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Single by The Who
B-side "Circles" (Instant Party) (UK)
"Waltz for a Pig" (USA)
Released 4 March 1966 (UK)
April 5, 1966 (US)
Format Vinyl record (7")
Recorded 12 February 1966 at Olympic Sound Studios, London, UK
Genre Rock
Length 3:47 (UK), 2:59 (US single edit)
Label Reaction 591 001 (UK)
Atco 45 6409 (US)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer Pete Townshend
The Who singles chronology
"My Generation"
"A Legal Matter"

"Substitute" is a song by The Who written by Pete Townshend. It was released as a single in March 1966, when it reached #5 in the UK, and was later included on the compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy in 1971. It became a UK top ten hit again when re-issued in 1976, reaching #7.


The concept for the song was supposedly originally inspired by Townshend’s idea The Who were a “substitute” for the Rolling Stones (Townshend had been particularly impressed by The Stones' hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and was determined to come up with a memorable riff in response), though it was later described as a comment about the blurring between image and reality. The title was also inspired by Townshend's admiration of The Miracles' 1965 song, "The Tracks of My Tears", in particular, writer Smokey Robinson's use of the word "substitute" in one of the verses. The song is notable not just for the lyrics, but also John Entwistle's bass riff (reportedly Entwistle turned his bass as high as possible for the recording, without the band's knowledge).

In an appearance on BBC Radio, Townshend stated that "Substitute" simply "was about nothing" and it "had no hidden meaning".

Performance history

The song is a fan favorite and was played at almost every concert that The Who performed; "Subsitute", along with "I Can't Explain" and "Heaven and Hell", in varying orders, have served as The Who's opening numbers for over 40 years. It appears on the Live at Leeds album as well as Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. On the album Live at Leeds, Townshend comments about the song by saying:

We'd like to play three selected hit singles — three easiest — uh, there's "Substitute", which we like (crowd cheers). Thank You. That was our first number four (crowd laughs)...

Keith Moon recalled in an interview shown on an episode of VH1's Behind the Music:

I don't remember playing 'Substitute' at all, I was too stoned, and when it came out, I accused the other members of the group of getting another drummer in!

For the American release of the single, the lyric “I look all white but my dad was black” was changed to “I try going forward but my feet walk back”.


Punk rock group The Ramones covered the song on their Acid Eaters album, and it was also released as a single by the Sex Pistols. English rock band Blur also covered this song in a 1994 tribute album to The Who called Who Covers Who? It was also covered by The Stereophonics and heavy metal band Great White.

The song is currently being played as a collaboration between Silverchair and Powderfinger at the end of their concerts on the Across the Great Divide Tour.



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