'My Generation' by The Who: The making of the ageless anthem for rebellious youth

3 August 2023, 15:39 | Updated: 22 September 2023, 10:40

Here's all you need to know about 'My Generation', the ageless anthem for rebellious youth.
Here's all you need to know about 'My Generation', the ageless anthem for rebellious youth. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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"I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation".

After its release on 29th October 1965, 'My Generation' by The Who went on to define and epitomise youth culture at the time.

Synonymous with the sartorial leanings of mod culture during that era, the defiant song about teenage rebellion influenced youths to embrace who they are and find their own place in society.

'My Generation' not only lay the groundwork for the garage rock and punk movements that followed it, but it also became The Who's signature song.

Their third-ever single to be released launched the band's illustrious career - which continues to this day - and helped them to become one of the UK's most beloved rock acts in the history of popular music.

But who wrote 'My Generation' and what inspired the song? What is the song's legacy? Has anyone else covered it?

Here's all you need to know about 'My Generation', the ageless anthem for rebellious youth.

Who wrote 'My Generation'?

My Generation (2014 Stereo Mix)

The Who's guitarist Pete Townshend wrote the lyrics to 'My Generation' on a train journey from London to Southampton, on his 20th birthday in 1965.

In a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Townshend explained: "'My Generation' was very much about trying to find a place in society."

"I was very, very lost. The band was young then. It was believed that its career would be incredibly brief."

Obviously, he was incredibly wrong, as the track kickstarted the band's career and featured one of the most quoted lines in rock music history, "I hope I die before I get old," which was famously sneered by singer Roger Daltrey.

What was the inspiration behind the song?

The Who in 1965. (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
The Who in 1965. (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns). Picture: Getty

Talking about what initially inspired the song's lyrics, particularly "I hope I die before I get old", Townshend said in 1993: "The line actually came from a time when I was living in a really wealthy district of London, just by accident."

"I didn't really understand quite where I was living at the time. And I was treated very strangely on the street, in an imperious way by a lot of people, and it was that that I didn't like."

"I didn't like being confronted with money and the class system and power. I didn't like being in a corner shop in Belgravia and some woman in a fur coat pushing me out of the way because she was richer. And I didn't know how to deal with that."

'My Generation' epitomised everything about youth culture, notably the mod subculture which adopted the song immediately.

In 1967, Townshend was slightly more glib about the song's meaning, explaining that it was about "some pilled-up mod dancing around, trying to explain to you why he's such a groovy guy, but he can't because he's so stoned he can hardly talk."

He did however claim it was "the only really successful social comment I've ever made" giving credit to blues artist Moses Allison's 'Young Man Blues' as the genesis of the song.

How did Roger Daltrey’s iconic stutter come about?

The Who - My Generation - LIVE (1967)

Roger Daltrey's stuttered delivery of 'My Generation' was one of the reasons why it became so iconic, mainly because it hinted at other ill-mannered words he'd wished he'd spurted out but couldn't.

A stutter in a song was certainly unusual, and was requested by the band's manager Kit Lambert after Daltrey had already recorded two vocal takes.

Talking to Uncut magazine in 2001, Daltrey recalled: "I have got a stutter. I control it much better now but not in those days."

"When we were in the studio doing 'My Generation', Kit Lambert came up to me and said 'STUTTER!' I said 'What?' He said 'Stutter the words – it makes it sound like you're pilled', and I said, 'Oh… like I am!'"

"And that's how it happened. It was always in there, it was always suggested with the 'f-f-fade' but the rest of it was improvised."

Producer Shel Talmy offered a different take saying it was "one of those happy accidents" after Daltrey struggled to fit the lyrics to the music during recording, as he hadn't rehearsed beforehand and couldn't hear his voice in the monitors.

There’s a hint of irony about 'My Generation' these days

Roger Daltrey famously said he'd kill himself before he'd reached 30 so he wouldn't get old, in response to the song's famous lyric. (Photo by The Visualeyes Archive/Redferns)
Roger Daltrey famously said he'd kill himself before he'd reached 30 so he wouldn't get old, in response to the song's famous lyric. (Photo by The Visualeyes Archive/Redferns). Picture: Getty

"I hope I die before I get old" is the lyric which continue to resonate to this day with new generations discovering 'My Generation'.

But it's also become a bit of an albatross for members of The Who in the years since it was first released, because they got old.

The Who's legendary and hell-raising drummer Keith Moon did commit to the mantra, tragically dying of a drug overdose at the age of just 32.

In 1965, Roger Daltrey insisted he'd stand by the lyric and claimed he would kill himself before the age of 30 as he didn't want to get old.

Understandably, his naive stance changed as he got older, but had to answer the inevitable questions about his pledge.

Daltrey claimed when asked that the line is about an attitude, not a physical age, whilst Townshend responded by saying for him when he wrote the lyrics that'"old" meant "very rich".

Was 'My Generation' a hit when it was first released?

The cover of The Who's 1965 album, My Generation.
The cover of The Who's 1965 album, My Generation. Picture: Alamy

'My Generation' was a huge hit for The Who after its release on 29th October 1965, reaching a peak of number two in the UK charts.

After the release of previous singles 'I Can't Explain' and 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere' the band had built up a steady following before exploding into mainstream culture.

The mod anthem wasn't as well received in the US however, failing to crack the Top 40, but established The Who as one of the most exciting prospects of the era on British shores.

Who else has covered 'My Generation'?

Oasis "My Generation" (2005)

My Generation (Live)

Given the song's iconic status, plenty of artists across the spectrum of music genres have recorded and covered their own versions of 'My Generation'.

Amongst the most famous are Patti Smith, Oasis, Green Day, Alice Cooper's and Johnny Depp's band Hollywood Vampires, Iron Maiden, and even kids television actress Hilary Duff.

Roger Daltrey has even duetted on the song alongside the legendary Billy Joel, and the not-so-legendary McFly.

What is the song's legacy?

The Who - My Generation (Live Aid 1985)

Whether it's the stuttered delivery, the first ever charting song to include a bass solo (and a Pete Entwistle masterclass at that) or just the notion of youth defiance, 'My Generation' changed the course of youth culture in music.

The song re-wrote the rules for what a rock single could achieve - it was raucous, rebellious, exciting, engaging different to the norm, celebratory, and incredibly noisy.

It's been argued that the garage rock movement or punk wouldn't exist without 'My Generation' paving the way for teenagers to get rowdy and get creative no matter their circumstances.

It's a song about rebellious youth and upending the status quo, so no wonder it's been embraced and adopted by countless fans over the past seven decades.

In recent years, 'My Generation' has been named the 11th greatest song by Rolling Stone magazine on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, became part of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.