Songs That Were Banned: The Who – My Generation

This week I’ll feature songs that have been banned from the radio for one reason or another for a time. I will just feature pre-9-11 songs because after 2001 practically every song was banned for a little while.

My Generation featured the chorus “Hope I Die Before I Get Old” but that was ok…It was the vocals that resembled stuttering; afraid to offend people with actual stuttering problems, the BBC prohibited the song from receiving airplay. Later, when the song proved to be a huge hit, they allowed it.

The best part of this song for me was John Entwistle’s bass solo. You just didn’t hear many bass solos at that time. John Entwistle “I bought this Danelectro bass and it had these tiny, thin wire-wound strings on. They were so thin, they sounded just like a piano, an unbelievably clear sound. The only thing was that you couldn’t buy these strings. When we recorded ‘My Generation,’ I ended up with three of these Danelectros just for the strings. The last one I had, the string busted before we actually got into the studio to re-record it, so I did it on a Fender Jazz in the end with tape-wound La Bella strings.”

Pete wrote this song for British mods at the time who didn’t think older people understood what was going on. The song peaked at #74 in the Billboard 100, #2 in the UK, and #3 in Canada in 1966.

Pete Townshend was asked if the line still resonated with him. “I think it does,”  “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. I could’ve, I suppose, insisted on my rights and not written the song. But I was a tucked-up little kid and so I wrote the song.”

 

From Songfacts

Roger Daltrey sang the lead vocals with a stutter, which was very unusual. After recording two takes of the song normally, The Who’s manager, Kit Lambert, suggested to Daltrey that he stutter to sound like a British kid on speed. Daltrey recalled to Uncut magazine October 2001: “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.”

Pete Townshend wrote this on a train ride from London to Southampton on May 19, 1965 – his 20th birthday. In a 1987 Rolling Stone magazine interview, 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.” 

Back in 1967, Pete Townshend called this song, “The only really successful social comment I’ve ever made.” Talking about the meaning, he explained it as “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.”

This contains the famous line, “I hope I die before I get old.” The Who drummer Keith Moon did, dying of a drug overdose in 1978 at age 32. The rest of the band found themselves still playing the song 50 years later, giving that line more than a hint of irony.

A Singapore magazine called BigO is named for the famous line in this song – it’s an acronym for “Before I Get Old.”

This song went through various stages as they tried to perfect it. It began as a slow song with a blues feel, and at one point had hand claps and multiple key changes. The final product was at a much faster tempo than the song was conceived; it was Kit Lambert’s idea to speed it up.

This is the highest charting Who song in the UK, but it never cracked the Top 40 in America, where they were less known. In the UK, the album was also called My Generation, but in America it was titled The Who Sing My Generation.

Entwistle was the least visible member of the band, and his bass solos on this song threw off directors when The Who would perform the song on TV shows. When it got to his part, the cameras would often go to Pete Townshend, and his fingers wouldn’t be moving. Entwistle played the solos using a pick, since their manager Kit Lambert didn’t think fingers recorded well. Most of Entwistle’s next recordings were done with fingers.

The BBC refused to play this at first because they did not want to offend people with stutters. When it became a huge hit, they played it.

In 1965, Roger Daltrey stood by this song’s lyric and claimed he would kill himself before reaching 30 because he didn’t want to get old. When he did get older, he answered the inevitable questions about the “hope I die before I get old” line by explaining that it is about an attitude, not a physical age.

On September 17, 1967, The Who performed this song on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Keith Moon set his drums to explode after the performance, but the technical crew had already done so. The resulting explosion burned Pete Townshend’s hair and permanently damaged his hearing.

Also of note during this performance was Moon’s total disregard for the illusion of live performance. The band was playing along to a recorded track (common practice on the show), and while his bandmates synched their movements to the music, Moon made no effort to keep time, even knocking his cymbal over at one point.

Shel Talmy, who produced this track, was fired the next year. Talmy filed a lawsuit and won extensive royalties from future albums.

The ending of this song is electric mayhem, with Keith Moon pounding anything he can find on his drum kit and Townshend flipping his pickups on an off, something he also did on the album opener “Out in the Street.” Townshend and Daltrey go back and forth on the vocals, intentionally stomping on each other to add to the chaos.

This was covered by Iron Maiden, who was usually the Who’s polar opposite both musically and lyrically. One connection they share is the BBC-TV series Top of the Pops. Performances on the show were customarily lip-synched, but The Who performed live on the show in 1972. In 1980, Iron Maiden also performed live, and was the first band to do so since The Who. Maiden put their version of “My Generation” on the B-side to the single for “Lord of the Flies.” 

The Who played this during their set at Woodstock, which didn’t begin until 5:00 a.m. on the second day. The group turned in a solid performance, but they weren’t pleased with the scheduling and weren’t feeling the peace and love – at one point an activist named Abbie Hoffman came on stage uninvited and was forcibly ejected by Pete Townshend.

Green Day recorded this for their 1992 album Kerplunk!

When the teen pop singer Hilary Duff covered this as a B-side for her 2005 single “Someone’s Watching Over Me,” she made the curious decision to rewrite some of the lyrics. “I hope I don’t die before I get old,” doesn’t really have the same rock ‘n’ roll attitude as Townshend’s original words, and her rendition caused some consternation among Who fans.

This song fits nicely into the “primal rock” genre, which covers tunes that are raucous, rebellious, unusual, and also celebratory. Roger Reale, who was in one of these primal rock bands with Mick Ronson, explains the impact of the song:

“‘My Generation’ had no lead guitar, but a lead part played on the bass. It also had a bass breakdown, and unless you listened to a lot of jazz, there were no bass breakdowns in pop music. I remember playing the end of that track over and over and over again, because you could hear the feedback of the guitar, which was so exciting to listen to. In those days, you weren’t supposed to have an outro that was pure noise.”

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)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

Why don’t you all f-fade away (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Don’t try to dig what we all s-s-s-say (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m not trying to ’cause a big s-s-sensation (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

My generation
This is my generation, baby

Why don’t you all f-fade away (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
And don’t try to d-dig what we all s-s-say (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m not trying to ’cause a b-big s-s-sensation (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-generation (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
My my my generation

People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
My my my generation

(Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation
(Talkin’ ’bout my generation) this is my generation

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

23 thoughts on “Songs That Were Banned: The Who – My Generation”

  1. On the first video I get “This video contains content from Eagle Rock, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds” – for which I say F-F-F-FADE it. The second video played fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol…Apparently not… oh but they do enjoy it if it’s a hit. That makes all the difference.

      Yea this being banned I never knew about… I would have never guessed the reason.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Freakin’ brilliant song, isn’t it Max. That’s a statement, not a question. Ha! My high school theatre director told me about the stuttering thing–that Daltrey was singing it like he was a punk on speed. To me, it makes the song.
    Nice write up. I didn’t know about the Smothers Bros. thing. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Pam! It is great. Pete Townshend has said his deafness started from that bomb that Keith Moon ignited. Moon bribed the stage hands to add more explosives. Bette Davis fainted backstage.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Man! That’s a great story. Unbelievable. But true! I was quite impressed with John Entwistle. He’s always been in my top 5 bassists. I mean he’s right there with Bootsy Collins, Flea and Larry Graham. You may go, “Well, duh,” but he was a very unusual Rock bassist. He laid down some jams. Anyway, I’ve always been impressed by his playing but I never knew him to be so handsome as he was in that clip.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. He was what I aspired to be while younger…”Lead Bass” much to the chagrin of guitar players.
        He really is impressive. He had to play all over the place because of Moon’s drumming…they just clicked together.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. He is really good. Glad you brought him up. He is overlooked a lot because they play more pop…well sinces the mid seventies…he moves all over the place.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hans… some of them I could not believe like the ABBA one… how could they offend anyone? Yes I agree… over reacting and busy bodies.

      Like

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