A truly groundbreaking song in British rock history was born on 13 October 1965, when The Who were in Studio A at IBC Studios in Portland Place, London, recording ‘My Generation.’ Within three weeks, on 5 November, it was their new UK single, and it was followed on 3 December by the album of the same name.
To understand just what a powerful statement Pete Townshend’s new song made, it’s worth considering what the fellow heavy-hitters on the British rock scene were up to at the time. The Beatles were just coming off ‘Help’ and were soon to move on to ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘We Can Work It Out.’ The Stones were just unleashing ‘Get Off Of My Cloud,’ the Kinks had just been in the top ten with ‘See My Friend’ and the Animals’ new single was ‘It’s My Life.’ All extremely powerful singles, but for sheer, animal energy and anger, ‘My Generation’ was the definitive statement of the era.
Townshend worked on the song, originally as a slow blues, all through the summer of 1965, as The Who toured Scandinavia and Holland. The first incarnation was inspired by Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues,’ a song the band would later perform. As Pete recalled in his Who I Am autobiography, he produced several sets of lyrics for the song and “three very different” demos.
He fashioned it into the style we know with the help of The Who’s co-manager Chris Stamp, who picked up on a stutter in Townshend’s vocal in the second demo. After studying John Lee Hooker’s ‘Stuttering Blues’ and encouraging Roger Daltrey to exaggerate the effect in his vocal performance, the song was perfected, now also with space for John Entwistle’s great bass feature.
The song became the band’s biggest hit to date, and one of two to peak at No. 2, along with ‘I’m A Boy’ the following year. By 15 January in the new year of 1966, ‘My Generation’ was making its debut, albeit at a modest No. 98, in the Billboard Hot 100. It only reached No. 74, but went on to win its rightful places in both the Grammy and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.
‘My Generation’ is on the My Generation: Super Deluxe Edition which can be bought here.
Follow the official The Who Best Of playlist.