn’t get any satisfaction performing it, as he feels it is out of context of his Lifehouse project.

To the horror of many Who fans who turned up their noses at nu-metal, Limp Bizkit covered this song on their 2003 on their album Results May Vary, taking it to #18 UK and #71 US (the only cover version to chart). This version was used in the Halle Berry movie Gothika. Berry appeared in the video, which was directed by Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. Conveniently enough, Durst included a scene where he kisses Berry in the video.

Roger Daltrey’s dog got run over on the day he recorded his vocals for this song – it was the first dog he ever had. The Who singer recalled to AARP The Magazine that he “was desperately trying to hold it together.”

Pete’s Demo Version

Behind Blue Eyes

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free

No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you

No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through

But my dreams
They aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool

And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And if I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

38 thoughts on “Who – Behind Blue Eyes”

    1. I always liked the song…but when our band in the 80s decided to cover it…I really appreciated it much more. Tricky little number to do…with that middle part.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I would have liked to hear it in context with the story…but yea it’s a loneliness song. The mixing of the album was one of the best at that time I always thought.

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    1. Me also. We actually were stupid enough to play this live. It came off well but it’s hard. When that middle comes in its like an explosion. It took a lot of work!
      Have you read Kenney Jones autobiography? You may really like it. He mentioned how intense playing for the Who was…he kept oxygen on hand

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      1. We were playing at a theater…I think I have a video of it…one day when I get brave I’ll post it lol.
        I really think you would like it. He is really down to earth and you learn a lot about The Faces…big and small. He was more of a responsible person for the most part so his memory was good.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m reading/listening to it now for the second time. I’m at the part where he talks about meeting Keith that night at McCartneys party…and him passing away the next morning.

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  1. Baba O’Reilly was born out of Lifehouse, too, as I recall.

    I wonder where Pete got the idea about “let me wear your coat” from. Since he considers this song out of context from Lifehouse, there must be another meaning, somewhere.

    That’s awful about Roger’s dog. He certainly conveys the upset in his singing…which just serves to highlight Pete’s writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know….when I read about his first dog…that sucked. He probably remembers that everytime he sings it.
      The song was going to be about the villain so I don’t know where that came from.

      check email

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    1. We played this one live Lisa…it was a hard number to play…a lot of fun…all hell breaks loose during Moonies part. Daltrey is incredible through it… BTW…I’m loving that Desert Island Album draft…I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing a post more than I did on the Big Star post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am looking forward to you posting the video of your band playing it. I am enjoying the draft too and it is fun to write about albums you love and share the reasons with others. What’s best is the feedback, when others feel that same love for the music. You did very well on Big Star!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wrote it as more of a commercial to listen to them. Eclectic Music Lover did that day which thrilled me…Your positive response helped also. That makes it worth it. Thanks Lisa.

        Liked by 1 person

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