The Who – The Who Sings My Generation

The Who Sings My Generation (1965)


1. Out In The Street 2. I Don’t Mind 3. The Good’s Gone 4. La La La Lies 5. Much Too Much 6. My Generation 7. The Kids Are Alright 8. Please, Please, Please 9. It’s Not True 10. The Ox 11. A Legal Matter 12. Instant Party (Circles)


I’ll just get straight to the point: as far as British Invasion debut albums go, this is the toppermost of the poppermost, and it’s really not even close. Please Please Me and England’s Newest Hitmakers are great, but they’re mostly covers, unlike Sings My Generation, which is 10/12 originals (or 83.33%. Thanks, MacBook calculator! Gimme a break, I ain’t done a lick of math since high school). And what’s the rest of the competition? The Animals (“House Of The Rising Sun” and a bunch of Chuck Berry songs)? The Kinks (“You Really Got Me” and a bunch of crappy, amateurish covers)? Nuh uh. None of those guys were writing great songs at the earliest stages of their careers as consistently as the twenty-year old Pete was.

And we’re not talking about throwaways… even the Beatles had corny 50s pop imitation Lennon/McCartney songs like “Ask Me Why” and “Misery” on their first couple of albums. Such is not the case here. each and every one of these Townshend originals establishes a clever lyrical identity and uber-catchy melodic panache that in a just world could’ve made any one of these songs hit singles. In reality, only two of them were. The main event here is, of course, the title track, famous for Pete’s pure punk rock one chord riffing, Roger’s stuttered vocals, meant to approximate the effects of being on uppers, and its defiant lyrics. No question, it’s sort of the ultimate anthem of teenage rebellion, but I sense a lot more anger, rebelliousness, and power in the band’s chaotic, unabashedly raw musical performance then I do from the lyrics. Personally, I can’t hear Roger sneer “Hope I die before I get old” without chuckling a little bit to myself. Would Pete have written that line if he had known he would still be up on stage doing windmills when he was 400 years old and looked like this guy? Who Cares, I guess. My inability to divorce the song from any later context is my own fault as a listener, not Pete’s for continuing to walk around and breathe. Even regardless of all that, “My Generation” has never been my favorite early Who single; “The Kids Are Alright” is just better all around. In contrast with the unhinged aggression of “My Generation,” “Kids,” all chiming Rickenbacker guitar and heavenly three-part harmonies, is all about melody. I think the lyrics, as well, represent something more real about the Who’s early audience of disaffected youth than the more general manifesto-like platitudes of “My Generation.” “I don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl/That’s fine, I know them all pretty well”… “I had things planned but her folks wouldn’t let her”… These are excellent details that may have originally been written in reference to a very specific Mod scene but have relevance for pretty much everyone who’s ever had teenage relationship problems.

But trust me when I say the tunes you haven’t heard are every bit as good as the hits. “Much Too Much,” “La La La Lies,” “It’s Not True,” “A Legal Matter, “Ciricles”… all supremely melodic, loud and hard-rocking power pop with great hooks, vocals harmonies, and often smart, catchy use of key modulation, and strong, witty lyrics. “I haven’t got eleven kids, I weren’t born in Baghdad/I’m not half Chinese either, and I didn’t kill my dad.” Funny. And what were John and Paul writing in their early 20s? “Love, love me do/You know I love you.” Come on. Pete just got off to a quicker and more impressive start than any of those other Brits. I must give particular props to the sneering “The Good’s Gone,” which demonstrates as much pissed-off attitude as any Stones song from this era.

It’s really amazing how (almost) all the pieces that make the Who great are already in place. John’s basslines are already booming (his solo on “My Generation” is still his most famous part), Keith (who was eighteen at the time. Eighteen!) is thrashing away just like himself, Pete is banging out his power chords. They’ve even got Nicky Hopkins playing piano, which, in general, is a pretty outstanding thing to have on a rock record; apparently this was true even back in 1965, before the Stones snatched him up to juice up their ’68-’72 Big Four run of albums. The only weak link, then, is Roger, who at this point can’t sing at all. His voice mostly fits Pete’s songs fine, but give him something less melodic to grapple with and he falls flat on his face. I don’t have any idea why they thought it would be a good idea to put two James Brown covers on this thing – pandering to the Mods, I guess. But Roger’s strained, grating performances turn them from dull and out of place into atrocious missteps. “Please, Please, Please” in particular is just comically awful, with Roger sounding like he’s producing more phlegm than he is sound. This is definitely one area where the Who were way behind the Beatles and Stones… they apparently couldn’t cover R&B for crap.

Unfortunately, those aberrations prevent me from bumping Sings My Generation up to an A+ (don’t think I wouldn’t do it, either… Pete’s songs here give me as much pure enjoyment as anything the Who ever did). And I guess if I needed further justification, I would point to the opener “Out In The Street,” which is great but comes across as a dry run-through for the superior non-album single “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” Oh, and you definitely want the American version, not the British one, which drops the frigging awesome “Circles” in favor of a generic Bo Diddley cover. Not that this is particularly relevent in 2012, when you can acquire enough bandwith to just download both with a bunch of bonus tracks while simultaneously watching porn (it’s a wonderful world we live in, don’t we?). But it matters to me, and it should to you too if you want to hear definitive proof that the Who were one of the greatest bands on the planet from the moment they set foot in a studio.

One Comment

  1. Ben wrote:

    One of those albums where the second side is better. I love “Out in the street”, and don’t really find any similarities to “Anyway anyhow anywhere”, but nothing on the first side really does anything for me. I hate their version of James Brown’s “I don’t mind”, but for some reason really like their take on “Please please please”. “It’s not true”, “The ox” and “A legal matter” are pretty great, and easily make me forgive the godawful “La-la-La-Lies” (one of their worst ever songs). I did also like the title track, but I’ve heard it so many times to the point that I can’t enjoy it anymore.

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