1001 Songs Challenge,  1960s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #191: Substitute (1966)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


The Who – Substitute (1966)

We’re back in the UK today, dear reader, heading on down to London for a second acquaintance with The Who. Last time out they were telling us all about My Generation. That popular hit was followed up with Substitute, another Top 10 in the UK and inspired by The Miracles’ song, The Tracks of My Tears which made use of the word “substitute” and The Who songwriter, Pete Townshend, loved it so much he built an entire song around it, one good enough for this list. 

Substitute has a couple of interesting narratives going on. On the one hand we have a girl who is in a relationship with a guy who considers himself a substitute for a previous guy she was with, which suggests he is essentially a runner-up prize or someone she has started a relationship with on the rebound. The other element to the song is that this guy is not what he seems. He is from a poor background (“born with a plastic spoon in my mouth”), his attire is deceptive (“fine-looking suit really made out of sack” and even physical appearance is a facade (“look pretty tall but my heels are high”). The narrator seems to dismiss the girl, wanting “facts” instead of “lies” and dismisses her “crocodile tears”. In a brilliantly scathing dig he even wants to substitute her for his mum, because “at least I’ll get my washing done”. This sounds like a relationship built on deception but now the truth is out the whole thing has quickly unravelled.

As far as The Who are concerned, My Generation, tends to be up there as arguably their best song, but for me I have always preferred Substitute. Townshend’s lyrics are delightful, especially the “plastic spoon” image being an alternative for someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth, an indication of wealth and privilege. There is a sadness here with the narrator going out of his way to be something he is not to win this girl’s attention. Class background should not be a determiner for who we have a relationship with but for some people that is make or break. The Who were seldom better than when they recorded this song and therefore it will have to be a “substitute” for My Generation in the current Top 10.


Favourite songs so far:

Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)

The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)

Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’ (1965)

The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)

The Supremes – Stop! In the Name of Love (1965)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)

The Who – Substitute (1966)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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