How The Who's Hit Baba O'Riley Really Got Its Name

If you're like most, you may assume the thundering song by The Who called "Baba O'Riley" is actually named "Teenage Wasteland," instead. The song appears on the 1971 Who record "Who's Next" and remains a well-known rock anthem to this day (via AllMusic). Leading many to assume that "Baba O'Riley" is called "Teenage Wasteland" is the fact that The Who lead singer Roger Daltry belts the words "teenage wasteland" at several points in the song, and the words "Baba O'Riley" appear in the lyrics ... well, never. And what exactly is a "Baba O'Riley," anyway?

The true story of how the classic rock hit got its name involves a Middle-Eastern spiritual guru, an American musician far less well known than Daltry and his bandmates, and a project from the British Invasion band that never got off the ground. And what about the words "teenage wasteland?" That refrain was inspired by an appearance The Who made at a famous 1969 music festival, according to American Songwriter.

The song was meant to appear on a follow-up to Tommy

As AllMusic notes, "Baba O'Riley" and much of the other material which wound up on the 1971 album "Who's Next" was meant to appear on a rock opera project called "Lifehouse." The band's 1969 rock opera "Tommy" was a smash hit, but The Who's primary songwriter and guitarist, Pete Townshend, succumbed to the pressure to replicate that success and was unable to complete the project. Around that same time, Townshend also became interested in the emerging use of synthesizers in pop music, accounting for the song's iconic stuttering synth intro.

Also in 1969, The Who performed a now legendary set at the Woodstock music festival in upstate New York. In the opinion of Townshend, the heavy drug use at Woodstock did indeed create a "teenage wasteland," as he later recalled a good number of young people who suffered brain damage due to the use of acid at the event. For that reason, Woodstock was no cause for celebration (via The Sound).

The title 'Baba O'Riley' blends 2 of Townshend's biggest inspirations

At the time that "Baba O'Riley" was written, there was a trend in Western cultures to look toward Eastern and Middle-Eastern traditions for spiritual guidance, such as The Beatles George Harrison's interest in the Hare Krishna religion. Another such example came from Iranian spiritual leader Meher Baba, who didn't speak at all from 1925 through the time of his death in 1969, the same year The Who played Woodstock, according to the Pete Townshend website.

Townshend turned to the teachings of Meher Baba on several occasions throughout The Who's catalog. Another inspiration for Townshend from around that same time, and the Riley from which the "O'Riley" in the song title is based on, was American experimental musician Terry Riley. Riley innovated much of how synthesizers are now used in modern pop music (via AllMusic). As Townshend explained on theĀ Pete Townshend website, the song's title, as well as much of the musical and lyrical inspiration, came from those two influences.