Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Who Came First!


Pete Townshend’s first official solo album Who Came First was released 50 years ago!

The album was released October 1972 on Track Records in the UK and Track/Decca in the US. It charted at #30 in the UK and #69 in the US.

Who Came First was a loving tribute to Meher Baba, the Indian spiritual master who had inspired some of Pete’s greatest creative work. Pete began following Meher Baba in 1967, after first being introduced to his teachings by Mike McInnerney, the artist who created the Tommy album artwork. Pete and his friends Mike and Katie McInnerney, Ronnie Lane, and Billy Nicholls were members of the Twickenham Meher Baba group of creative artists who contributed music, poetry and artwork to a series of devotional albums that Pete produced, Happy Birthday (1970), I Am (1972), and With Love (1976).

The Baba albums were never meant for wide spread release, and a limited run of copies were originally distributed to Baba followers by the Universal Spiritual League. Since Pete had contributed content, demand was very high and bootleg copies were being circulated. To help stop the bootlegging, Decca Records wanted to release the albums officially. Pete decided to pull together a new collection of songs instead, since there were many other artists who collaborated on those albums. Pete selected tracks from the Baba albums and added a few of his demos, which were also influenced by Baba. He received a $150,000 advance for the album from Decca, and the proceeds went to Meher Baba related institutions. 

Pete picked out two tracks from each of the first two Baba albums. From Happy Birthday came Pete’s lovely song Content, which was based on a poem by Maud Kennedy, and Ronnie Lane’s Evolution that Pete produced and played lead acoustic on. From I Am, Pete chose Billy Nicholls and Kate McInnerney’s song Forever’s No Time At All featuring Caleb Quaye, and Pete’s spiritual love song Pavardigar, which was based on Meher Baba’s Universal Prayer. Most of the Baba inspired demos selected were recordings from the abandoned Lifehouse album that were left off Who’s Next; Pure and Easy, Let’s See Action, and Time Is Passing. He also included Sheraton Gibson, a song he wrote on the road with The Who in 1970, and his cover of There’s a Heartache Following Me, a Jim Reeves song that was a favorite of Meher Baba’s.

There have been multiple re-issues of Who Came First over the years, which have all included a great selection of bonus tracks. In 1992, Rykodisc released a CD with 6 bonus tracks, and in 2006 Hip-O Records released a remastered CD with 9 bonus tracks. For the 45th anniversary of Who Came First, UMe released a deluxe 2-CD set with 17 bonus tracks and liner notes by Pete Townshend and Mike McInnerney, who had contributed The Wave painting which was included as a poster in the original album and deluxe release.

All the songs on this album were beautifully performed and produced in Pete’s tiny home studio Eel Pie Sound, that was equipped with professional grade recording gear to ensure top notch quality. The album was a good opportunity for him to demonstrate to his fans his skills and ability to completely produce and record all the instruments on songs that were later transformed into full blown Who rock anthems. Outside of the chicken and the egg reference, the title Who Came First also seems to be a clever nod to the fact that those Who songs started with him first.

Pete’s work on Who Came First also showed us a much more tender and introspective side of his personality that was previously hidden behind his work with The Who. His singing and performances on these recordings are raw and sweet, emanating from the heart. The songs are such a joy to listen to, and you can tell they were a joy for him to create. It’s a wonderful album that paved the way for his fantastic series of Scoop albums that came in later years.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Who Came First, here is the history of the album, told in Pete Townshend’s own words, sourced from various interviews and writings.


Pete TownshendPhoto credit: Chris Morphet/Redferns/Getty


A Note About This Album from Pete Townshend, album promo ad, 1972

If you’ve got time to read all this stuff, you’ve probably got time to really listen to the record. If you’ve already done that a lot of the following will only serve to expand, but here is some information about the way this album came together, and why it happened.

The WHO, being famous for what they are famous for, don’t turn out many ballads. They also don’t turn out much that isn’t heavy in some way or another. As a group we are self-consciously aware of our image – we were one of the English bands who grew up in that Beatle maniacal era when image was almost as important as sound, probably more important. We’ve never lost that feeling – it’s somehow intrinsic in the mood of the band. When we stand together in a studio, or on a stage, we feel that image take over and become bigger than any single one of us.

In the past, this has always precluded the possibility of ever being able to say anything other than what it seemed right that the WHO should say. As the band’s writer, I’ve felt this not as a problem but as a healthy and stimulating limitation to work within. Saying to someone, “Write a song about ANYTHING,” often brings forth nothing. The scope of imagination just boggles the mind. You have to narrow your train of thought. The three chords of Rock act in the same way – within those three or four chords, miracles have been made musically. Yet they’ve been appreciated by ordinary people, people that could never get into the subtleties of jazz or the classics. Rock, and Rock imagery, in my opinion, is far more subtle though than either jazz or the classics. One glance at what has happened in the last ten years is all you need to find out why.

My own last ten years have been pretty far out. I took a lot of dope, played at Monterey, played at Woodstock, met Dylan, had tea with Jagger, jammed once with Hendrix, saw the WHO come to a greater height of personal unity than I ever thought possible. I also heard about Meher Baba, and stopped using dope.

Meher Baba is an amazing man. He’s dead now, three years since, but one still gets the feeling of a NOW presence. No single thing that has ever happened to me has changed the way I see and do things in this world so much.

This album is meant to reflect these changes. Allow them to breath outside of the confines of the WHO, and yet also feed back to the WHO. Music is really communication. This f-----g typewriter isn’t. I could rap to the WHO for years about what I am and never get as much response as when I write them a song. Our bass player, John Entwistle, was well known to us to be a quietly accomplished musician – I’ve known him for nearly twelve years, played with him all that time – but I learnt more about him through the release of his solo album last year than in all that time. Even the songs that he wrote for the WHO got stamped with indelible WHO ink.

But what I’m doing on this album isn’t anything new. Since the band began I have written songs at home in my studio and served them up to the group as completed single tracks, with all instruments either played already, or at least indicated. For the musician that can’t read music – can’t really communicate anyway – the only way to get across what you want is to play it. That’s what I’ve been doing. After seven years I’m getting to be pretty good at a whole range of instruments, even the violin! I also can manage to run an eight-track and all the associated hardware. Electricians don’t confuse me any more. But most important, I don’t have any hissy demo tapes between my latest song and the next WHO album.

These tracks are all tracks that I’ve recorded at home. I play on all of them except “Forever’s No Time At All” – that, along with the rest of the album, I engineered. Ronnie Lane and I got drunk one night and recorded his “Evolution” song, and apart from these two exceptions, all the music is from my own head. On this album, in this context, it is dedicated to Baba. Not for him to listen to, his ears aren’t around, but so that he will be around whenever it’s played.


Who Came First cover variationsPhoto shoot for album cover and Track Records advertisement.


Pete Townshend interview, NME, 1972

There’s a mixed set of reasons for the album. One, because it didn’t look as if the Who would be recording for a long time, and we knew we weren’t gonna be working in England or America till 1973. Why, I don’t know, but we’d decided that, and it looks like we’re gonna stick to it.

Recording is my hobby, if you like – like recording Thunderclap Newman was a kind of hobby. The fact is, I enjoy recording. I enjoy putting albums together and, although it is my business as it were, I still enjoy doing it. So when the group stops for a period, I still want to go on recording. That’s John’s (Entwistle) philosophy as well. Also, recording on my own brings out different things. Because there are things I want to do, that when I try to force them through a group like the Who, the group make-up doesn’t allow them through. The whole reason for this album I suppose is frustration, not musical frustration and certainly not frustration with the Who, but a communication frustration.

I mean, I hope people don’t think I sit at home slaving over tape recorders for sounds all the time, `cause I don’t. This is like my Paul McCartney trip if you like. All these cuts I made at home were very easily come by, even something like “Parvadigar” which is sort of epic in proportion and sounds very heavily produced. But it’s not. The thing is that I’ve spent so much time in that little room in my house recording, that now I can just plug the mike in, twiddle the knobs and dials, and just play and let it come out… and it’s good.

The thing is it’s mine, it’s my sound. It’s not something they could get at Olympic, it’s not something I could get at Olympic or any other studio. It’s something I do at home and that is so personal… but not so personal as to exclude the Who. Somehow this album stops short of the Who. That’s the interesting thing about it. The demos are like what the Who get from me before we start recording, and apart from the fact that this is something I’ve always wanted people to know about, the thing about “Who Came First” is that it is not so much a collection of songs put together for a purpose as it would be if it was a Who album.

Another reason was the fact that after I did that television programme “How Can You Be Sure”, talking about Baba, a lot of people came up to me and said, listen, nobody wants to sit for half an hour listening to you talking about it… If you’ve got anything to say about Baba, do it through music. You’re a musician – that’s why you got on the programme in the first place — so play, sing songs, do what you were bloody born to do. So I had that in mind.

The fact is, I don’t feel I’ve ever been able to get across clearly to anybody – and there are a lot of people who wanna know – what it is about Baba that got me so committed to him. Because there are a lot of apparent paradoxes in there… the fact that I’m still in a group, I’m still earning money and am obviously still part of a fairly exploitive situation as well. And at the same time I’m trying to do something with myself spiritually.

I think what I hope to achieve through this album is that people will realise that Pete Townshend being a Baba lover is as much a part of his work as anything else. And that there are things like “Parvardigar” and “Time Is Passing” which aren’t in conflict with any beliefs. Like “Time is Passing” and “Pure And Easy” have both been recorded by the Who, and are bloody good by the Who, but they’re somehow nearer to the knuckle by me, done just on my own as straight demos. “Let’s See Action”, which is on this album, has also been done by the group [as a single]. But I think the album version is better than the single quite honestly. That’s one of the reasons I put it on there. I was disappointed with the single. It was too relaxed, not uptight enough, y’know.

Obviously the general atmosphere of the thing is devotional, and dedicated to Baba, and contains as much unembarrassed love for Baba as Ronnie and Billy and I could muster. It’s very difficult for a trio like Ronnie and Billy and me to muster any kind of love without embarrassment, specially while rolling about the floor under the effects of brandy, but you know, it happens. Ronnie’s song — which we did together when we were really inebriated — the reason I put that in was because the album is supposed to be for Baba and Ronnie’s song really makes it. It breathes Baba, an aspect of Baba that people wouldn’t imagine.

The other thing was that there had been two limited edition albums out already and in America they were getting bootlegged at fantastic fees, selling for 11/15 dollars or something like that. I’ve got a copy of one of them, and the quality is incredible, right, but the thing is that on the second one for instance, “I Am,” I only did two bloody songs, “Baba O`Riley” and “Parvardigar” which is on “Who Came First” – and the album was being described as “The Pete Townshend Solo Album”. It meant that I was getting credited, in some cases, with doing really strange songs… songs I had had bugger-all to do with apart from the fact that I edited the album together.

Look I’ll tell you, the main reason originally for this album was that I was getting very worried about those basement tapey things that were being bootlegged and what Decca said to me, indirectly, was: “These albums are selling for 11.98 in stores, and there’s nothing we can do about it under the Piracy Act because it’s not a legitimate record. We don’t mind you making them.” They didn’t make any contract pressure or anything. In fact nobody has. Everybody in the business… I don’t know for fuck’s sake why… but everyone in the business — Track, Decca, Polydor — they’ve all been so respectful. It’s almost as if I was a fucking monk, y’know, and that they regard making these albums as part of my therapy or something. The record companies are giving up incredible amounts of percentages. I think it’s because “Bangladesh” set certain traditions that the industry are very proud of, and rightly so, and they are anxious to perpetuate this.

Anyway, they said to me: “We’ll put this out, we’ll give you a dollar an album” — which is an incredible amount of money — “and well make sure the thing is done in good taste.” I thought, well why not. How many copies do you want? They said, “Well we`ll take 25,000 to start with.” So I nearly fell through the fucking roof? I said, how many! Christ that’s a lot of albums. So I said, listen if we’re going to go into it on this scale, why don’t I just do a completely fresh album. So I looked at the material I had, did a few new mixes and that was it. A few things off the first album, a few off the second, and a few demos which I thought had a certain amount of Baba atmosphere. So that’s the real reason I started to do it. Later on I started to really enjoy the thought that people were at last going to hear what I could do in my little studio.


Pete TownshendWho Came First album inner gatefold photos


Pete Townshend interview, October 2005 (published in petetownshend.com Diaries, 2006)

The devotional album idea was driven by the London Meher Baba group who were a very creative bunch of people: painters, illustrators, actors, poets, musicians, singers etc. We released three albums in all: Happy Birthday; I Am; In Love With Meher Baba. They were conceived and edited by Mike McInnerny, (the artist who illustrated Tommy for The Who). I produced and recorded the music. The most famous artist in the pop field was Ronnie Lane, but Billy Nicholls has a terrific body of work, covered by Roger Daltrey and Phil Collins among others, and there were a number of other contributors who were less well known but very worthy like Medicine Head and Pete Banks from Yes. We manufactured a small number of the three albums on vinyl, and because they were a limited edition a bootleg business started up to meet further demand. MCA records A&R people contacted me to see whether I would agree to put the best tracks together from the three private releases, and put it out under my name. They offered $150,000 advance, tax-free, to donate to various charities connected with Meher Baba. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. In India the Trust there has many functions that help the local community, but the majority of the funds were granted to Sufism Reoriented to help finance a film about the Sufi Murshida of the time, Ivy Duce.


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

These songs have been gathered partly because they fit the period when my first solo collection was released, and partly to honour the reason it was released. I was a devout and committed follower of ‘Avatar Meher Baba’, an Indian master I had discovered in 1967. He passed away in 1969 before I got to meet him. Over a period in my honeymoon with Meher Baba I helped put together three ‘disk magazines’ with some other artists who also followed him. My role was to record things, write songs, put some other writers’ lyrics or poems to music, and help facilitate some other musicians to get their ideas down onto tape in my studio. These disc magazines were limited editions, one thousand of each. Decca Records complained that they were being bootlegged in large numbers, and made a very generous offer of $150,000 for me to gather my own songs from the first two of those albums and correct the problem. The proceeds went to Meher Baba-related institutions.


Happy Birthday and I Am coversHappy Birthday and I Am album covers for Meher Baba disc magazines.


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

This album is meant to reflect these changes in me. Allow them to breathe outside of the confines of the Who and yet also feed back to the Who.


Pete Townshend press literature distributed with white label copies of the album, 1972

All instruments, vocals, recording, engineering, mixing, synthesisers — in fact everything except making the tea — in one gynormous ego trip by Pete Townshend.


Pure and Easy

Written by Pete Townshend


Pete Townshend liner notes, Who Came First, 1972

Central pivot for the Lifehouse, a film we never made.


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

Originally intended as the pivot piece for a film script I wrote called LIFE HOUSE. The script became infamous in this country, because we did so much talking about it, and so little doing. In the end we abandoned it, along with this number, which though recorded by the WHO, never made it onto WHO’s NEXT because we wanted a single album rather than a double this time last year. This version is my own, it’s about as good as I can do this time last year. I’ve got to admit I put it first because I like it the best.


Pete Townshend liner notes, The Best of Pete Townshend, 1996

Pure and Easy is a very pivotal track for the Lifehouse project, and it begins, ‘There once was a note, pure and easy,’ and this was inspired by a piece of writing by the Sufi teacher, Inayat Khan, who was also a musician, so a lot of his writing was about vibration and music, about the spiritual search being wrapped up in the idea that we’re looking for a note which suits us all.


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

This was written for the Lifehouse project I prepared for The Who in 1971. That was abandoned. The Who recorded this song beautifully, but it was left off their album (Who’s Next) and when Who Came First was released I used my home demo to correct the omission.




Written by Ronnie Lane


Pete Townshend liner notes, Who Came First, 1972

Ronnie Lane sings and plays guitar. I play lead acoustic.


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

A seven minute piece on the original “Happy birthday” album. An album dedicated to Baba on his seventy-fifth birthday. This album was put out with a magazine put together by McInnerny and Co. (of TOMMY sleeve fame), and a couple of thousand were sold to Baba lovers around the world. Before I edited out all the important verses, Ronnie’s song covered all the major stages of consciousness that we go through to reach the glorious state of human-ness. Stone. Metal. Vegetable. Worm. Fish. Animal. Then unfortunately, man.


Pete Townshend interview, Austin Chronicle, 2007

We recorded Evolution in my home studio, and I felt very much a part of it. Ronnie was very much a part of what I was doing in those days. Our relationship was very intimate, kind, thoughtful, very constructive, and quite spiritual in quality. He brought out something in me. He broke me down, I suppose, with his humour. But when we did that song, I was just stunned. What he had actually done is taken Meher Baba’s very complicated description of the universe and the way that consciousness travels and grows and evolves, and turned it into a really amusing, light-hearted, and funky song. That was Ronnie’s way: he was a real storyteller.


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

Ronnie and I got drunk and knocked this out in my home studio while our respective wives were left downstairs as though we were playing pool in my den. Indeed, that was the model for our studio work at such times. Two guys, drinking, playing, laughing, singing a song one of them had written about the evolution of consciousness. For some men, football is equally sacred.



Forever’s No Time At All

Written by Billy Nicholls and Katie McInnerny (Mike McInnerney’s wife)


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

This song is driven along by Caleb Quaye, the guy behind the scenes on guitar on Elton John albums. On this track he also plays drums, bass and does a bit of arranging to boot. I think he’s a genius. I also think the song is one of my all time favourites. This crops up here because it was originally featured on the follow up to “Happy Birthday” which is called “I Am”. The plot thickens, right?


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

Billy Nicholls was a friend, a song writer and follower of Meher Baba. I recorded this on my then brand new 3M M79 8-track tape machine. At the time then, I had the same model tape machine in my tiny home studio as was used in Studio 1 at the famous Olympic Studios where the Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and The Who were recording their main albums. On this one I believe I just engineered, but I may have done some backing vocals maybe. Why is this track included? Billy was as important to me in my demo process as was Kit Lambert or Ronnie Lane. His reaction to one of my demos was important, and I always loved to work with him on his music, and provide home studio demo facilities (I did this with a few others, Joe Walsh, John Sebastian, The Small Faces... )



Let’s See Action

Written by Pete Townshend


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

Written about a section of the LIFE HOUSE film, it’s about the people who act in a revolution, and the people that sit back. I thought it also said a lot about the way we forget our souls most of the time. The WHO have recorded a fantastic version of this with Nicky Hopkins on piano, it was released in England on Track as a single. It didn’t seem right here (USA) so we shelved it. You can hear it premiered here on this very album.



Time Is Passing

Written by Pete Townshend


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

Another song from LIFE HOUSE. Pretty simple stuff, country feel. I played this for Meher Baba’s Mandali (disciples) when I travelled to India this year.



There’s a Heartache Following Me

Written by Ray Baker


Pete Townshend liner notes, Who Came First, 1972

Baba's other favourite song. He also loved Begin the Beguine.


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

This is a Jim Reeves tune. Baba heard this song and said that Jim Reeves voice was full of spiritual power and love. I listened to him sing this song and had to agree. I enjoyed doing this track tremendously.



Sheraton Gibson

Written by Pete Townshend


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

Included for music value rather than content. I wrote this two years back after a really good barbecue with the James Gang outside Cleveland. I had a good, good day. Next day in Pitts I was not only missing home as usual, but also Cleveland. A strange town to miss, but I still love it – this was the first time I ever used synthesiser. In true Abbey Road Tradition.


Pete Townshend interview, 1996

Sheraton Gibson grew out of a really interesting writing session that I had [in 1970]. I was in a hotel – I don’t think it was the Sheraton Gibson, but it might have been – and I’d been out and bought Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, which was a double album, and it was a bit of a dip in and see record, lots of different styles, and I was inspired by it. And I thought, “This guy is a great genius, no question about it, but he’s incredibly prolific and humorous and mischievous, and what would happen if I just sat down, put on a tape machine – I had an early, primitive cassette machine with me – and just put myself on the spot and made songs up as I went along? How many could I come up with?” And I came up with eight, and I totally made them up, start to finish, every detail, nothing added, nothing taken away, and what you hear is what I wrote. So it uses the kind of chords that fall under the fingers, but what the song actually does evoke is how I felt at the time.


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

This has no intended spiritual component at all, but let’s face it, any song about “going home” can be read as a prayer for reunion with God. In this case I think I just missed my exceptionally pretty wife. She’d written me a letter and it arrived with a few family photos. The Sheraton Gibson was a hotel.




Written by Maud Kennedy and Pete Townshend


Pete Townshend liner notes, Who Came First, 1972

A poem by Maud Kennedy. I put it to music and sing it like Vera Lynn.


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

The opening track on “Happy Birthday”, this track is based on a poem by a lady called Maud Kennedy who loves Baba in a way I wish I could achieve. It’s simply about being content that you have found out about God. Happy to know that whatever goes down, he’s still there, holding the tickets.


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

I completely adore this. Maud Kennedy was one of the older followers of Meher Baba when I first came to him in 1967. She lived in a little cottage in Oxford, England, and said she could see the fairies and ‘elementals’ in her garden, as well as the Angelic Agents Meher Baba had assigned to keep her safe. It sounds mad, but listen to the words of this poem of hers that I was privileged to be able to put to music. She was definitely in very fine shape with God, and with human life.




Written by Pete Townshend (adapted from Meher Baba's prayer)


Pete Townshend Writes for Sounds, 1972

This is Baba’s incredible “Universal Prayer” put to music by yours truly. I think, along with many others, that it is a prayer which praises the whole of Universal Creation as well as the Messiah. This whole thing is the result of one of those unremarkable coincidences that affect the person involved so much, and yet seem so ordinary to others. I was working on the words one afternoon, trying to make the original prayer scan, make it feel like it could be put to music. The same afternoon, I discovered a really beautiful tuning for my six string guitar and somewhere in the back of my head, gave it to Baba. He took it graciously it seems, for late that day I got the hit that maybe the words from the prayer would fit the music. They fit like a glove. If this doesn’t sound completely like me, maybe it ain’t.


Pete Townshend Liner Notes, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Edition CD, 2017

This was written on the almost mystical Osea Island in Essex. We were having a short family holiday in a rented cottage. I worked on the guitar music and the lyrics (based on Meher Baba’s ‘Master’s Prayer’) separately. It was not a miracle that they fit together so perfectly, because although I was working on a number of other things at the time, the music and lyrics for this song were completed within the same couple of weeks. Anyway, when the time came to find music for the revised lyric, I suddenly knew that the guitar piece I’d been working on around the same time would fit, and it did so precisely, without the need to change even a note. I simply had to lengthen the guitar part.