Defining songs don’t always have to be masterpieces. For instance, there is something quite definitive about the dreaded ‘Doctor Jones’ by Aqua when it comes to the latter half of the 1990s. Fortunately, when it comes to ‘My Generation’ and The Who, they delivered an anthem synonymous with the 1960s that happens to stand the test of time and proves just as rousing today.
As the story goes, Pete Townshend wrote the track as he travelled between London and Southampton for his 20th birthday. 22 years after it was written, Townshend told Rolling Stone magazine: “‘My Generation’ was very much about trying to find a place in society. I was very, very lost. The band was young then. It was believed that its career would be incredibly brief.”
Back when it was first released, it captured the zeitgeist so clearly that Townshend was moved to comment: “[It’s] the only really successful social comment I’ve ever made.” Adding that it was about, “some pilled-up mod dancing around, trying to explain to you why he’s such a groovy guy, but he can’t because he’s so stoned he can hardly talk.”
Years later, it is still a vital part of culture, forming the sonic backbone of the mod realm and beyond. As such, a swathe of artists have tried their hand at it and brought a bit of the swinging sixties to their setlists. Below we’re looking at the best efforts so far.
The 5 best covers of ‘My Generation’ by The Who:
5. The Rovin’ Kind
The sixties were alive with the buzz of the Promethean force of rock ‘n’ roll and covers were all part of the norm. As Nick Cave once said: “The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation — everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time. It’s a feeding frenzy of borrowed ideas that goes toward the advancement of rock music — the great artistic experiment of our era.”
The issue was, when rock was just starting out, many of the covers were note-for-note recitals, even down the stuttered vocal delivery, ultimately begging the question: What’s the point? The Rovin’ Kind, however, amplified the bass and went for a more garage rock feel with the song. If anything, in a sort of by proxy fashion, their version captures the real era with even more fidelity.
4. The Jaded Hearts Club
Some songs seem to find a home on the comfort of vinyl, whereas others burst into life only when they are played live. While recorded versions of ‘My Generation’ certainly don’t suffer, it rattles around a venue like an adrenalised pinball when it is pumped out live.
The Jaded Hearts Club band consists of Miles Kane, Nic Cester of Jet, Matt Bellamy of Muse, Graham Coxon, Jamie Davis and Sean Payne of the Zutons. All of that pedigree was whipped up into a storm down at The 100 Club for a rendition that comes with a hefty dose of sweat running down the walls and the smell of stale beer in the air.
3. Hollywood Vampires
The second supergroup on the list comes in the form of the Hollywood Vampires. A revolving cast of renowned musicians continually joins the three core members of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry for covers from rock ‘n’ roll’s gaudy past.
The name is in honour of the celebrity drinking club that featured John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Mickey Dolenz all as proud quaffing members. The heady atmosphere of the famed club is one that Alice Cooper transposes faithfully to the songs and ‘My Generation’ is no different; it is a song of excess and he does it justice.
In 1979, the release of Quadrophenia gave mod culture a second wave. As the film’s frontman, Phil Davis, once said: “If you listen to Paul Weller, The Jam… he decided that that was the look. Once they had the look, everything else followed, and that happens with a lot of music.”
And as director Franc Roddam added: “It is a working-class British film. If you’re in the north and you go to Manchester or Liverpool, they have a strong working-class ethic. What I mean by that is they see themselves as a tribal group, they see social injustice, and there’s certain things they will accept and will not accept. It’s all about experience. People like to see their own experience being dramatised on the screen. Quadrophenia was not unlike the experience of Liam and Noel Gallagher when they were growing up.” Thus, it is only natural that they make a decent fist of it as Liam Gallagher’s vocals soar.
1. Patti Smith
When a song is so iconic that it defines an era, it’s pretty hard to play around with, it’s like trying to reinvent tomato soup, thusly, most of the covers of ‘My Generation’ don’t stray too far from the original. With Patti Smith, however, the wheel isn’t reinvented, but it is undeniably rolled into a new era of punk.
This electric rendition recorded live flies off the handle with punk rebellion and some of the most pleasing swearing that music has produced. It is thrashy, frantic and highly unhinged, and as a result, it serves as a beautiful tonic to all the karaoke versions that have gone before it. The song is about youth usurping the status quo and as such, it seems very befitting that it would be welcomed into punk.