May 6, 2021


From the "Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncyquot; liner notes by Brian Cady.

Produced by Pete Townshend at Olympic Sound Studios, London February 12, 1966.

From the Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy liner notes by Brian Cady:

Produced by Pete Townshend at Olympic Sound Studios, London February 12, 1966.

"’Substitute’ was written as a spoof of [The Rolling Stones’] ‘Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown.’ On the demo I sang with an affected Jagger-like accent which Kit obviously liked, as he suggested the song as a follow-up to ‘Generation.’ The stock, down-beat riff used in the verses I pinched from a record played to me in ‘Blind Date,’ a feature in Melody Maker [the song was "Where Is My Girl" by Robb Storme and the Whispers].
It was by a group who later wrote to thank me for saying nice things about their record in the feature. The article is set up so that pop stars hear other people’s records without knowing who they are by. They say terrible things about their best mates’ latest and it all makes the pop scene even snottier and more competitive. Great. The record I said nice things about wasn’t a hit, despite an electrifying riff. I pinched it, we did it, you bought it."
–Pete Townshend

Released as Reaction 591001 on March 4, 1966 with B-side "Circles" but was soon withdrawn when producer Shel Talmy threatened an injunction and reissued a week later with the B-side now cleverly retitled "Instant Party" as a tribute to the same-named 1962 album by The Everly Brothers. Talmy’s injunction still held, so this single was withdrawn and issued with the non-Who B-side "Waltz For A Pig." Despite all this, it still managed to climb the charts to #5.

In the U.S. it was issued as Atco 45-6409 on April 2, 1966 in a shorter version (2’58) with the line "I look all white but my dad was black" replaced with "I try going forward but my feet walk back." (This alternate was also issued on Polydor in Canada and South Africa). The new vocal was almost certainly recorded at the same time as the original vocal. This version has appeared on a bonus CD included with the first issues of The Who: The Ultimate Collection. The U.S. single failed to chart, was re-released by Atco as 45-6509 in August 1967 and again failed to chart. The B-side was "Waltz For A Pig." "Substitute" was re-released as a single in the U.K. on 7 October 1976 where, a decade after its original release, it went to #7.

It almost ties with "I Can’t Explain" as The Who’s most-often performed song live.

Track #4 on My Generation – The Very Best Of The Who.

From the Live at Leeds liner notes by Chris Charlesworth with additions by Brian Cady:

Many fans’ choice as the best Who single of all time. "Substitute" is an ironic comment on the gulf between image and reality, set to one of Pete’s trickiest little riffs, driven along by a ringing open D string. Now a bona fide pop classic. "Substitute" was played at virtually every concert The Who ever performed.

Pete has stated that he felt The Who were a substitute for The Rolling Stones, but he was also bemused by the blurring of reality and unreality in the pop world, and he liked the idea of lines about identity that contradicted each other. In America the ‘controversial’ line "I look all white but my Dad was black" was changed on record to "I try walking forward but my feet walk back," a reflection of American cowardice towards sensitive racial matters at this time.

The original single of "Substitute" was the first record that Pete Townshend ever produced. Released in March 1966 it entered the charts on the 10th, it reached #5 in the U.K. charts but flopped in the U.S. first released April 5th, 1966 where it was the only Who single to be issued through Atlantic Records, on their down market Atco subsidiary.

This short, sharp, snappy "Substitute" is as tight a performance as any live performance they gave, although it lacks the punchy chord solo and false ending of the single.

The U.S. version of the single was released on CD in 2002 on a bonus disc for The Who: The Ultimate Collection. This version was also released in South Africa and Canada.

Other Who live versions can be found on the Monterey Pop box set (1967), Live at The Isle Of Wight 1970, Who’s Last (1982), The Blues To The Bush (1999), the Who/Live featuring their Rock Opera Tommy video (1989), the Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B video (1974) and The Who & Special Guests Live at the Royal Albert Hall video (2000) with Kelly Jones on vocals. Track #2 on the original LP, #6 on the 1995 and 2001 CD’s.]