“I’m a Boy” is a 1966 rock song written by Pete Townshend for The Who. The song, like other early recordings by the band, such as “I Can’t Explain”, “The Kids Are Alright” and “Happy Jack”, centers on the early power pop genre. The song was originally intended to be a part of a rock opera called ‘Quads’ which was to be set in the future where parents can choose the sex of their children. The idea was later scrapped, but this song survived and was later released as a single.
The song is about a family who “order” four girls, but a mistake is made and three girls and one boy are delivered instead. The boy dreams of partaking in sports and other boy-type activities, but his mother forces him to act like his sisters and refuses to believe the truth (“I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my Mum won’t admit it”). The track was produced by Kit Lambert at IBC Studios around 31 July – 1 August 1966 and released just over three weeks later on 26 August 1966 with “In the City” as the B-side. The single was successful, reaching number 2 in the UK singles chart. It failed to repeat that success in the US.
The original recording (released as a single) which features John Entwistle’s French horn arrangement prominently in the mix is available on the album Who’s Missing. The version included on most compilations, since the 1966 release, is exactly the same recording, with French horns removed.
A different, slower version was recorded in London in the week of 3 October 1966 and was intended for an early version of A Quick One titled Jigsaw Puzzle but was later released on Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy in 1971. Another similar version was released on a bonus disc of The Ultimate Collection in 2002 and is unique to that album.
The song was performed at The Who’s legendary concert at Leeds, released in album format as Live at Leeds. On the Live at Leeds album, Pete Townshend comments on the song by saying:
“ We’d like to play three selected hit singles–three easiest…and “I’m a Boy” which according to the, (crowd cheers) thank you, according to the Melody Maker was our first number one in England I think for about a half an hour (crowd laughs). ”
The single’s B-side, “In the City”, inspired The Jam’s song of the same name. The latter borrows its chord progression and a part of its lyrics from the Who song.