“My Generation” was originally inspired by blues and folk songs like “Young Man Blues” by Mose Allison and “Talkin’ New York” by Bob Dylan. Daltrey stuttered the first time he tried it because he hadn’t rehearsed it, but the band had him recreate the stutter for the final version because they thought it evoked the image of a jittery mod on pills, and because John Lee Hooker had a song called “Stuttering Blues.”
The group’s previous single “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” had allowed Townshend and Moon the chance to show their chops. On “My Generation,” Entwistle uncorks one of the few bass solos to make pop radio, working to keep pace with James Brown’s bassist Bernard Odum, Daltrey snarls that since the things the older generation does look cold, he hopes he dies before he gets old, quoting Berkeley Free Speech activist Jack Weinberg’s sound bite to The San Francisco Chronicle, “We have a saying in the movement that we don’t trust anybody over 30.”[i] Then the track exploded into the anarchy of their stage show climaxes.
The Who Sing My Generation was recorded October 11-15 and released December 3 (the same day as Rubber Soul), the finest debut of the year. Its low budget, echoey sound actually gave the songs more heft, starting with the atmospheric feedback opening of “Out in the Streets.”
“The Kids Are Alright” was an archetypal teen scenario that Townshend’s hero Brian Wilson might have come up with. Other guys are dancing with the singer’s girl, but he tells himself he doesn’t mind, he just needs to get outside. He had some hopeful plans for his girl and him, but she told him her folks wouldn’t let her. Who can say if that’s true or if she just wants to dance with the other guys — all he knows is he has to leave her behind before he goes out of his mind. The lengthy instrumental section was inspired by English baroque composer Henry Purcell’s chamber suite Gordian Knot Untied.[ii]
“Circles (Instant Party)” told of what happened to the singer after he leaves the dance. He gets wasted to try to forget her and tries to walk home, but he’s so drunk he keeps walking in circles. It was the embryo of the plot of the Who’s movie about the mod movement, Quadrophenia, set in 1965 and shot in 1979.
Townshend wrote in his memoirs that while the other three members carried on rock-star love lives after the gigs, he was insecure, afraid of being rejected, and would usually just go home and record tons of demos, prompting rumors that he was gay.[iii] Part of him liked the rumors, as he felt mod was creating a new male, non-macho archetype, the “elegant, disciplined, well-to-do, sharply dressed and sexually indeterminate and dangerously androgynous yobbo”[iv] [thug]. A sizable percentage of mods were rent boys (prostitutes), and would often dance by themselves or other guys instead of the girls. But at the same time, the album’s “La-La-La Lies” and “It’s Not True” take pains to deny the rumors about him and assert that he has a woman who loves him.
The album was rounded out by some James Brown and Bo Diddley covers, plus the insane instrumental barnstormer, “The Ox,” like “Wipe Out” on PCP. Moon’s rampage created the gold standard for all subsequent barbarian drummers, from Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker to John Bonham. Certainly no other band combined James Brown, sonic innovation, gender confusion, fashion, pop art pretention, and pure mayhem like the Who.
[i] Library of Congress, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations, 343.
[ii] Townshend, Google eBook.