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Substitute (The Who song)

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Substitute (The Who song)

1966 German release
Single by The Who
B-side "Circles (Instant Party)" (UK)
"Waltz for a Pig" (US)
Released 4 March 1966 (UK)
5 April 1966 (US)
Format Vinyl record (7")
Recorded 12 February 1966, Olympic Studios, London
Genre Hard rock, power pop
Length 3:47 (UK), 2:59 (US single edit)
Label Reaction 591 001 (UK)
Atco 45 6409 (US)
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) 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 number 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 number 7. In 2006, it was listed at #91 in Pitchfork's list of the 200 greatest songs of the 1960s.[1]


  • Inspiration 1
  • Performance history 2
  • Tributes 3
  • References 4


The Motown classic The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles served as the initial inspiration for the song. In particular, Pete Townshend became obsessed with the line, "Although she may be cute she's just a substitute". So obsessed that he "decided to celebrate the word with a song all its own."[2]

Performance history

The song is a fan favourite and was played at almost every concert that The Who performed; "Substitute", along with "I Can't Explain" in either order, have served as The Who's opening numbers since 1971. 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 1978 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 in April 1966, the lyric “I look all white but my dad was black” was changed to “I try going forward but my feet walk back”.[3] Although some suggested that the US single version is a completely different performance, the US version is a simple edit: the UK vocal track was removed for the new vocal part, after which the second verse was cut out, making it much shorter in length. The US single was released on CD in 2002 on a 4-track bonus disc included with the first issues of The Who: The Ultimate Collection.

The UK single was the band's first for the

  1. ^ Pitchfork's 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b


The Litter's Distortions album includes a version of "Substitute".

Heavy metal band Great White has covered the song.

The Stereophonics recorded a cover version of "Substitute".

Blur covered the song in a 1994 tribute album to The Who called Who Covers Who?

A version of the song was released as a single by the Sex Pistols, and the song has been released on various live recordings of the band.

Punk rock band The Ramones recorded a cover of the song, which featured backing vocals by Pete Townshend, on their 1994 album Acid Eaters.


The single is the only one issued on US ATCO (45-6409) through their relationship with Polydor. Oddly, ATCO reissued the single 100 numbers later as 45-6509. Neither version charted.

", was withdrawn on threat of legal action from their previous record company. Instant Party", later reissued as "Circles The first UK B side "[3]

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