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The Story Behind The Song: The Who’s counterculture anthem ‘My Generation’

The Who’s ‘My Generation’ is a quintessential counterculture anthem of rebellion, one which still feels as furious and fresh today as it did when it was initially unleashed 55 years ago today. The track wholeheartedly embodies that fiery spirit which made millions fall in love with the band and, more importantly, it was the defining song that would summarise the changing of British attitudes in the 1960s.

The song, written by Pete Townshend, originated from a feeling of loneliness, a period of time in which the musician felt as though he didn’t belong in the world as he wrote the lyrics while on a journey from London to Southampton. The feeling of being lost is an especially poignant one as Townshend was said to be living a double life, frequently experimenting with homosexual liaisons while attempting to convince those around of otherwise. It’s a position that made him feel like he was an outcast. With homosexuality still being illegal in Britain at the time, and for a further two years, the songwriter was committing a crime for something he had no control over. It was a situation that left him feeling as though he didn’t fit into society.

A myth that surrounds the song is that it was written about the Queen Mother removing Townshend’s Packard Hearse. A strange scenario on the face of it but, considering the guitarist kept the vehicle parked in front of his house on the road between Clarence House and Buckingham Palace, and that one day the car was inexplicably gone, it’s somewhat plausible, though we can’t imagine Queen Mother rolling up her sleeve to fit the tow rope herself. “One day I came back and it was gone,” Townshend once said. “It turned out that [the Queen Mother] had it moved because her husband had been buried in a similar vehicle and it reminded her of him. When I went to collect it, they wanted two hundred and fifty quid. I’d only paid thirty for it in the first place,” he added.

Even though that story is remarkably true, the only influence that it had on ‘My Generation’ is that it was a reason why the guitarist was forced to get the train to Southampton rather than drive there. The idea of the Queen Mother acting as the sole reason as to why the world was gifted this iconic track is a story that people wanted to believe rather than seeking out the validity of the song.

“Well there is a story that it’s inspired by the Queen Mother having my Packard Hearse towed away from outside my house, but that’s not really what happened,” the guitarist told Radio X in 2019. “‘My Generation’ was inspired by the fact that I felt as artists we had to draw a line between all those people who had been involved in the second world war and all those people who were born right at the end of the war,” Townshend added.

“Those people had sacrificed so much for us, but they weren’t able to give us anything. No guidance, no inspiration. Nothing really. We weren’t allowed to join the army, we weren’t allowed to speak, we were expected to shut up and enjoy the peace… And we decided not to do that,” the creative mastermind concluded.

‘My Generation’ is all about standing up to being counted, if only for counting’s sake, and refusing to take the shit that was expected to come their way. Townshend’s generation, who were born just after the war, were in somewhat of a strange predicament as the world was evolving at lightning pace and this track is The Who’s way of staking their claim for being a key part of this radical paradigm shift which was happening.

The fury of ‘My Generation‘ is what has made it relevant or relatable to angsty teenagers over the last 55-years since it’s release. It has become a rallying call for disenfranchised youth to make themselves and their feelings are heard. While the song lacks any real political clout, what it does provide is all those disaffected youths with a voice, an anthem to kick and scream about to anyone who will listen.

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