As The High Numbers, a quartet of modded-out kids from Shepherd’s Bush, West London failed to make it big on the charts with their first single. Formerly they were The Who and before that they were The Detours. Under the guidance of Kim Lambert and Chris Stamp, the band returned to the moniker The Who and blasted out Maximum R&B at The Marquee on Tuesday nights, destroying their instruments and igniting smoke bombs for an amused audience of stylish mop tops.
The debut album from twenty-year old Roger Daltry, nineteen-year olds Pete Townsend and John Entwhistle and eighteen-year old baby Keith Moon was My Generation, released in the United States as The Who Sings My Generation with a different cover a without the song “I’m a Man.” Although apparently dismissed by members of the band as a rush job that didn’t accurately reflect their stage presence, My Generation is an album of tough mod importance. It still wails and bounds, it dances across the stage twirling a mike, pounds on drums with the speed of a superhero and spins a wild, reckless arm over a guitar that will inevitably be smashed into splinters.
The elements that separated The Who from the rest of the Brit mod folks can be heard on the opener “Out In the Street.” Moon’s drum crash, rolling from end to end of the song, calming or pausing completely to give way for Daltry’s vocal delivery. As the songs strays into a quieter patch, Townsend scratches his strings and toggles the switch on his guitar, playing with the sonic capabilities of the amps and instruments of the day. Similar toggling also appears on the sweltering, soulful James Brown cover “Please, Please, Please,” and additional blasts of experimentation can be heard during the staccato guitar outbursts of “The Good’s Gone.” The anarchic bombast of Maximum R&B is most apparent on the instrumental assault of “The Ox.” Moon’s drums rat-tat-tat endlessly as if played by The Flash, joined by a piano with its keys tickled into a dizzy spell. Entwhistle’s bass rumbles under Townsend’s guitar which initially growls like the titular animal, evolving into sonic sparks of feedback and sizzling static.
And of course there are the two mod anthems, “My Generation” and “The Kids Are Alright,” the filling of a Maximum R&B sandwich. One the former, a hip to it Daltry stutters like a Shepherd’s Bush lad on speed, unable to explain stuff to an older generation. Supposedly the line “Why don’t you all just f-f-f-fade away” was originally to have been “ Why don’t you all just f-f-f-fuck off” as it appeared in the mod movie Quadrophenia. The pop sensibilities of “The Kids Are Alright” ring brightly over the consistent snap of Moon’s drumkit; the lyrics showing some degree of ambivalence concerning the young narrator’s situation, though the tone remains ultimately bright and optimistic.
The album finishes on two major high points, one of domestic restlessness and the latter of fine mod pop. The bounding “Legal Matter” tells the tale of a flakey rake who runs out on one of many women fearing the prospect of settling down, Townsend’s introductory guitar lick appearing again at the middle and end of the song. “Circles,” mistitled “Instant Party (Circles)” on the American release of the album, is a rousing, trumpet-laden track about the inability to get someone out of a person’s mind. The vocal arrangements, raucous bridge and key change highlight this rueful pop tune.
Like many people, a big part of me wishes to take some sort of Wayback Machine to England in the mid-60s. I’d park the contraption in the back alley of The Marquee, follow the kids who were with it and shove my way through a bopping, well-dressed crowd to catch a splinter from one of Moon’s busted drumsticks or inhale the aftermath of a smoke bomb. Until technology progresses, I’ll just have to content myself with windmilling as fast as I can and wafting the sulphur tinge of liquor store matches.