As we reach the end of 1965, I’m compelled to look back at what a remarkable year in music it was. Multiple albums from the Beatles and the Stones, new ground from definitive acts like Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys, the surging dominance of Motown and R&B, and the continuing relevance of blues, jazz, and folk as iconic American music forms. This last album (I believe) from 1965 brings it all together for me in many ways, both as I look back and look ahead to what comes next. Today’s album… the debut album by British Mod rock band, The Who, titled “My Generation”.
Listening to this album on the heels of what I have experienced for the past 75 days was a really rewarding experience. As my mind and musical limits continue to be stretched, at my core, I’m still a rock and roll guy who thrives on loud guitar, a banging rhythm section and a great melody. When I first encountered rock music and fell in love in the early 1980s, it was mostly a completed catalog of music we now refer to as “classic rock”, and it was much more difficult to distinguish which came first, who copied who, and who were the real pioneers and change agents of rock and roll. However, as I listen to all of this music in a roughly sequential manner, all of that changes, and new trends or new sounds are much more authentic in their discovery. Listening to this first album by The Who reassured me of their greatness, early and often.
The ingredients are simple and yet very unique to the time. Start with Pete Townshend, a highly innovative songwriter with a great voice and an aggressive attitude and violent style for attacking his guitar. Add in a flashy and cocky lead singer and the appeal grows. Mick Jagger probably wanted to steal your girlfriend, but Roger Daltrey probably just wanted to step outside if you crossed him. If not, that’s certainly how he approached his vocal duties. With many bands, that’s where the star-power ended, but we are just getting started with The Who. John Entwistle takes rock and roll bass to a new level on this album and beyond. If you have any doubts listen to the bass solo on the title track, or his instrumental track “The Ox”. And of course, above it all, behind it all, and beneath it all, you have the one and only Keith Moon. Not to disparage Ringo Starr or Charlie Watts, as they are both extremely capable and technically proficient drummers, but in personality and certainly in playing style, the world had not seen anything like Keith. His drumming is slightly more subdued, a tiny bit, on these early albums, but even then, underneath an infinitely catchy pop tune like “The Kids Are Alright”, Keith is literally raging away on the drums. I always suspected Keith Moon was fully liberated to play whatever the hell he wanted because Pete and John were so strong as a rhythm duo on lead and bass guitar… it sure sounds like it here.
We will come back to the highlights of this album in a moment, but first I have to celebrate not one, but two James Brown tunes, “I Don’t Mind” and “Please Please Please” from the frequently referenced “Live At the Apollo” album. When you add in their take on Muddy Waters’ “I’m a Man”, even a band like The Who, normally a few steps further from the blues and R&B orbit than the Stones or even the Beatles, demonstrated proper homage and respect for where it all started.
I do love the opener “Out In The Street”, an original Townshend song like the rest of the songs on this album other than the songs noted above, but their hits on this album really stand the test of time. “My Generation”, best known for the timeless phrase “I hope I die before I get old”, stands out like much of the Who’s early music as the earliest beginnings of punk rock. Roger’s infamous stuttering vocal, the subject of many different alleged origins, creates an unforgettable image, and as noted before, John’s bass solo and Keith’s drum explosion during the outro was simply something we just had not experienced before.
Just as you are catching your breath from the end of side one and “My Generation”, the genius of “The Kids Are Alright” kicks off side two. Blending raucous guitars and drums with the rich harmony backing vocals from Pete and John, it is my favorite song on this album and one of my all-time favorite Who songs. One last song I will highlight is “A Legal Matter”. Another really appealing pop song with a rock undertone, it also features Pete on lead vocals. He has a really strong voice, at the upper end of the scale, and serves as a great compliment to Roger’s deeper and rougher delivery.
As you probably have figured out, I’m also a big fan of The Who, and hearing this album in its time-centered context reminded me exactly why. They blend the pop talents of the Beatles with the rougher edges of the Stones, with a dose of aggression and volume not yet heard widely in the world of rock and roll. That’s three landmark bands from the UK… and we are just getting started.