"My Generation" is a song by the British rock group The Who, which became a hit and one of their most recognizable songs. It has entered the rock and roll pantheon as one of the most celebrated, cited, and referenced songs in the idiom; it was named the 11th greatest song by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and 13th on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll,. It's also part of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Written by Pete Townshend in 1965 for rebellious British youths called mods, it expressed their feeling that older people "just don't get it".
The song was released as a single on November 5, 1965, reaching #2 in the UK and #74 in America. "My Generation" also appeared on The Who's 1965 debut album, My Generation (The Who Sings My Generation in the United States), and in greatly extended form on their live album Live at Leeds (1970). The Who re-recorded the song for the Ready Steady Who! EP in 1966, but this version was only released in 1995 on the remastered version of the A Quick One album. The main difference between this version and the original is that instead of the hail of feedback which ends the original, the band play a chaotic rendition of Edward Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory". In the album's liner notes the song is credited to both Townshend and Elgar.
Townshend reportedly wrote the song on a train and is said to have been inspired by the Queen Mother who is alleged to have had Townshend's 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street in Belgravia because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through the neighbourhood. Townshend has also credited Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" as the inspiration for the song, saying "Without Mose I wouldn't have written 'My Generation'. Townshend told the Rolling Stone magazine in 1985 that "'My Generation' was very much about trying to find a place in society". A competing theory places a young Pete Townshend opposite an old man white washing the shutters of his family home. From the misheard phrase "I hope these dry before it gets cold," music history was born.
Lyrics and Melody
Perhaps the most striking element of the song are the lyrics, considered one of the most distilled statements of youthful rebellion in rock history. The tone of the track alone helped make it an acknowledged forebear of the punk rock movement. One of the most-quoted—and patently rewritten—lines in rock history is "I hope I die before I get old", famously sneered out by lead singer Roger Daltrey.
Like many of The Who's earlier mod output, the song boasts clear influences of American R&B, most explicitly in the call and response form of the verses. Daltrey would sing a line, and the backing vocalists, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, would respond with the refrain "Talkin' 'bout my generation":
- People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
- Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
- Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
- I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
The vocal melody of "My Generation" is an example of the shout-and-fall modal frame. This call and response is mirrored in the instrumental break with solo emphasis passing from Townshend's guitar to Entwistle's bass and back again several times.
Another salient aspect of "My Generation" is Daltrey's delivery: an angry and frustrated stutter. Various stories exist as to the reason for this distinct delivery. One is that the song began as a slow "talking" blues number without the stutter (in the 1970s it was sometimes preformed as such, but with the stutter, as "My Generation Blues"), but after being inspired by John Lee Hooker's "Stuttering Blues", Townshend reworked the song into its present form. Another reason is that it was suggested to Daltrey that he stutter to sound like a British mod on speed. It is also proposed, albeit less frequently, that the stutter was introduced to give the group a framework for implying the expletive "fuck off" in the lyrics: "Why don't you all fff... fade away!" However, producer Shel Talmy insisted it was simply "one of those happy accidents" that he thought they should keep. The BBC initially refused to play "My Generation" because it did not want to offend people who stutter, but it reversed its decision after the song became more popular.
The instrumentation of the song duly reflects the lyrics: fast and aggressive. Significantly, "My Generation" also featured one of the first bass solos in rock history. This was played by Entwistle on his Fender Jazz Bass, rather than the Danelectro bass he wanted to use, but after buying three Danelectros with rare thin strings that kept breaking easily, a frustrated Entwistle used his Fender. The song's coda features drumming from Keith Moon, as well, whereupon the song breaks down in spurts of guitar feedback from Townshend's Rickenbacker 330, rather than fading out or ending cleanly on the tonic.
"My Generation" in popular culture
- The performance of "My Generation" on the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour by The Who was another defining moment in the television comedy series. As they often did during that period, The Who destroyed their instruments at the conclusion of their performance. However, a stage hand, at the request of the band, had overloaded Keith Moon's kick drum with explosives. When they were detonated, the explosion was so intense, Moon was injured by cymbal shrapnel and bandmate Pete Townshend's hearing was permanently damaged.
- "My Generation" was sung live by three of the main stars of the 1980s BBC sitcom The Young Ones (Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer). Edmondson, as Vyvyan, said "Why don't you all fuck off", in place of the original line containing "fade away".
- The line "I hope I die before I get old" was the inspiration for the They Might Be Giants 1985 song "I Hope I Get Old Before I Die", a reaction against the stereotypical values of rock and roll in the 1960s.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Polkas On 45" closes with a polka version of the first verse of "My Generation".
- Danny Tanner sings his own comedic attempt at the song with Jesse and the Rippers in the "Ol' Brown eyes" episode of Full House.
- British pop singer Robbie Williams also released a song in 1997 called "Old Before I Die". The song reached #2 in the UK charts.
- The Who's BBC Radio version is featured in the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
- A clip of "My Generation" was played in a 2004 episode of The Simpsons, "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays".
- MC Lars parodied the line "I hope I die before I get old" in his 2005 single "iGeneration" (also referencing the title "My Generation"), with the line "I hope I die before I get sold".
- The song was parodied by the webcomic xkcd.
- In Limp Bizkit's song "My Generation" the word "Generation" sung with a stutter resembling the one in The Who's song.
- The Disney video game Ultimate Band features a cover of "My Generation" in its tracklist.
- The video game Rock Band features the song as part of a 12 pack of downloadable tracks from The Who.
- The song "Americana" by the punk rock band The Offspring, features the line "I want it right now because my ge-generation don't like to wait", imitating Roger Daltrey's stutter.
- The song was parodied by Harsh Reality as "(Talkin' 'bout) My Own Abortion".
- "My Generation" has been covered by numerous artists. Some of the most recognized include Oasis, Iron Maiden, Green Day, Phish, Floater, The Wahas, The Zimmers, Gorky Park, Di-Rect, Generation X, Acrylic Steel and The Sweet. The latter is supposedly Townshend's favourite cover of the song.
- "My Generation" was Patti Smith's standard set-closer from 1974-1978, and a live version appeared on record as the B-side of her 1976 single "Gloria" (with John Cale guesting on bass). This recording has since appeared as a bonus track on some CD re-issues of her album Horses. A live version with Michael Balzary (Flea) from Red Hot Chili Peppers playing bass appears on the 2005 30th Anniversary CD release Horses/Horses.
- It was covered in French by Chapeaumelon, and appears on the soundtrack to the 2004 film EuroTrip. Australian Progressive rock band Acrylic Steel reproduced the song in loyal fashion complete with prop destruction during the May 2007 'Tram Party' festival in Newcastle, NSW.
- Oasis released the track as a B-side on their 2002 UK single "Little by Little" / "She is Love" and have closed their live shows with this track for several years, such as on their Don't Believe the Truth Tour.
- German hard rock band Böhse Onkelz also covered the song as a B-side on their 2004 single "Onkelz vs. Jesus".
- Teen pop singer Hilary Duff recorded "My Generation" as a bonus track on pressings in Japan of her second album, Hilary Duff (2004), and as a B-side on the "Someone's Watching over Me" (2005) CD single. It should also be noted that the famous line "I hope I die before I get old" was changed to "I hope I don't die before I get old", which caused anger among Who fans. Rolling Stone listed the song as one of the worst covers of all time.
- Roger Daltrey recorded the track with British band McFly in 2005 for the charity Teenage Cancer Trust. The track was released exclusively through the HMV's download site.
- Most recently, an Age Concern campaign to raise awareness for the plight of old people in the UK saw the formation of The Zimmers, who covered "My Generation" as their debut single.
- The Swedish punk band KSMB did an own version of the song under the name Torbjörns horor (Torbjörn's bitches).
- The Russian band Gorky Park covered the song on their 1996 debut self-titled album. The song had a new mix and the new version was very popular.
- Hawk Nelson released their cover of the song as a track on the deluxe edition of their 2005 CD, Letters to the President.
- Rick Springfield released a cover of the song as a bonus track on his 2008 album, Venus in Overdrive
- Melvins covered the song live on their 2008 summer tour. This version is notably slower and heavier than the original and omits the stuttering of the original.