500 Greatest Songs of All Time

11

The Who, 'My Generation'

Writer: Pete Townshend
Producer: Shel Talmy
Released: Nov. '65, Decca
5 weeks; No. 74

The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend, supposedly wrote "My Generation," his immortal fuck-off to the elders in his way, on his 20th birthday, May 19th, 1965, while riding a train from London to Southampton for a television appearance. The song wasn't intended as a youth-mutiny anthem at first. It was a Jimmy Reed-style blues, reflecting Townshend's fears about the impending strictures of adult life, famously captured in the line "Hope I die before I get old." "My Generation' was very much about trying to find a place in society," he told Rolling Stone in 1987. "I was very, very lost. The band was young then. It was believed that its career would be incredibly brief." Instead, "My Generation" became the Who's ticket to legend — their first British Top Five hit, and a battle cry for young mod rebels — and it established Townshend as a fearless and eloquent songwriter. "My Generation" went through months of arranging and rerecording before the Who got it right, in two takes, on October 13th, 1965. Townshend opened the song with a two-chord assault that beat punk rock to the punch by more than a decade. Bassist John Entwistle took the solo breaks with crisp, grunting aggression — he had to buy three new basses to finish the recording, since his Danelectro's strings kept breaking and replacement strings weren't available. (He ended up playing the song on a Fender.) Roger Daltrey's stuttering, howling performance, Townshend and Entwistle's R&B-inspired backing vocals, and the upward key changes created a vivid, mounting anxiety that climaxed with a studio re-creation of the Who's live gear-trashing finales, with Townshend spewing feedback all over Keith Moon's avalanche drumming. Four decades later, Townshend and Daltrey are all that remain of the original Who, and they still play "My Generation" at every show — now with the fire and wisdom of age.

Appears on: My Generation (Universal) 

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