The original idea for the FLASHBACK column was to post these reviews on the same day however many years after I originally put them on Amazon. Sometimes I am off by a few days, as I was with Exile In Guyville and am again with this one. This write-up of The Who Sings My Generation, one of my shorter reviews, first appeared on December 5, 2006.
Forty-one years on, the debut record by The Who is still impressive. Classics like “My Generation” and “The Kids Are Alright” are certainly not to be second-guessed, and most of the other originals give the album plenty of muscle. “The Good’s Gone” and the humorous “A Legal Matter” highlight Pete Townshend’s superb riffing, and in the latter case, voice. “Much Too Much”, “It’s Not True”, and the psychedelia-flavored “Instant Party (Circles)” are fine mod tunes. Finally, the instrumental romp “The Ox” is the clearest indication of the mayhem that The Who were to create on stage, if not ever again on record. The bits of feedback on this track surely perked up the ears of guys like Jimi Hendrix, as well as Lou Reed and John Cale, perhaps just enough to make them realize the potential it could have in their own work. This song – along with “My Generation” – serves to rightly place Townshend and Co. among the forefathers of punk.
(Anyone who is going to read this has seen The Who’s performance on The Smothers Brothers, right?)
However, “La La La Lies” and “The Kids Are Alright” indicate that The Who might also be rightly credited as the originators of another genre: power pop. (Townshend said in a 1967 interview, “Power pop is what we play,” thereby allegedly coining the phrase. But he continued, saying, “What the Small Faces used to play and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun Fun Fun’ …”)
All of this genre’s elements are in place on these songs – azure vocal harmonies, echoey guitars, plump bass lines, and marching drums. It was this formula that would be adopted by the likes of The Flamin’ Groovies in the 1970s and Guided By Voices in the 90s, bands who were among the very best power poppers of their respective decades.
Also included on My Generation are two James Brown covers. Now, I have quite frankly always found The Who’s claims to be purveyors of “maximum R&B” to be disingenuous at the very least. These covers – “I Don’t Mind” and “Please Please Please” – sound a bit forced, as if they were trying to prove their R&B credentials (not that I doubt their love of the genre, nor the fact that it inspired their sound). That said, there are some good R&B-inspired moments here, such as the opening track “Out in the Street.”
At times, The Who Sings My Generation sounds a bit too rough around the edges for its own good. Granted, full-on Spector-esque production certainly wouldn’t have served the band’s energetic assault any more effectively. The Who’s second album, A Quick One, would prove to be a bit of a holding pattern, but it’s follow-up – The Who Sell Out – would be their triumphant great leap forward. Knowing how ambitious and refined their music would become, their debut sounds almost charming in its youthful recklessness. But whatever its shortcomings, their is no overlooking the fact that the single “My Generation” landed in the mid-60s London scene like a hand grenade, and proved that The Who wasn’t just another rock band. Their influence would expand exponentially over the decades, and as an opening statement, The Who Sings My Generation remains a powerful one.