“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
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
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.”
“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. It also reached number 20 in the Netherlands.