Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September 7: The Who, "My Generation"

Artist: The Who
Song: "My Generation"
Album: My Generation
Year: 1965

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Even from its earliest days more than half a century ago, there has been one common theme has has been consistent throughout the entire history of rock and roll music.  Regardless of what country it came from, or what sub-genre it may be placed into, rock music is the voice of the youth, and it continues to represent the energy and angst of young people to this day.  This is largely the reason that rock bands have found so much proportional commercial success over the decades, and there were few times that this was more clear than during the so-called "British Invasion" of the 1960's.  While bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were burning up the charts with their pop numbers, it was The Who that took a far more aggressive approach right from the start.  Though they may not have had the hooks or sexual undertones of their peers, there were few bands that could complete with The Who on a musical level, and throughout their history, The Who were responsible for some of the most important recordings of the last century.  Furthermore, with the stunning power and energy with which they played, one can see much of the bands early work as a massive influence on both heavy metal and punk rock.  Though their entire career is largely overshadowed by their extraordinary "rock opera," Tommy, one cannot deny the fact that it is their 1965 single, "My Generation" that is without question one of the most important and powerful songs ever released.

Though the music on "My Generation" is not especially loud by modern standards, there is an attitude from the beginning that rings as clear today as it did four decades ago.  The opening guitar riff from the great Pete Townshend is quick and to the point, and yet it remains one of the most recognizable riffs in all of music history.  Though he plays small fills during the verses, it is the see-saw of the volume of his guitar that gives "My Generation" an amazing sense of movement.  However, the song is rather distant from a majority of the bands' catalog, as well as most rock songs, as instead of a standard guitar solo, it is bassist John Entwistle that takes center stage part-way through the song.  His playing gives the song a fantastic amount of tension, and the almost call and response playing he has with the rest of the band is like nothing that had been heard previously.  Though this is certainly one of his more restrained performances, whenever "My Generation" was played live, the sheer energy and power that was the drumming of Keith Moon demanded the spotlight.  Yet one can hear his attitude even within the confines of the studio version, and it is the build-up to drop-off style he plays that adds to the overall impact of "My Generation."  In the latter half of the song, the band brings a fury of feedback and seemingly chaotic performance, and it is in this closing section that the influence on punk and heavy metal can be heard.  This aspect is about as far from pop-style as one can imagine, yet the undertones of youth angst cannot be denied, and it is much the reason that "My Generation" has remained so iconic.

While the music of "My Generation" has become nothing short of legendary, the true power of the song lives within the vocal work and lyrics of Roger Daltrey.  A far cry from any other frontman of the time, Daltrey brought a power and volume to his singing that matched the musical work being played behind him.  Showing absolutely no limits to his vocal range, Daltrey ignored the line between singing and screaming, and this approach continues to influence generations of singers to this day.  There is also a clear attitude within his performance on "My Generation," and though it is rarely found elsewhere in the catalog of The Who,  this swagger is nothing short of perfect and is surely the reason the song became so anthemic.  Working his style and power into the brilliantly simple words crafted by Townshend, the rallying cry that is "My Generation" brings just as much of a punch today as it did more than forty years ago.  This is largely due to the fact that regardless of the era, the angst of youth changes every little from generation to generation, and a similar continuity can be seen in the attitudes of adults throughout the decades.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that a line like, "...why don't you all fade away...and don't try to dig what we all say..." can be just as applicable in 2010 as it was in 1965.  Furthermore, the line of "...I hope I die before I get old..." not only has similar staying power, but the line in itself has become singularly iconic, and it has been borrowed and reworked by countless bands over the decades, proving the true lasting impact of The Who's "My Generation."

Truth be told, few songs in rock history have been as widely and consistently covered as "My Generation," and one can find versions of the song spread in many different languages in nearly every genre from the past forty-five years.  Within the confines of more popular music, everyone from Patti Smith to Weird-Al Yankovic to The Offspring have used the song or covered it in its entirety, and there have also been a number of uses of the song within other areas of popular media.  Though in some ways, this widespread use of the song has pushed it to the point of clich√©, even today, one would be hard pressed to find a song that is so perfectly structured and unapologetic, whilst retaining a fantastic melody and unforgettable musical arrangement.  From the onset of the song, there is an overwhelming sense of urgency, and the band is clearly playing at as fast a pace as they can, being sure that none of the notes or words of the song are lost.  It is this speed and mood that further set the band apart from their peers at the time, as in many ways, there is nothing "friendly" about "My Generation," and yet it is this difference in approach that has helped the band to endure over the decades.  From the crunching guitar tone to the non-traditional bass solo to the almost nervous playing of Keith Moon, the musical arrangement on "My Generation" is unlike anything else, and capped off with the stunning vocals, there are few songs that can compare to the complete package it delivers.  Though many songs attempt to speak on behalf of youth, nearly every one of them is attempting to compete with "My Generation," and the fact remains that after nearly five decades, nothing has even come close to the raw power of the music and simple, yet perfect lyrics that one finds within The Who's 1965 classic.

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