Around the time of song's release, Townshend explained its meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone: "Quite loosely, "The Seeker" was just a thing about what I call Divine Desperation, or just Desperation. And what it does to people. It just kind of covers a whole area where the guy's being fantastically tough and ruthlessly nasty and he's being incredibly selfish and he's hurting people, wrecking people's homes, abusing his heroes, he's accusing everyone of doing nothing for him and yet at the same time he's making a fairly valid statement, he's getting nowhere, he's doing nothing and the only thing he really can't be sure of is his death, and that at least dead, he's going to get what he wants. He thinks!"
"I suppose I like this least of all the stuff", wrote Townshend the following year. "It suffered from being the first thing we did after Tommy, and also from being recorded a few too many times. We did it once at my home studio, then at IBC where we normally worked then with Kit Lambert producing. Then Kit had a tooth pulled, breaking his jaw, and we did it ourselves. The results are impressive. It sounded great in the mosquito-ridden swamp I made it up in, Florida at three in the morning drunk out of my brain with Tom Wright and John Wolff. But that's always where the trouble starts, in the swamp. The alligator turned into an elephant and finally stampeded itself to death on stages around England. I don't think we even got to play it in the States."
This is not entirely true, as the band did perform it for about two weeks on their 1970 American tour. The Who revived the song briefly in 2000 and then extensively starting on the 2006–2007 tour for Endless Wire.
The lyrics name-check several people who had high profiles in contemporary pop culture: musicians Bob Dylan (as "Bobby Dylan") and The Beatles, and advocate of psychedelic drugs Timothy Leary. Townshend was a devotee of the teachings of Meher Baba, a Persian mystic whose 1966 treatise God in a Pill? famously lambasted drug use as a means of consciousness expansion. Similarly, Townshend was an opponent of drug abuse throughout this period.
Released in the UK as Track 604036 on 21 March 1970, "The Seeker" reached number 19 in the charts. Released in the US as Decca 7-32670, it hit the Billboard charts on 11 April 1970, eventually peaking at number 44. The B-side, "Here For More", is one of the few Who songs written by lead singer Roger Daltrey.
Canadian progressive rock group Rush included a version of "The Seeker" in their album Feedback and again on their live album/DVD R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour.
- A cover version appears in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and the master version will appear in Rock Band 4.
- It appears in American Beauty.
- It was covered by The Smithereens, as a B-side of their single "Only a Memory". A live version appears on the live CD Smithereens Live.
- It was covered by The Black Crowes on their 2006 tour, featuring guitarist Rich Robinson on lead vocals.
- It appears in the opening few minutes of the Masterpiece Mystery Inspector Lewis episode "Whom the Gods Would Destroy".
- It appears in Grand Theft Auto IV on the radio station Liberty Rock Radio.
- The song is used in the opening credits of The Limey starring Terence Stamp.
- It was covered by 4 Hr. Ramona on the 2000 album Who Cares: A Tribute to the Who.
- It was covered by Rush on their 2004 album Feedback.
- It was covered by Zen Guerrilla in 2000 on the 7" Sub Pop single, "The Seeker" b/w "Half Step".
- It was covered by Guns N' Roses on 7 November 2012 for the first time at their 12 show Las Vegas residency "Appetite For Democracy"
- It was covered by Yonder Mountain String Band on 12/30/2012 in Boulder, CO, with guests Nick Forster (electric guitar) and Christian Teele (drums)
- It was covered by Mick Hucknall in 2013 during his tour.
- It was covered by Fish on the re-release of his 1993 album Songs from the Mirror.
- It appears in Bordel Deadline book "Fashion superheroes", at 2015 The Who concert on book end.
- It appears in the opening credits of Bill Maher's Religulous in 2008.
- It was covered by the Raconteurs, featuring Pete, in the Attic Jams, in 2007.
|Chart (1970)||Peak position|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||21|
|UK Singles Chart||19|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||44|