The original recording was released as a single in 1969 and reached #4 in the UK charts and #19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The B-side of the Pinball Wizard single is an instrumental credited to Keith Moon, titled Dogs Part Two. Despite similar titles it has no musical connection to The Who's 1968 U.K. single Dogs.
The lyrics are written from the perspective of a pinball champion, called "Local Lad" in the Tommy libretto book, astounded by the skills of the opera's eponymous main character, Tommy Walker: "That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball", and "I thought I was the Bally table king, but I just handed my pinball crown to him".
Townshend once called it "the most clumsy piece of writing [he'd] ever done" nevertheless, the song was a commercial success and one of the most recognized tunes from the opera. It was a perpetual concert favourite for Who fans due to its pop sound and familiarity.