The Who: My Generation (Deluxe Edition)

John Dougan

The Who

My Generation (Deluxe Edition)

Label: Deluxe Edition
US Release Date: 2002-08-27
UK Release Date: 2002-09-09

Maximum R&B. No other phrase associated with the Who, not even the more frequently quoted "hope I die before I get old", more concisely and emphatically described the band's sound and attitude. It's important to employ the past tense here. Despite soldiering on through yet another aesthetically irrelevant but lucrative "reunion tour" after bassist John Entwistle's recent death, the Who is finally no more.

But I come here not to eulogize the Who but to praise them. After a series of life sustaining reissues (A Quick One, The Who Sell Out, and the pulverizingly great double disc Live at Leeds), My Generation, originally released in 1965, becomes the final sonic puzzle piece, offering indisputable proof that the Who, despite needing a little seasoning, were great from the get-go.

Finally loosened from producer Shel Talmy's death grip (at one point he was entertaining bids for the master tapes on eBay), My Generation is the sound of a very young (average age 19) band on a mission of self-discovery while negotiating the rugged terrain of black American soul, R&B, and blues. They were not dogmatic archivists, they were kids -- rampaging, amped-up, amphetamine-fueled kids from Shepherd's Bush (West London) -- driven by a common understanding of their place in the zeitgeist, and the desire to smash the whole damn rock and roll thing to bits and start all over again.

That vision, with its attendant rage and intensity, is articulated on nearly every track on My Generation. By embracing the music of African-Americans (like punks did with reggae) the Who, as working-class kids drunk on anomie and deeply disconnected from middle-class notions of propriety, took their attitudinal and musical cues from a culturally potent yet marginalized other, something that white British (and American) blues obsessives had been doing since the 1950s.

Mercifully, the Who weren't literal minded in their approach to R&B and soul. John Entwistle's and Keith Moon's sui generis rollin' and tumblin' was quite the opposite of the effortlessly insistent groove of great Motown session men like drummer Richard "Pistol" Allen, and bassist par excellence James Jamerson. Roger Daltrey's vocals remain a pleasantly gritty soulful simulacrum (and a little funny on the James Brown covers), and Pete Townshend's guitar playing, despite moments of power and dexterity, was still in utero.

Conceived as an R&B-heavy debut LP (in a manner not unlike that of the Rolling Stones), a pre-release acetate of the early sessions was panned prompting then-manager Kit Lambert to shelve the tapes and order Townshend to write something a bit more modern. Most of the R&B tracks were dropped, but a few (James Brown's "I Don't Mind", "Please, Please, Please", and Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man") were used to fill out the record. In its original form (in glorious compressed mono) My Generation was the sound of a band in mid-morph -- Chicago blues and Detroit soul with an extra dollop of Shepherd's Bush hard pop. Townshend-penned tracks like "Out in the Street" and "It's Not True" take their riff-driven cues from Berry Gordy's hit factory. Even the record's most potent and indelible moment, "My Generation", was a talking blues, albeit one where the solos are played on the bass. But on songs like "The Good's Gone", "La-La-La Lies", and "A Legal Matter", Townshend was establishing the template of what would become the distinctive, powerful Who sound.

The deluxe edition restores the remaining R&B tracks and it's a motherlode of frantic rock 'n' soul nuggets, among them Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Leaving Here", James Brown's "Shout and Shimmy" (which includes hilarious hipster asides by Townshend), Otis Blackwell's salacious "Daddy Rolling Stone", and a ragged-but-right version of Garnet Mimms's "Anytime You Want Me". There's a subtle tension to these performances, a reminder of the struggle the band was going through reinventing itself. Kit Lambert was probably right keeping these tracks off, but adding them back was also right, for it is here that the complete picture of the early Who finally emerges.

Among the extras included in this reissue, one jumps out. It's a photo on the inside flap that I've never seen before. It looks to be from 1965, the band (especially Moon) look impossibly young, yet there's an undercurrent of conflict, maybe even violence, hinted at in Townshend's half-sneer. The band's entire history is contained in this photograph -- four young men who are beginning to understand the enormous power they will spend an entire career trying to control and turn into something called, simply, rock. Now, many years later, I'm well aware that the expression "greatest rock and roll band in the world" has been assigned to another longstanding (and also currently touring) blues-based British band, but only these four West London geezers were deserving of such a distinction. They talked the talk and walked the walk the hard way. And that made all the difference.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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