Behind Blue Eyes

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"Behind Blue Eyes"
The Who Behind Blue Eyes.jpg
Belgian single sleeve
Single by The Who
from the album Who's Next
Released6 November 1971
RecordedMay–June 1971[1]
StudioOlympic, London
  • 3:41 (album version)
  • 3:28 (original version)
Songwriter(s)Pete Townshend
The Who singles chronology
"Baba O'Riley"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"Join Together"

"Behind Blue Eyes" is a song by the English rock band the Who, recorded in 1971. It was the second single from their fifth album Who's Next and was originally written by Pete Townshend for his Lifehouse project.[2][3] The song is one of The Who's best-known recordings and has been covered by many artists.


The original man 'Behind Blue Eyes' was a bouncer that The Who met while staying in Brighton during a tour. This long haired man with the bluest of eyes had a dark military history, and his eyes showed deep pain from the losses and hardships he'd battled.

"Behind Blue Eyes" originated after a Who concert in Denver on 9 June 1970.[4] Following the performance, Townshend became tempted by a female groupie, but he instead went back to his room alone, possibly as a result of the teachings of his spiritual leader, Meher Baba.[5] Upon reaching his room, he began writing a prayer, the first words being "When my fist clenches, crack it open..." These words later appeared as lyrics in the "climactic rocking section" of "Behind Blue Eyes."[5]

When "Behind Blue Eyes" was to be released as part of the aborted Lifehouse project, the song was sung from the point of view of the main villain, Jumbo. The lyrics are a first-person lament from Jumbo, who is always angry and full of angst because of all the pressure and temptation that surrounds him, and the song was intended to be his "theme song" had the project been successful. Pete Townshend said of the song's lyrics:

"Behind Blue Eyes" really is off the wall because that was a song sung by the villain of the piece [Jumbo], the fact that he felt in the original story that he was forced into a position of being a villain whereas he felt he was a good guy.[5]

The version of "Behind Blue Eyes" released on Who's Next in 1971 was the second version the band recorded; the first was recorded at the Record Plant in New York on 18 March 1971 and features Al Kooper on Hammond organ.[6] The original version was released as a bonus track on the 1995 CD reissue of Who's Next.

"Behind Blue Eyes" was initially considered for a UK single release, but Townshend claimed that the song was "too much out of character" for the British singles market.[5] However, the song did eventually see a single release in France, Belgium, the United States and the Netherlands. Backed with "My Wife" in the US and "Going Mobile" in Europe, the song reached #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #24 on Cashbox.[4]

Pete Townshend has also recorded two solo versions of the song. The original demo of the song was featured on the Scoop album. The demo along with a newer recording of the song featuring an orchestral backing was featured in The Lifehouse Chronicles.


The song starts with a solo voice singing over an arpeggiated acoustic guitar in the key of E minor, and a bass guitar and ethereal harmonies are added. Eventually, the song breaks out into a full-scale rock anthem, with a second theme being introduced near the end, before a brief reprise of the quieter first theme. Songs written in alternating sections were a feature of Townshend's writing of the period, going back at least to Tommy, where the technique was used in "Christmas" and "Go to the Mirror!". The guitar riff at the end of the rock anthem section is also used after the bridge during the song "Won't Get Fooled Again", perhaps serving as a link between the two songs when both were intended to be parts of a single rock opera.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100[7] 34
US Cashbox[4] 24


In other media[edit]

A cover was used in the FX television series, Legion, in season 2, episode 11. The show's creator, Noah Hawley, sings the track with Jeff Russo on backing vocals as well as any instruments used in the song. However, in the context of the show, Dan Stevens and Navid Negahban sing the song in English and Persian.[8][9]

Limp Bizkit cover[edit]

"Behind Blue Eyes"
Limp - BBE cover of the single for the cover.jpg
Single by Limp Bizkit
from the album Results May Vary
Released23 September 2003 (2003-09-23)
  • 4:28 (without hidden track)
  • 5:58 (album version with hidden track)
Songwriter(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)Fred Durst
Limp Bizkit singles chronology
"Eat You Alive"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"Home Sweet Home/Bittersweet Symphony"

"Behind Blue Eyes" was covered by American rap rock group Limp Bizkit. It was released in 2003 as a single from their album Results May Vary. Limp Bizkit's arrangement is notable for featuring a Speak & Spell during the bridge.[10] This, together with a new verse and an extra chorus, replaces the rock theme of The Who's version. The song is followed by a hidden track titled "All That Easy", after a few seconds of silence, making the total length 5:58. However, the hidden track is not featured in the single release.

Although the cover received mainly negative reviews and reached only number 71 on the US Billboard Hot 100, it was more successful worldwide. It reached number one in the Czech Republic and Sweden and charted within the top three in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Norway. Elsewhere in Europe, it became a top-twenty hit in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland while peaking at number 18 on the UK Singles Chart. In Australasia, it reached number four in Australia and number five in New Zealand.

Critical reception[edit]

The cover was criticised by Rolling Stone magazine readers, who named it the second-worst cover song of all time.[11] Sun-Sentinel, however, praised the cover, saying (along with "Build a Bridge") "... prove Durst can do more than just rap."[12]

Music video[edit]

The music video features Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry. It contains scenes from the motion picture Gothika, in which Berry stars. It depicts Berry and Limp Bizkit's vocalist Fred Durst in a relationship similar to the storyline of the film. The song also appeared during the credits of the film itself and its music video was also featured as a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film.



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[52] Platinum 70,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[53] Gold 45,000double-dagger
Germany (BVMI)[54] Platinum 300,000double-dagger
Norway (IFPI Norway)[55] Gold 5,000*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[56] Gold 5,000*
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[57] Gold 20,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[58] Silver 200,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone


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