MY GENERATION – A Strange Tale, Part 1

Continuing the theme of my involvement in The Who’s reissue programme, this is an amended version of a piece that Record Collector magazine commissioned me to write when My Generation was finally released on CD in the UK in 2002. All down the line we knew that this one would be tricky because the rights (and master tapes) were owned not by The Who but by their first producer Shel Talmy whose relationship with the group had never really recovered from the ugly parting of the ways in 1966.
         I think what follows explains quite a lot about The Who’s circumstances in 1965 and how what happened with Talmy was nothing short of devastating for them, comprehensively altering the shape of their entire career, though no one knew it at the time.
         Because it’s quite long I’ve divided it up into three parts.

Strange though it might seem, it took an ad on eBay offering the master tapes for sale to anyone with half a million dollars to spare that kick started the recent release of the first upgraded edition of My Generation, The Who’s explosive debut album. Shel Talmy, the record’s producer, placed the ad after years of frustrated deadlock that had for decades seen this classic album all but deleted in the UK and unavailable on CD anywhere in the world outside of the US.
         But to understand this strange tale we need to go back almost 37 years, to the closing weeks of 1964, when it seemed that no record company in the world was interested in this stroppy little quartet from Shepherd’s Bush. There was no money in the kitty, and their lately elected managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, were at their wit’s end. If it wasn’t for the friendship between their secretary, Anya Wilson, and the wife of an American ex-pat record producer presently domiciled in London, well, who knows whether The Who’s recording career would ever have got off the ground in the first place.
         So Shel Talmy took his wife’s advice and went to see The Who at a rehearsal hall in Shepherd’s Bush and liked what he saw. “You just listened to them for five minutes and you knew these guys had something,” he said later. “Their energy, their attack – which groups (in Britain) did not have then.” He promptly signed a decidedly ungenerous one-off production deal with The Who’s managers to record the group, then took the tapes to American Decca, with whom he had good contacts, who would release The Who's records in the UK on their Brunswick label. The small print on that contract with Talmy’s Orbit Music incorporated a crucial four-year option, however, and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that the catastrophic economic consequences of this little clause would effectively govern the way The Who's entire career developed, even to this day. 
         Blissfully unaware of the business problems that lay head, The Who sailed into Pye Studios, adjacent to the London’s Marble Arch where, with Talmy calling the shots, they recorded ‘I Can’t Explain’, their first single, in November 1964. “When I heard it I loved it,” he says. “It was about one minute 20 seconds long, I re-did the arrangement and then brought in The Ivy League, as The Who couldn’t do backing singing at this stage to save their lives… It was Townshend on his Rickenbacker 12-string. It was a wonderful sound.”
         Indeed it was. ‘I Can’t Explain’, with lyrics about teenage frustration wedded to scattershot drumming such as had never been heard before, effectively launched The Who’s career. Coupled with a Talmy composition, ‘Bald Headed Woman’ (a shrewd move, royalty-wise), on which Jimmy Page played fuzz guitar, ‘Explain’ was released on 15 January, 1965. It entered the UK chart at number 47 and peaked at 28 before dropping out. After a tour de force appearance on Ready Steady Go!  on 29 January and a fortuitous spot on Top Of The Pops' 'Tip For The Top' slot, 'Explain' re-entered the charts and climbed to number eight in April. Simultaneously The Who could be seen playing their now legendary Tuesday night residency at London's Marquee Club.
         Shel was anxious to record a follow-up but in 1965 (and for some time to come) The Who was a working band in the strict sense of the word. Not having received an advance against future royalties (heaven forbid!), the group was obliged to perform regularly in order to support themselves, and the pace was hotting up. They played 12 shows in February, 23 in March, and 25 in April; maybe more since no-one kept any records and these are only the ones that subsequent researchers have been able to confirm.
         Nevertheless, The Who managed to record several cover versions (accompanied by session pianist Nicky Hopkins) from their stage act at IBC Studios in Portland Place on 19 March, including ‘Leaving Here’, a Holland-Dozier-Holland song, which remained unreleased until 1985 when it appeared in the US on MCA’s rarities compilation Who’s Missing, and subsequently on the 30 Years Of Maximum R&B box set. Bo Diddley’s ‘I’m A Man’, however, would find its way on to My Generation in the fullness of time.
         For their next recording session The Who managed three whole days (12-14 April) and 11 completed songs, including their second single ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ which was probably recorded on the 13th. The group rehearsed the song during an afternoon soundcheck at the Marquee that day, headed off to IBC to lay it down, then returned to the Wardour Street club for an evening show. Over the three days surrounding this busy afternoon The Who also recorded various soul and US numbers that they were incorporating into their stage act, including two Martha & the Vandellas’ tracks, ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Motoring’; and Paul Revere & the Raiders ‘Louie Go Home’, (previously recorded by Davie Jones & the King Bees as the B-side to their 1964 Vocalion single ‘Liza Jane’. Davie Jones, of course, became David Bowie), which, for some unknown reason was revised to ‘Lubie (Come Back Home)’. Like ‘Leaving Here’s, these recordings remained unreleased until the MCA Missing albums.
         For the remainder of these sessions, The Who recorded mostly cover versions: Otis Blackwell’s ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’ (chosen as the UK B-side for ‘Anyway…’), Garnet Mimms’ ‘Anytime You Want Me’ (the US B-side), a healthy dose of James Brown (‘I Don't Mind’, ‘Please Please Please’, and ‘Shout & Shimmy’), and a Townshend original, ‘You're Going To Know Me’ (aka ‘Out In The Street’). 
         It was the practice in those days to record an album quickly to cash in on a hit single, and these debut albums invariably comprised those songs from a band’s live repertoire with which they were most confident. That’s what happened with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and it almost happened with The Who. In the event, Pete Townshend’s rapid progress as a songwriter forestalled such plans, so much so that many of these tracks remained in the can for years and The Who’s debut album, postponed until later in the year, ended up including nine Townshend originals.
         It’s possible that a premature review of this proposed Who debut in Beat Instrumental magazine also had something to do with the decision to abandon many of the tracks recorded at these sessions. John Emery, writing in the July issue, had evidently been invited to listen to the tapes by Talmy, but his opinions were far from encouraging. “… before I even heard them, one thing hit me slap in the face – the lack of originality in choice of material,” he wrote, before going on to deliver a distinctly iffy verdict on most of the eight songs he reviewed.
         The Who’s spirits were partially buoyed by the relative success of ‘Anyway’. Released as a single May 21, 1965, it reached number 10 in the chart and, more importantly, was chosen as the theme tune for Ready, Steady, Go!, the groundbreaking weekly rock TV show on which The Who were now regular guests. Musically, ‘Anyway…’ introduced a great Who innovation: the chiming, bell-like, open-stringed power chord, cross cut against pounding drums and bass; allowed to feedback on itself and drone into a wall of electronic discord.
         Anyone with ears could see that this band was different from the norm.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the unreleased album and Who's/Two's Missing...apparently John Emery from Beat Instrumental was played an acetate with 9 songs: I'm A Man, Heatwave, I Don't Mind, Lubie, You're Going To Know Me (Out In The Street), Please Please Please, Leaving Here, Motoring, and one other (possibly Shout And Shimmy). The first question is: 9 songs? That seems quite low, when albums were typically 12-14 in the UK at the time. Perhaps the acetate only contained the new songs, while the album was intended to have the previous singles as well?

    Second, we know that 6 tracks were released in stereo on Who's/Two's Missing: I'm A Man, Heatwave, Lubie, Leaving Here, and Motoring from above, as well as Daddy Rolling Stone. Does it not seem likely that those stereo mixes were produced for the proposed mid-1965 LP and sent to Decca? That perhaps those 6 tracks were on a reel meant to make up 1 side of the LP? That begs the question: were stereo mixes made for the rest of that LP, and if so, what happened to them? Presumably those would have been I Don't Mind, Out In The Street, Please Please Please, Shout And Shimmy, and possibly I Can't Explain and Anyway Anyhow Anywhere. Perhaps there is/was a second reel with those songs? It would really be something if such a tape was unearthed, especially considering the (modern) stereo mixes of I Can't Explain and Anyway Anyhow Anywhere are different/missing overdubs.