The Who “My Generation”, 1965, Brunswick Records
1. Out In The Street
I Don't Mind
The Good's Gone
Much Too Much
The Kids Are Alright
Please, Please, Please
It's Not True
I'm A Man
A Legal Matter
I listened to the original UK release of “My Generation” rather than the American release “The Who Sings My Generation” released on Decca records with a slightly different track list. Although I listened on Spotify, I only listened to the original 12 tracks of the album and played them in the original order.
The Who got together in Acton, west London in 1964 (I’m leading with this very important geographical fact because I am from the same London neighbourhood as most of The Who) and had a top 10 hit with their first single “I Can’t Explain”. Much like The Beatles’ first album, “My Generation” was a way to capitalise on the success of The Who’s first two singles, however, despite 5 songs from the 12 on this album being released as singles, the eponymous single would be their most successful ever, peaking at number 2 in the UK chart. Although their influence on rock music was huge, long lasting and indeed continues to this day, The Who have never had a number 1 single.
Another similarity with the Beatles’ first album was that “My Generation” was supposed to show off The Who’s live set. The band were playing regular gigs around west London throughout 1964 and 1965, by the end of 1964, they were also playing regularly at the famous Marquee Club on Oxford Street. Pete Townshend deliberately made their first single sound similar to The Kinks (another popular London band at the time) in order to attract their producers and it worked, paving the way for them to be signed to US label Decca Records (Brunswick was the UK arm of Decca). The early singles got lots of pirate radio airplay and appeared on Ready, Steady, Go! which was the most popular UK music programme of this period. Even at this stage The Who were breaking away from the norm of pop music, using the pick slide technique that would soon become synonymous with hard rock as well as using feedback to such a degree that Decca in the US initially did not want to release their second single, thinking it was too unusual for American audiences.
The Who had recorded a number of R&B covers for this album but their record label wanted more original material so only two made the final cut, both were James Brown songs.“My Generation” still sounds fresh today. “Out in the Street” is such a great start, you know you’re about to have a good time listening to this album. “The Good’s Gone” is kind of a dirge, but thankfully it’s a minor blip. “La-La-La-Lies” sounds a lot like it could have been a Cliff Richard track - apparently Pete Townshend was an admirer of his. I like it, it’s fun and catchy. “Much Too Much” really feels like the 1960s, and although it’s my least favourite thing - a love song - it feels like a love song for people who don’t like love songs, so I can happily say I like it. The iconic “My Generation”, the world’s first punk song, seems tame compared to what it inspired, but the lyrics are firmly in the punk spirit.The stuttering vocal on this track was another innovation by The Who, a precursor to their later “rock opera” albums where the song tells an immersive story. Also, Keith Moon just comes out in the last minute of the song and drums like a beast. He must have been incredible to see live.“The Kids Are All Right” sounds almost cherubic in comparison to its precursor. James Brown cover “Please, Please, Please” sounds quite a bit like the man himself, it’s the most obvious example of Roger Daltrey basing his singing style on Motown artists. “It’s Not True” is fun, and to me, lyrically it’s the song that seems most current. I can think of a lot of rap artists who write songs about the rumors people believe about them. Instrumental “The Ox” must be one of the best drum tracks ever. It’s literally awesome. Out of 12 songs, there was only one I didn’t really like, there really is no filler here, it’s 36 minutes of great music. I completely understand why this album is so highly regarded.
“My Generation” was a success and this continued for The Who both in Britain and around the world. They were hugely influential among their contemporaries, without them, we would never have heard the distinctive sound of Jimi Hendrix, who wanted a Marshall amp stack just like Pete Townshend, We also have them to thank for the insane sound systems at large stadium gigs, music albums as narrative and of course power chords. Oh, and all that clothing with the Union flag on you see in tourist shops throughout central, London? The Who made that a thing too. Let’s not forget the destructive rock star stereotype, from on stage guitar smashing and blowing up drum kits with dynamite to smashing up hotel rooms, guess Who? The Who’s sound and the art pop style of their later concerts has influenced a wide variety of artists, from Guns N’ Roses, to The Clash, to Panic! At the Disco.
I am an archivist by profession, so for me one of the most important legacies of this album in particular is that it has been given the highest accolade my profession can bestow. The US version of this album (released as “The Who Sings My Generation” with a slightly altered track listing) has been preserved as part of the US National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. This is an accolade only awarded to music that is believed to be culturally significant. Only 25 new additions to the registry are made each year and all major musical genres are represented. If this album can get people who spend their entire lives surrounded by files in basements rocking, it’s definitely a classic.