The Who, before they became opera writing, stadium-filling, globe-trotting, rock and roll behemoths, were a simple band with a simple premise and a message which touched thousands across the globe. They were of the youth, for the youth and ready to tear down anything in front of them.
The easiest way to understand how all of this unbridled energy packed into one group is to listen to their seminal song ‘My Generation’—and an even better way is to watch their first performance of the song in 1965.
Famed for the song’s potent effervescent energy, Townshend had actually originally written the song as a slow blues jam but, following unsuccessful attempts, the track was given a punch of power-chord joy. It was so relentless in its punishment that it even allows for a bass solo that doesn’t feel excessive.
The song was another clever piece of writing from Townshend, like ‘I Can’t Explain’ which the guitarist wrote deliberately in the vein of The Kinks to attract the attention of their manager, he deliberately employed techniques to connect with an audience. This time, along with two key changes, they also used a vocal stutter to simulate a Mod while on amphetamines. It’s hard to imagine many people who haven’t heard this rock ‘n’ roll coming of age track.
It would become one of the focal points of the band’s 1979 film Quadrophenia where lead character Jimmy struggles with the idealism of Mod culture clashing with the gravity of everyday life. While the film is a great entry point for the song and The Who in general, nothing beats the original single.
There may be one thing that rings truer than just listening to the song which is watching this footage, supported by Reelin’ in The Years, showing the band at their frenetic and furious beginnings. In what is the band’s first-ever TV performance of the iconic track and the combustible energy which held them together, it’s brilliant viewing.
One of the more notable facts of the footage is the fiery attitude between Roger Daltrey and the rest of the band. Daltrey had only just rejoined the group after getting kicked out for attacking Keith Moon. Below you can visibly see the tension between them all. Legend has it that after this show Daltrey flushed all of the band’s pills down the toilet which ended with Moon taking a punch to the face from Daltrey after confronting him.
The band would regroup and go on to become not only be one of the most well-received bands in rock ‘n’ roll history but a cultural touchpoint forevermore. The Who were of the youth, for the youth and epitomised England in the ’60s and quite naturally their generation.
Take a look below.