The Who

My Generation

Composed by Pete Townshend

Song Review by

"My Generation" is the most famous Who song, and a good nominee for rock's most explosive expression of adolescent rebellion. Guitar feedback, crashing drums, power chords -- all had already been heard on Who records, particularly on the 1965 single preceding "My Generation," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." "My Generation" delivered all of this and more with a fury and trenchant defiance that could not be matched, let alone exceeded, by any competitors. Hard as it may be to imagine now, when endless repetitions of the song have made it so familiar, "My Generation" began life as a slow talking blues of sorts, and recordings were attempted on three separate occasions prior to the session that produced the released version. One of the main changes made to the song was to speed it up, and actually it probably couldn't have been taken at a pace any faster than the one ultimately used. The song's urgency is established by the opening clanging guitar chords and the usual hyper-energetic Keith Moon drum roll preceding the verse. The verses are call responses between Roger Daltrey, with his memorable stutter and sputter on numerous key words, answered by harmonized "talkin' bout my generation" chants from the band. That stuttering was enough on its own to ensure people took notice of this song. Some thought it was an emulation of blocked-up mod pill-heads, as had been the case with "I Can't Explain." In a more universal sense, it mirrors the barely articulated frustration of youth, especially when Daltrey stutters on a word that begins with f, though this turns out not to be the actual f-word. And there was that unforgettable assertion of hoping to die before getting old, although the Who, of course, would still be playing the number more than 30 years later, even after the guy who drummed on the track had been in the grave for more than 20 years. Unusually, and quite creatively, there is not a conventional guitar solo, but an excellent bass solo by John Entwistle, the tension heightened by having him play unaccompanied and instrumentally answered by sections featuring the full band. Two key changes (the Who would subsequently use key changes on numerous songs) corkscrew the tension until it's nearly unbearable. Then, it's mayhem. Keith Moon deviates from the standard splashing rhythm to play nonstop rolls, like "Wipe Out" taken from the beach into outer space. Pete Townshend plays searing, piercing feedback that is not as wild as that heard on the solo in "Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere," but no less spellbinding. The backup harmonies declaring possession of their generation come in once again as Daltrey makes some final, half-shouted, defiant repetitions of the title. "My Generation" rose to number two in the British charts in late 1965, but was barely heard in the United States at the time, due in part to incomprehension from their American record label, which thought that the feedback on early Who records was a mastering defect. As the Who became well-known in America as both a concert and recording act, however, "My Generation" would become every bit as much a part of the collective audience consciousness there as it was elsewhere in the world. Its exposure was guaranteed by its place of pride in the Who's live set, where the group would do even wilder versions than the one they had released on the single, sometimes climaxing in the destruction of instruments, as it did in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival (as seen in the documentary film of the event). Even before the Who became stars in the U.S., it was starting to attract cover versions by American bands, such as one by the Human Beinz (of "Nobody But Me" fame) and a truly deranged rendition by Northwest group the Bards, with an instrumental tag of cuckoo-clock-like sounds, string rattles, and a gong before going back into a furious hard rock coda. There was even a satirical song, "My Degeneration," by a fellow British mod group (the Eyes) that took part of its inspiration from "My Generation" itself. In the 1970s, Generation X would offer an "answer" record of sorts, "Your Generation," that reclaimed the "My Generation" ethos for the punk generation. The best cover of "My Generation," however, is undoubtedly the one done by the Patti Smith Group live in the mid-'70s (as heard on a B-side and some bootlegs), in which Smith substituted some new nasty, profane lines in place of the original lyrics.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Who Sings My Generation 1965 Geffen / Polydor
Furious Prelude 1968 Castle Music Ltd. 8:22
Live at Leeds 1970 Polydor
Who's Next 1971 MCA 2:58
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy 1971 Geffen / Universal 3:18
No Image 1974 Trademark Of Official Quality
No Image 1976
The Kids Are Alright [Video] 1979 Sanctuary
Monterey International Pop Festival: June 16, 17, 18, 1967 197?
Various Artists
Salvo 4:32
No Image 1980 MCA
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who by Numbers 1982 MCA
Who's Greatest Hits 1983 MCA 3:19
Who's Last 1984 MCA 3:23
The Who 1985 Grupo Laser Disc
Brit's Blitz: The Very Best of British Rock 1987
Various Artists
Polytel (Silver Eagle) 3:20
Who's Better, Who's Best 1988 Definite Article / Universal Distribution 3:14
This Is My Generation 1988 AVI (REISSUES) 3:17
No Image 1989 The Swingin' Pig
No Image 1991
Various Artists
No Image 1991
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B 1994 Polydor / Universal 3:18
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B Live [Video/DVD] 1994 MCA
My Generation: The Very Best of the Who 1996 Polydor 3:18
Live at the Isle of Wight Festival [1970] 1996 Salvo 7:15
The Monterey International Pop Festival, June 16-17-18, 1967 1997
Various Artists
Rhino 4:31
No Image 1997
Various Artists
Rhino/Warner Bros.
Rock Legends [MCI] 1998
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 [DVD] 1998 Image Entertainment
No Image 1998 Killing Floor
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Who 1999 Geffen 3:20
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me 1999
Original Soundtrack
Maverick / Warner Bros. 3:24
Music of the Millennium, Vol. 1 [Universal] 1999
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
The Vegas Job: Reunion Concert Live in Vegas 1999 Passport Audio
The BBC Sessions 2000 Geffen 3:25
No Image 2000 Rhino / Rhino/Warner Bros.
The Blues to the Bush 2000 9:20
No Image 2001 Rhino
Air Guitar 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
The Ultimate Collection 2002 Geffen 3:18
Live: Tinley Park, Illinois, August 24, 2002 2002 Hi-Spot 6:06
Shanghai Knights 2003
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 3:18
The Singles 2003 Polydor 3:18
Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2003 Steamhammer 5:30
British Invasion: 1963-1967 2004
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:19
Then and Now: 1964-2004 2004 Polydor 3:18
First Singles Box 2004 Polydor 3:20
The Early Collection: Magic Bus/Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who's Missing 2004 Griffin 3:18
This Is the Modern World [Universal] 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 3:18
Live in Boston [Video] 2004 Rhino / WSM 6:46
The Best Pub Jukebox... Ever! 2004
Various Artists
Phantom Import Distribution / Virgin
No Image 2005 Hiwatt
Live from Toronto 2006 Immortal 2:48
Live from Toronto [DVD] 2006 Immortal
Monterey International Pop Festival [Razor & Tie] 2007
Various Artists
Razor & Tie 3:02
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:21
No Image 2008
Now That's What I Call Classic Rock 2008
Various Artists
Capitol 3:16
My Generation [Japan Box Set] 2008 Universal 3:22
No Image 2008 Image Entertainment
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:18
The Boat That Rocked [Movie Soundtrack] 2009
Original Soundtrack
Mercury 3:19
Good Morning England 2009
Original Soundtrack
Mercury 3:19
Greatest Hits 2009 Geffen 3:19
Maximum R&B Live 2009 Geffen
Greatest Hits & More 2010 Polydor 3:24
Greatest Hits Live [Geffen] 2010 Geffen 3:25
Mod Mania 2010
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:19
Icon 2 2011 Geffen 3:19
No Image 2012 Spectrum Music
A Symphony of British Music: Music for the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games 2012
Various Artists
Classics & Jazz / Decca / Universal Music 1:37
Live at Hull 1970 2012 Geffen / Universal 15:58
The  Studio Albums 2012 Geffen / Universal 3:17
Live: Wantaugh, New York August 31, 2002 2014 All the Music / EP / JBL / 5:33
The Who Hits 50! 2014 Geffen / Polydor
Live in Hyde Park 2015 Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision
Best of British [Universal]
Various Artists
EMI / Universal Distribution / Universal Music TV 3:17
No Image Hiwatt 3:19
Live Greatest Hits Geffen / Universal 3:25
Live at Charlton 1974 Midas Touch
Maximum BBC [Bootleg]
Pirate Radio
Various Artists
Island/Def Jam / Universal 3:18
No Image Hiwatt/Cool Engine 9:05
The Brunswick Singles Geffen / Polydor
blue highlight denotes editor's pick