Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No. 236: The Who Sings My Generation

(U.S. cover)

(U.K. cover)
Band: The Who
Album: The Who Sings My Generation
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Who's debut is a rocking exploration of sound and space, as well as a picture perfect rereading of early R&B-tinged rock and roll. The record's taut sound is only rivaled by its sheer energy.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: My opinion is that this record should be the top-ranked Who album, not the bloated "Who's Next." "My Generation" is punk before punk existed and furious in its passion.
Best song: Is there a bad song on here? I'd suggest no. "I Don't Mind" is great early rock and roll balladry, but it's not the best thing the band has ever recorded.
Worst song: Nope.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

In writing about "Who's Next," I say that "The Who was a great proto-punk band and a great bunch of mods" and this first record shows that as well as anything. What is "My Gneration" if not a punk rock record?

Like the Kinks, the Who occupied the Mod subculture in 1960s London, trotting about in slimline jackets, shorter (well, shorter than the rockers, at least) hair cuts. They rode around on Vespa and Piaggio scooters. See the "Quadrophenia" movie. You'll see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, whatever scene they identified with, the band's first album and early single basically form the template for punk rock. Certainly, the band's

Rock and roll before the Who was pleasant and it was dangerous because it was titillating. The danger was in the sexuality, it was subtle and it was a threat to their innocence.

The Who changed that. The Who took rock and roll's sound and added, probably, the most often-quoted anti-authority line of the mid-60s: "I hope I die before I get old."

The song's open "fuck you" (in the above line or the "why don't you all just f-f-f-ade away") to the older, "greatest," generation was more of a middle finger than any dance Elvis could ever swing or more than any haircut John Lennon would refuse. Pete Townsend stated it deinitively and bluntly: It's us against them and they can kiss our asses.

The band followed it up with their live performances. Toward the end of the song, as John Entwistle played, Townsend smashed his guitar and Moon would kick through, set fire to and generally destroyed his kit.

The message, again, was clear: We're not fucking around.


This is where punk rock got its attitude. One of the Clash's first American tours was with the Who, largely because the Who saw them as their earlier selves. While the Who devolved into stadium pomp-rock, the early records rock with a ferocity of 19-year-old Keith Moon pounding away.

"My Generation" is that. Feeding back, screeching and furious, it's punk at its earliest and, possibly, best.


kellydwyer said...

Try this one, too, without laughing:

"This is where punk rock got its attitude. One of the Clash's first American tours was with Blue Oyster Cult, largely because the BOC saw them as their earlier selves."

Did Blue Oyster Cult (or their fans) ever call themselves "BOC?" It cracks me up, either way.

R.J. said...

Fair enough.

With that said, I like to think of Blue Öyster Cult as BÖC, personally.

kellydwyer said...

It's not a judgement, BOC gargles balls, I've just always loved that pairing. Rockpile opened for Bad Company for nearly a year, once, too.

My Who fandom might be at an all-time high. I'm so glad they deigned to do that VH1 thing.