“Who Are You”, composed by Pete Townshend, is the title track on The Who’s 1978 release, Who Are You, the last album released before drummer Keith Moon’s death in September 1978. It was released as a double-A sided single with the John Entwistle composition “Had Enough”, also featured on the album. The song became one of the band’s biggest US hits, peaking at #14 and at #7 in Canada.
The lyrics begin with a true incident, courtesy of Pete’s alcoholism. He claims he really did wake “up in a Soho doorway”, and a policeman recognized him and advised him to go home.
The song is unusual in that it contains two instances of the word “fuck” at 2:16 and 5:43 (at 2:14 and 4:27 in the single edit version) yet has been played frequently in its entirety on rock radio stations (although, in the wake of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction and ensuing crackdown by the FCC, this song is now often heard in an edited form, expunging this word). The expletives, while not clearly enunciated and slightly obscured by Moon’s drum fills, are nevertheless quite audible. This led to some controversy when ABC’s unedited broadcast of The Who’s Live 8 performance retained them. The American single edit changes this to “Who the hell are you?” and can be heard at 1:55.
A promotional video was filmed on May 9, 1978 for The Kids Are Alright documentary; originally, the intent was to have The Who simply mime to the single version’s backing track with Roger Daltrey adding live vocals, but the decision was made to also re-record the guitars, backing vocals, drums, and piano. Only John Entwistle’s bass and the synthesizer backing remained intact from the original version.