The Who – ‘Substitute’
  • Writer: Pete Townshend
  • Producer: Pete Townshend
  • Recorded: February 1966 at Olympic Studios in London
  • Released: March 1966
  • Players:
    Roger Daltrey — vocals
    Pete Townshend — guitar, vocals
    John Entwistle — bass, vocals
    Keith Moon — drums
  • Album: originally not on any album
  • Also On:
    Live At Leeds (Decca, 1970)
    Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy (Decca, 1971)
    The Kids Are Alright (MCA, 1979)
    Who’s Better Who’s Best (MCA, 1988)
    Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B (MCA, 1994)
    My Generation: The Very Best Of The Who (MCA, 1996)
    and other compilations
  • The Who‘s fourth single, “Substitute” is one of the first times the Who produced themselves, rather than using the services of Shel Talmy, who produced much of their early material.
  • Due to a legal dispute with Talmy, the song was released three times, with different B-sides on each release — “Circles,” “Instant Party” ( which was “Circles” with a different title), and “Waltz For A Pig.” “Waltz For A Pig” was credited to the Who Orchestra, but it was actually the Graham Bond Organisation.
  • One of singer-guitarist Pete Townshend‘s most controversial songs in the mid-’60s, “Substitute” is a comment on romantic disillusion with lines such as “Substitute me for him.”
  • One particular line — “I look all white but my dad was black” — was deemed too radical for American audiences. The first U.S. version of the single was changed to “I try walking forward but my feet walk back.”
  • Townshend has said that the song was inspired by his feeling that for some fans the Who was a substitute for the Rolling Stones. Townshend in fact originally intended the song to be a Stones parody.
  • He credited the obscure Motown single “Where Is My Girl” by Robb Storme and the Whispers for the guitar riff found in the song’s choruses.
  • The song is the first Who single to feature only acoustic guitars — rather than their R&B-driven electric sound.
  • Upon hearing the single, Keith Moon was upset thinking that the band had replaced him on the session, and in numerous instances had said that he had absolutely no recollection of ever recording the track.
  • Townshend’s demo of the song was released on his 1987 solo collection Another Scoop, which features Townshend on vocals, guitar and a de-tuned guitar to provide the bassline.
  • “Substitute” and the band’s “I Can’t Explain” alternated between the number one and two slots in their live concert setlists for most of their career.
  • “Substitute” peaked at Number Five on the U.K. singles chart but did not make it onto the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.
  • It was the only Who single issued on Atlantic Records, via its subsidiary label Atco.
  • “Substitute” did not appear on a Who album until Live At Leeds in 1970.


  • Drummer Keith Moon died in the fall of 1978. He was replaced by former Faces drummer Kenney Jones. Jones was forced out a decade later and was replaced first by Simon Phillips in 1989, then Zak Starkey in 1996.
  • The Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
  • In 2002, bassist John Entwistle suffered a heart attack and died in his hotel room at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, the day before the Who were to start a North American tour. Townshend and Daltrey decided to play the tour in Entwistle’s memory, and they brought in British session player Pino Palladino for the dates. Palladino has remained with the band ever since.

The band released an album in 2007 called Endless Wire, and launched a world tour in support of it. They are preparing to record a new studio album this fall, which might feature a number of early R&B covers.