Who’s Right

by John J. Miller on February 5, 2010 · 27 comments

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

The Who will probably play the all-time greatest conservative rock song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” during the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday.

That’s the #1 song on the list I compiled for National Review a few years ago. It’s the most talked-about article I’ve ever written: not the best or the most important or the one that gives me the most satisfaction, but almost certainly the one that generated the most chatter. It went viral.

When I started to assemble the list, I thought the top song would be “Taxman,” by the Beatles. It met the criteria: It’s a great rock song, and the lyrics carry a right-of-center message. But “Taxman” is #2 on the list. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” dislodged it because of NRO readers. I had asked them to recommend songs for the list. A bunch wrote it to make a case for “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I was persuaded by their numbers and their arguments, and so it topped the NR charts.

Here’s the case for the song, as it appeared in the article:

The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naïve idealism once and for all. “There’s nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend’s ringing guitar, Keith Moon’s pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey’s wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.

A few months later, The Who were touring the United States. A writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer asked Townshend about the list.

This summer, National Review magazine called “Won’t Get Fooled Again” the greatest conservative rock song of all time. Townshend says that’s “on the money.” The self-described “working musician” who sees his job as “helping the audience to forget themselves,” says he never really bought into “all that hippie (expletive) I so despise.”

And, Townshend says, “when people say ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is not about rebellion, it’s the exact opposite of that, I say they’re right.”

Unfortunately, the link to the original article no longer works. At the time, I blogged about it on The Corner. And just for the record, the article is “The Who: Two for the road,” by Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 2006. UPDATE: A diligent reader tracked down a link.


  • I haven’t thought of this in years, and it sure brings back memories. Seems like people on all sides of the political spectrum could be singing it, these days.

  • elvin

    the greatest rock album of all time is aptly named ‘the who sell out.’

  • I’m 52. In high school, The Who were my favorite band, BY FAR. I used to listen to all four sides of Quadrophenia every day after school. One of the nagging things that flipped me from leftist to libertarian were songs like Won’t Get Fooled Again, Love Reign, O’er Me, and Behind Blue Eyes. Alas, Pete didn’t listen to the words he penned. Pathos has no depth limit. Leftists love these songs, but never listen or understand.

  • Joe

    No offense Elvin, but that album is not even among The Who’s top 10 albums of all time.

  • Janice Lynch

    Don’t you think that the vast majority of the 100 million+ viewers of the Super Bowl are going to be thinking of Obama when they listen to this song?

    Great timing for the Republicans in the 2010 elections–bad timing for the Anointed One.

  • JBMorris

    Hi John,

    Hate to disagree with you, but the greatest conservative rock song of all time is “Taxman” on the Beatles’ “Revolver” album.

    Every time I hear it I think of all government’s obsession with finding new revenue streams:
    “If you take a ride I’ll tax your seat;
    If you take a walk I’ll tax your feet…”

    Keep up the good work. Love you guys!
    Jim Morris

  • David
  • How about Nothing But Flowers by Talking Heads? Hard to know when Byrne’s being ironic or making a serious point, but it sounds like a ‘tribute’ to environmentalism’s wish for a simpler time in which we’re in tune with Gaia.

    If this is paradise/I wish I had a lawnmower.

  • Dave Rice

    A very enjoyable list. I have to point out that Cheap Trick deserves to be summarily removed from the list now that they have re-recorded “Dream Police” as “Green Police” for an Audi “clean diesel” commercial running during the Super Bowl:


  • Tom Canaday

    “Taxman” may only be the second best conservative rock song but it is our Leader’s theme song:


  • My list would have included “Minutes to Memories” in the top three by Mellancamp. This is probably my favorite song of all time; it resonated with me as a young conservative the first time I heard it.

    Mellancamp, who I once hated, is an instructive artist whom I regard. He can be terribly misguided in some of his conclusions, but I think he is true.

    I feel he nailed conservativism in this song, and I have never considered this a sad song as some do. I think the old man on the bus is everything great about America – he is an honorably proud, hard worker who has contributed quietly but meaningfully; he loves his family and he seeks paradise for them — “through the eye of the needle I’ll carry them home.” Not sure what Mellancamp was after here, but I have always considered this a powerful Christian comment.

    Finally, I love the truism that “an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind.” What a great comment on life. It is true that those closest to God will sleep peacefully.

  • Dan

    I dunno…as a “Fiscal Conservative” I’d have voted for the Beatles/GeorgeHarrison’s “Taxman” as the greatest conservative rock song.

    For the healthcare debate, where Dems want to be “big Mother” as much as Big Brother one could vote for an ironic reading of “White Rabbit”‘s famous “One pill makes you taller, and one pill makes you small, and the ones that Mother gives you don’t do anything at all…”

    And as long as we’re talking about lyrics that symbolize the smarter-than-thou attitude of Obama and today’s Pelosi-Reid Dems, I think the ultimate may be Mick Jagger’s famous : “You can’t alway get what you wannn, but you gonn GIT whatchu NEED!”

  • art

    The greatest conservative song was By The Who,
    but it is not Won’t Get Fooled Again.

    It is Cry If You Want.

  • Mike Brown

    When the Who performd “Won’t get fooled again” at the New York concert right after 9-11 I thought it hit the nail onte head perfectly. There couldn’t have been a better song to expess the feelings of Americans at that tme.

  • Jack Jolis

    I’ve got no problem with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” being on The List, or even being #1 on it.

    But for the life of me I still can’t understand the omission of the following 2 terrific in-your-face anti-communist rock anthems:

    JOHN KAY & STEPPENWOLF — “THE WALL” (from their “Rise And Shine” album. Kay was actually born in East Germany, and was brought out by his parents when he was a young kid.)

    BOB SEGER — “MIAMI” (from his “Like A Rock” album. This is Miami as seen through the eyes of desperate boat-people from Castroland)

  • Zach

    I know you had to mostly stick to stuff people would recognize John, but a mention of how right-wing punk (especially straight edge) was back in the 80’s would have been nice. Murphy’s Law may have written the most conservative song of all time. I mean it’s called, without a scintilla of irony, “America Rules” and when they sang it love they often included the lyrics “Ronnie Ronnie (Reagan) he’s our man, if he can’t do it (defeat communism) mo one can.” M.O.D, S.O.D, NOFX (back in the day) and The Misfits (also back in the day) are just scratching the surface.

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  • Robert Putnam

    Of all the British Invasion bands, I think the Kinks have to take the title of the most conservative, or at least the most Burkean.

    Village Green Preservation Society and Livin’ on a thin Line alone secure that.

    But even in songs not evidently about politics–Death of a Clown, for instance–you get the observation that: “the lion tamer’s whip doesn’t crack anymore/ the lions they won’t fight and the tigers won’t roar.”

    Swift made much the same point about our politics with his Lilliputians.

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  • Mike

    I’m a bit late to the party, but I would definitely put “Cygnet Committee” by Bowie up there. It’s a very powerful (imo) dystopian song about a man who drained himself helping hippie-type idealists rise to power, after which they’ve become an oppressive horror. The song could really be about any idealistic movement overthrowing society.

    The lyrics are powerful, but they really take life in the song, a long crescendo of sadness, betrayal and despair. It has always chilled me since the first time I heard it way back when. But then I really like old Bowie stuff 🙂

  • Boko Fittleworth

    As I watched The Who’s halftime show while reading the Corner, it occurred to me that Baba O’Riley is pretty conservative. “Out here in the fields/ I farm for my meals/ I get my back into my living:” Yeoman farmer, small is beautiful agrarianism, dignity of labor. “It’s only teenage wasteland:” The conservative complaint about the sixties and its carnage. The “exodus” verse probably needs to be understood in the context of the utopian Lighthouse project, but “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rejects this utopianism just as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” rejects the messianic Tommy. Townsend has a pattern of flirting with, but ultimately rejecting, utopianism.

    Of course, “Rough Boys” is a little creepy now.

  • tomfarrell

    Pete Townshend is a lifelong socialist, folks. He’s admitted he’s moved to the right in recent years but most of his life he was fimly on the left. However, the great thing about Pete is that no matter how far to the left he was, or is, he always maintained a passionate love for America. I’m a Who freak and never once read him say a bad word against us. Same with all of The Who. They are a great bunch of guys who always appreciated what America did for them.

  • How can you say “Pete Townshend is a lifelong socialist” if “he’s moved to the right in recent years” an he has not died before the rightward move?

    You could say “he was a socialist for a long time” but if he is, he is, and if he isn’t then anything else is past tense.

  • I was too lazy to suggest anything when the original request went out, but I could have suggested the little-known “Complain” from the King’s X album “Dogman”. Where else can you find a verse like this:

    Mr. Rush Limbaugh givin’ me the facts;
    Treetops fallin’ while the newsman yaks;
    I’m thinkin’ about Carter, and how I’m gonna’ get taxed.
    (I complain… so much easier…)

  • joe bob

    Dave Rice posted “A very enjoyable list. I have to point out that Cheap Trick deserves to be summarily removed from the list now that they have re-recorded “Dream Police” as “Green Police” for an Audi “clean diesel” commercial running during the Super Bowl”

    I guess you’re not allowed to be conservative if you aren’t actively trying to destroy the planet and mocking anyone who doesn’t enjoy the fresh smell of smog in the air?

  • shaun

    An obsure song, for Americans, but the Brit band Madness has a ditty very critical of the NHS, “Mrs. Hutchinson”



    Well Mrs. Hutchinson, you’re looking healthy (huh)
    But just in case,
    Here’s a pill a remedy.
    Well Mrs. Hutchinson, this is something,
    That little upset, I thought I’d diagnosed,
    Well not to worry, it’s not what I supposed.
    You better sit down son your mother’s very I’ll (ah)
    We may have to operate it’s more than just a chill.
    But don’t you worry, it’s all in competent hands,
    We believe it’s under the ribs or one of the glands.
    Well Mrs. Hutchinson, eat up your breakfast (come on)
    Don’t smoke, it stunts your growth,
    Stick to your diet, let’s hope that you’re insured.
    (Come on eat your breakfast !)
    Well Mrs. Hutchinson, you must be very pleased to know you’re leaving here.
    We’re going to miss you so (hold on)
    Here comes your son again.
    Are you thirsty son, I think you’ll need a drink.
    There’s been some complications, she’s very near the brink.
    I have to tell you, it’s my duty to speak.
    Your mother will not last a week.
    Shame !

  • Patrick

    I agree with the above poster about Minutes to Memories. Too bad Mellencamp dissociates his politics from his better art.

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