Even cheap mp3s on iTunes cost money, and it can be daunting to a financially challenged music fan to build a library of music that they’re really only curious about and not sure about just yet. In the Essential Download Series, we’ll take a look at groundbreaking and influential artists from each of music’s three classical ages and give you a place to start your own exploration of their music. In the second installment, we’re going to stick with classic British rock and give you the 411 on Essential Downloads for The Who.

My Generation (1965). You want to hear a fabulous bass recording of a tremendous bass player from any era? Play this loud and listen to the bass.

Baba O’Riley (1971). Released on Who’s Next, the song the uninitiated think is called “Teenage Wasteland” tells the story of a Scottish farmer named Ray who gathers up his wife Sally and their two kids to join the exodus to London, but the refrain refers to the negative side of the Woodstock festival. Regardless of what Pete meant, this is an essential song in any library.

Pinball Wizard (1969). Yes, of course you know the song. That should stop you from having it the collection? I think not. Also a very good song for checking the separation and soundstage of your stereo or headphones.  

Won’t Get Fooled Again (1971). The last track on Who’s Next, this track is basically 8 minutes of bottled up anger, and it’s perfect. The underlying robotic computer laying the foundation for the humans playing over it are a perfect encapsulation of the tone and tenor of the early 1970s.

Love Reign O’er Me (1973). The last track on Quadrophenia opens with a beautifully recorded piano that lays the path for one of Roger Daltrey’s most electrifyingly emotional performances.

Long Live Rock (1974). Written in 1971, recorded in 1972 and released in 1974, the song chronicles a Who show at the Rainbow Theater and the state of the music (per Townshend’s jaded eye).

Eminence Front (1982). A great song off a pretty bad album, Townshend takes it lyrically to the Hollywood drug culture. Get the original mix and listen to the mistake (2:35) either Daltrey or Townshend make in the beginning of the chorus that turns into a wonderfully off-beat syncopation.

Magic Bus (1968). You’ve probably never heard claves played like this, and Keith Moon is probably the only person ever who could have thought to play them this way.

I Can See For Miles (1967). The Who’s only Top 10 US hit, this one showcases 60s production and arrangement at its peak.

Overture (1969). Seriously, how boring and expected would it have been to pick Who Are You? for this list? Overture sums up the Who’s musical, writing and arranging chops and it is one of the loveliest recordings of the period.


So there you have it, the Essential Download list for those of you who don’t already have a complete Who library. They’ll sound much better in high-res, on CD or on vinyl, but even via mp3 these songs are the starting point for all fans. Long-time fans may take exception to some of the choices (or omissions), so please let us know in the comments what your choices would have been in!

Jack Sharkey for KEF