With The Who’s 50th anniversary here, Universal, the owners of The Who’s catalog, have seen fit to bring out vinyl reissues of the band’s landmark first three albums. Geffen Records in the United States have been assigned the back catalog and have chosen to issue the “original” British edition of their debut, My Generation for the first time in the U.S. market. Cover art and track-wise, it differs from the American edition, The Who Sings My Generation. A very quick label history as to the permutations: The Who were originally signed to American Decca Records, who, in turn, licensed the band’s recordings to British Decca – British Decca placed The Who’s recordings with the Brunswick label. For this re-pressing, Geffen, while replicating the old Reaction and Track labels/logos for the A Quick One and Sell Out reissues, respectively, did not reproduce My Generation with the Brunswick imprint – just plain black labels that have some of the Brunswick markings but no logo. Which is very odd, since coming soon will be a 45’s boxset, The Who: The Brunswick Singles. If you’re going to replicate the original, then do it in full. Hence, I’m using a photo of the truly original cover. But I digress…
My Generation starts with the immediate powerhouse, “Out In The Street”, which by virtue of its opening chords, is immediately reminiscent of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” but then kicks right into a blues-y, soulful shuffle. “I Don’t Mind” is the first of two James Brown covers and it’s here you know where Daltrey was taking his vocal cues – his voice at the time was a lot less refined and much more soul-oriented. “The Good’s Gone” is, for me, the album’s centerpiece. A haunting, chiming 12-string Rickenbacker riff, Townshend’s embittered lyrics fit the way Rog snarls the vocals (“I know when I’ve had enough/when I think your love is rough…”). “La La La Lies” and “Much Too Much” are entertaining but forgettable. Side One does close, however, with Townshend’s anthem, the still-incredible-and-will-be-so-for-all-time, “My Generation”. Shel Talmy’s controlled-chaos and crisp production, the powerhouse guitar and drums and most of all, John Entwistle’s obscenely God-like bass solo are unforgettable from the moment you hear it for the first time. All these years later, and it still induces chills.
Side Two rings open with Townshend’s other masterpiece for the ages, “The Kids Are Alright” (author’s note: this song holds great emotional significance for me as it was the very first song I ever learned how to play on guitar). A chiming D chord and the celestial harmonies of Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle build this glorious, simple track into a prototype of power-pop greatness. This “original” British edition has a slightly longer guitar and drum freak-out before the final verse, which was replaced on the original American release – which substituted the single version (the U.S. pressing came out well after the U.K. release, where “…Kids…” had been issued on 45). “Please Please Please” is the second of the James Brown covers and does, indeed, have some serious balls on it, for a band of kids from London. “The Ox” is a free-for-all instrumental of Townshend, Entwistle, Moon and pianist Nicky Hopkins (whose presence on the early Who records should never be unmentioned nor discounted) and Townshend’s lead vocal on the brilliantly-wry “A Legal Matter” round out the proceedings.
The one track change/substitution comes with the U.K. edition including the band’s version of “I’m A Man”. It was excluded from the U.S. pressing to make way for “Instant Party (Circles)”, which had been the flipside of “A Legal Matter” in the U.K. Given my choice and preference, “Circles” (the real name of the song – another story that you can easily look up) is an early Who masterpiece (and one of my top 3 Who songs of all time). However, for this new re-pressing, “I’m A Man” is presented for the first time on American vinyl.
The verdict? The debut album from The Who is a great first attempt from a young band finding its feet – from R&B/soul covers act to truly original, innovative and forward thinking British rock powerhouse. It’s an uneven LP, but in the moments that standout, the songs stay with you forever. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most. If it were anyone else, I’d probably say to pass it by but it’s The Who – it’s essential listening.
My Generation – vinyl edition is available now