I'm Free (The Who song)

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"I'm Free"
The who-im free s.jpg
Single by the Who
from the album Tommy
B-side"We're Not Gonna Take It"
Released5 July 1969 (1969-07-05) (US)
Songwriter(s)Pete Townshend
Producer(s)Kit Lambert
The Who US singles chronology
"Pinball Wizard"
"I'm Free"
"The Seeker"

"I'm Free" is a song written by Pete Townshend and performed by the Who on the album Tommy. The song has since been released as a single, becoming one of the best known tracks from Tommy.


Pete Townshend has claimed that the song was partly inspired by the song "Street Fighting Man" by the Rolling Stones.

'I'm Free' came from 'Street Fighting Man.' This has a weird time/shape and when I finally discovered how it went, I thought 'well blimey, it can't be that simple,' but it was and it was a gas and I wanted to do it myself.

— Pete Townshend[3][4]

On "I'm Free," drummer Keith Moon only played on the breaks of the song. According to bassist John Entwistle, Moon was unable to perform the intro the way Townshend wanted, resulting in Townshend and Entwistle having to perform part of the drums. During live performances, Townshend and Entwistle were forced to signal Moon to play the song by making giant steps.

On 'I'm Free', me and Pete had to play the drums and Keith played the breaks because he couldn't get the intro. He was hearing it differently from how we were, and he couldn't shake it off. So we put down the snare, the hi-hat and the tambourine part and he came in and added all the breaks. When we did it live, the only way to bring him in was for Pete and I to go like this [makes an exaggerated step], which must have looked completely nuts.

— John Entwistle[4]

Within the plot of the album, "I'm Free" tells of Tommy's vision to spiritually enlighten others due to his sudden and immense popularity. The "Pinball Wizard" riff (earlier on the album) appears at the end of the song during the "How can we follow?" part. Townshend has since noted "I'm Free" and "Pinball Wizard" as "songs of the quiet explosion of divinity. They just rolled off the pen."[4]

"I'm Free" was later released as a single in most of Europe (backed with "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?") as well as America (where it was backed with "We're Not Gonna Take It"). The single reached number 37 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100.[5] It also reached number 20 in the Netherlands.[6]

Live history[edit]

This song was used in the 1969-1970 concert classic set list. It is often switched with "Sensation" on setlists, including in the movie and in the Broadway musical as Tommy rejoices at regaining his sight, voice and hearing after the shock provided by his mother.

In 1975-1976, the song was reintegrated into The Who's set list. The version played at these shows featured more raucous vocals and a reworked guitar riff.

In 2002, The Who played this for a stretch on their 2002 UK Tour, with a similar arrangement to the versions played on the 1975-1976 tour. However, it was dropped again by the time bassist Entwistle died.

Covers and other uses[edit]

  • In 1973, a single version sung by Roger Daltrey from the London Symphony Orchestra reached #13 in Britain.[3]
  • In 1997, the Christian rock band Geoff Moore and the Distance covered this song, on the album Threads.
  • In 2004, a cover version (combined with the instrumental "Sparks") was recorded by Neal Morse with the participation of Randy George and Mike Portnoy, it was originally released as the last track on the special edition of Neal's One album. It was re-released on the 2006 album Cover to Cover.
  • In 2009, The Smithereens included the song on their tribute album, The Smithereens Play Tommy.
  • The song has been used in a Saab commercial.[7]



  1. ^ Jacob Hoye; VH1 (Firm) (2003). 100 Greatest Albums. Simon and Schuster. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-7434-4876-5.
  2. ^ Bob Stanley (13 September 2013). Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop. Faber & Faber. p. 348. ISBN 978-0-571-28198-5.
  3. ^ a b Cady, Brian. "'Tommy' liner notes". The Hypertext Who. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Grantley, Steve; Parker, Alan. The Who by Numbers: The Story of the Who Through Their Music. Helter Skelter. pp. 69–70.
  5. ^ "The Who Billboard singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  6. ^ "I'm Free". Hung Medien / hitparade.ch. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Classic Rock in Commercials". Jacob's Media. Retrieved 28 November 2011.

External links[edit]