A truly groundbreaking song in British rock history was born on October 13, 1965, when The Who were in Studio A at IBC Studios in Portland Place, London, recording “My Generation.” Within three weeks, on November 5, it was their new UK single, and it was followed on December 3 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 10 with “See My Friend” and the Animals’ new single was “It’s My Life.” All extremely powerful singles, but for sheer, visceral energy and anger, “My Generation” was the definitive statement of the era.
Three different demos
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.
Daltrey, speaking to New Musical Express as the single scaled the charts, said: “The song just tells about a young kid who’s tryin’ to express himself, y’know?” He may have been stretching credibility when he added amusingly: “Apart from that, it was freezing in the studios when we recorded it. That’s why I stutter on the lyrics!”
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 January 15 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.
Buy or stream “My Generation” on the My Generation: Super Deluxe Edition.