After 50 years, Pete Townshend hopes to recover ‘lost’ Who song Ambition for long-overdue Lifehouse release

The Who in 1971
(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

The Who’s ‘lost’ 1971 album Lifehouse will finally see the light of day in 2022, although even guitarist Pete Townshend isn’t sure about exactly what form his much-misunderstood magnum opus will take when it emerges over 50 years after being shelved.

Townshend had a concept, and a reported $2 million deal from Universal Pictures, for a multi-media project titled Lifehouse in the early '70s. But as The Who biographer/Classic Rock writer Mark Blake noted in his 2013 feature on Lifehouse, ‘There was just one problem: no one else had a clue what he was going on about.’

Lifehouse was set in the not-too-distant future, maybe 1990, Townshend explained at the time, at a point in history where everyone on earth wore special “pod-like” Lifesuits connected by wires to a central worldwide ‘grid’, which ‘fed’ them entertainment… though not rock music, which was banned. The basic premise of the film/album, as far as could be understood, was that a young man named Bobby would find a way to hack into the grid to launch a music festival at which the artists and their audience would unite to create a single, perfect, infinite and universal note… which would have dramatic, unforeseen consequences for all. The idea, however, baffled his bandmates.

“It didn’t make any sense,” said vocalist Roger Daltrey. “None of us could grasp it. But it did have some good ideas in it. The one I picked up on was that if we ever did find the meaning of life it would be a musical note. I thought that was a great idea.” 

Some of the song ideas mooted for Lifehouse, wound up being included on 1971’s Who’s Next instead.

As reported in the new issue of MOJO, Townshend is now trying to resurrect the project, as he revealed in short video clips posted on Instagram. In the videos, the guitarist’s original demos for the project are shown, with Townshend zooming in to show a tape box containing a recording of a never-released song called Ambition.

“This is a song we're trying to recover,” Townshend states.

In a video, Townshend says that a new Who’s Next/Lifehouse release was originally scheduled for 2021, but, as with a mooted graphic novel based on the idea, this failed to materialise. “We can blame Covid,” Townshend says in a video. 

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.