I’m One – the Who

What are we all? Is each person just a blind, confused creature searching to find his or her place as a cog in the machine that is the world? Or are we more like quarrelling dogs, trying to assert dominance in our packs and to leave the greatest mark upon the world? The the search for one’s identity is a wildly conflicted journey both mentally and physically. Often, we try to stand out amongst the others while simultaneously trying to fit in with a group and be accepted. This psychological battle with the self is accurately depicted in the Who’s song “I’m One”, from the concept album (one of my favorites) Quadrophenia. Everything about this album is phenomenal, from the plot to the lyrics to the instrumentals (the Entwistle-Moon combo is in my opinion the greatest rhythm section of all time) to the composition and even the cover art (by rock photographer Ethan Russell).

the who Quadrophenia

Right: From left to right and top to bottom: John Entwistle (bass), Pete Townshend (guitar), Keith Moon (drums), Roger Daltrey (vocals). Left: Album cover for Quadrophenia, by Ethan Russell.


Quadrophenia is a concept album about a teenager living in the 60’s named Jimmy and was released on October 26, 1973. He is a mod, a youth subcultural group known for suits, Vespas, music, drug use, and for getting into fights with rockers. He is also said to be schizophrenic, with four distinct personalities that each represent a member of the Who. The album details his story in which he walks the fine line between trying to fit in with the mod crowd but still be noticeable to others. He struggles to be his own person yet still be accepted by those he admires. “I’m One” comes in after the song “The Punk and the Godfather” and represents a moment of self-doubt that Jimmy really belongs in the mod category at all.

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Jimmy, Quadrophenia’s anti-hero in all his mod glory in the intro of the movie adaptation.

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Jimmy side-by-side with a poster of the Who’s lead guitar player and main composer: Pete Townshend.

Now on to the song itself:


Every year is the same

And I feel it again

I’m a loser, no chance to win

Leaves start fallin’

Come down is callin’

Loneliness starts sinking in”

Everyone knows the feeling — I’m not good enough, nobody understands, I’m a loser. Everyone compares themselves to others, to those who they deem “perfect”, and decide that they want to be like them. In the end however, we all know that this is in vain and that it is impossible to be good at everything and to be liked by everyone. Nevertheless, we still have that primeval desire to be better, to be top dog, because what we really want is to be loved and admired by our peers. Therefore, we blame ourselves for being ourselves and not someone else, someone that we have decided is a better human specimen.

Jimmy in rain.29.08 PM

Jimmy has done everything he can to fit in the role of a mod, and yet he is still alone.

But I’m one

I am one

And I can see

That this is me

And I will be

You’ll all see

I’m the one”

Then there is the yin to the yang that tells you that you need to be someone else: your sense of individualism. Somewhere within the depths of our minds, we all know that we have some different qualities that make us unique to the others, something special that elevates you above the common rat race that is so concerned with fitting within a specific definition. You think, “I’m different. I’m special. If only they could all see…”

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Jimmy’s reflection can be seen in four mirrors on his scooter, representing his four personalities.

Where do you get

Those blue, blue jeans

Faded, patched secret so tight?

Where do you get

That walk oh so lean?

Your shoes and your shirt all just right”


Despite knowing that somewhere within himself he is different, Jimmy still tries his best to fit in with the mod crowd. He asks a fellow mod where he gets his clothes and makes a remark about how everything about this person is “all just right”. Once again, Jimmy is trying to be someone else, someone who is “cooler” than himself. But is dressing like a fellow mod really going to make him stand out? Or is it something that makes him “One”?

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“I’m one

I am one

And I can see

That this is me

And I will be

You’ll all see

I’m the one”

Jimmy continues to flip back and forth between wanting to be an individual and being a member of the mods. These are seemingly unrelated and contradictory things, but what he is really looking for is to be liked and accepted by others. He sees other mods that he respects (probably because they stand out) and thinks the ticket to being loved by others is to be like them. At the same time, he knows that he can stand out by simply being himself but that does not guarantee being accepted. He fears that by being who he truly is, who may or may not be a true mod, he will no longer be accepted by his peers.

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I got a Gibson

Without a case

But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face

Ill fitting clothes

And I blend in the crowd

Fingers too clumsy

Voice too loud”

Jimmy is afraid of being himself because he doesn’t think he’s good enough — his guitar doesn’t have a case, he doesn’t look right, he’s too awkward — so he decides that he must instead change himself. He continues to try his hardest to be an ideal mod and suppress his sense of individualism.

Jimmy closeup

But I’m one

I am one

And I can see

That this is me

And I will be

You’ll all see

I’m the one

I’m the one

I’m the one!

In spite of all this, he still knows that he is different and hopes that maybe someday, someone will come along that will appreciate him for himself. What he truly desires is for someone to love him not the mod that he has made himself out to be, but for now this will have to suffice. First he will have to accept himself before anyone else can. Maybe by then, he will truly be One.

Goodbye Scooter

Our identities are not in things

Quadrophenia End

Our identities are in ourselves

Other Notable Videos:

A great live version of “I’m One” with Eddie Vedder on lead vocals and, of course, the amazing Pete Townshend:

And just because, Adam Sandler doing a tribute to the Who in the tune of “Magic Bus”:

Everything that has ever happened and ever will happen is a part of a song and each person is a note. We could all be the same note, resulting in a long, monotonous drone, or we could all be different notes that can harmonize and intertwine to create a melody. It’s up to you. You decide, in the words of Pete Townshend,“Who Are You?”.

the who live 


One thought on “I’m One – the Who

  1. Pingback: The Real Me – the Who | Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed

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