MY GENERATION - A Strange Tale, Part 2

And so the summer of 1965 dragged on. The Who played 26 shows in May, 26 in June, 12 in July, 17 in August, 10 in September (pretty slack going lads) and 17 in October. It wasn’t until October 12 and 13 that the band saw the inside of IBC again, and this time they recorded a slew of Townshend originals, again with Talmy producing: ‘It’s Not True’, ‘A Legal Matter’ (with vocals by Pete – and he can’t remember why), ‘Much Too Much’, ‘La La La Lies’, ‘The Good’s Gone’, ‘The Ox’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘My Generation’, the latter two cut during a midnight session on the 13th. All of these recordings made the final cut, together with ‘Out In The Street’, ‘I Don't Mind’, ‘Please Please Please’ and ‘I'm A Man’ from the earlier sessions.
         ‘My Generation’ was released as a single on 29 October and would make number two in the UK singles chart, the highest the group would ever reach in their long career. The album was released in early December, and made number five in the LP charts. For the iconic picture of The Who gazing skywards that was used for the UK album sleeve, Decca staff photographer David Wedgbury took the band to Surrey Docks, near the site of what is now Surrey Quays Tube Station. Wedgbury was dangling from a crane when he took the pose that Blondie copied in an almost (there were five of them) perfect pastiche 12 years later.
         So what memories does Pete Townshend have of this period? “They're all bad I’m afraid,” The Who’s mainman told me in mid-June of 2002, taking a break from rehearsals at his Boathouse studio for an upcoming US tour with the 21st Century Who. “I felt rushed and the songs felt unpolished. The sessions were short. I spent far longer on my home demos. The atmosphere in the band was not great at the time either. We were still young but I lived in a different world to the others. I socialised with The Small Faces and old art school buddies, and on the road survived mainly by taking pep pills.
         “I did not push myself,” continued Townshend. “I made demos because I had nothing else to do [well, you did play around 200 gigs in 1965 Pete, more than most bands manage in three years today – CC]. Kit was a driving force in this matter. He pushed me hard but I didn’t realise to what extent the other members of the band might find my songwriting difficult to swallow.”
         If anyone found Pete’s songwriting difficult to swallow it was probably Roger Daltrey who during the year had seen his leadership of the band ebb away in favour of the songwriting guitarist. Indeed, Roger’s frustration boiled over in September when, following a gig in Helsingor, Denmark, the singer apparently struck Keith Moon, reportedly because of the drummer’s wilful drug intake. He was fired and for ten days ruminated on his position before fortuitously returning to the fold with promises to curb his temper.
         Within The Who’s immediate circle there was another whose temper was by now reaching boiling point: Kit Lambert. “I suppose Kit wanted to play a part in the creative process,” says Pete with some degree of understatement. “He was full of ideas, Glyn [Johns – Talmy’s engineer] didn’t take to Kit’s presence in the control room either. I know Kit was really worried that not enough time was being given to help Roger develop his own voice. He was copying Howlin’ Wolf and James Brown – brilliantly – but Kit and I knew he had his own voice. It never emerged on this record. Later the rift became legal in nature. We were too busy touring to know what the hell was going on.”
         The rift was between the band, abetted by Lambert, and Talmy. They wanted out and after considering the alternatives took the risky decision to wilfully break their contract. Between the recording and the planned release date of their fourth single, two new Townshend originals ‘Circles’/’Instant Party Mixture’, the situation reached crisis point, resulting in its release – scheduled for 11 February – being cancelled.
         Meanwhile, his muse cresting seriously, Townshend took the band into Olympic Studios in Barnes and recorded ‘Substitute’, which he nowadays takes personal credit for producing. On 18 February the group announced they’d taken their wares to a new label, the independent Reaction founded by their booking agent Robert Stigwood, and distributed in the UK by German-owned Polydor which until now had specialised in releasing records from continental Europe. (Polydor’s only previous chart action had been in 1963 when ‘My Bonnie’ by Tony Sheridan and The Beat Boys, aka The Beatles, reached a lowly number 48.)
         The Who’s decision to walk away from their contract prompted a predictable reaction from Shel Talmy who on 8 March could be found in the High Court claiming that he had sole rights over The Who’s recording career. The judge, who initially thought that WHO stood for World Health Organisation, agreed, ‘Substitute’ was withdrawn and the World Health Organisation was banned from recording until the case was settled.
         To pour salt into the wound Talmy persuaded Decca to release a spoiler single ‘A Legal Matter’ (an appropriate choice), backed by the song at the centre of the argument, ‘Circles’. Like The Who’s own version, to be found on the reverse of ‘Substitute’, this too was misleadingly titled ‘Instant Party’, not to be confused with ‘Instant Party Mixture’, a different song entirely in the doo-wop mould.
         To get around the legal matter, Reaction re-issued ‘Substitute’ with yet another B-side, this time an instrumental by another of Stigwood’s clients, the Graham Bond Organisation (but credited to ‘The Who Orchestra’), provocatively titled ‘Waltz For A Pig’. The court later removed the injunction against the original ‘Substitute’, and Reaction was able to distribute their remaining stock, thus giving The Who their fourth consecutive top ten hit.
         In the short term The Who and Lambert got their own way by getting rid of Talmy but ultimately it was the producer who triumphed. Indeed, Pete and the band weren’t to know how much this cost them until 1969. “[It was]… when we started to make money on Tommy and saw him taking his share even though he had not contributed directly,” says Pete ruefully.
         And therein lies the real reason for the long delay in the CD reissue of My Generation. In a nutshell, Talmy had given the Who a miserly 2.5% (soon raised to 4%) royalty and was therefore ideally placed to play both ends against the middle, securing for himself a royalty from Decca far in excess of this. Thus, even before the split, he was making considerably more than the group, let alone the individual members who, as it happened, were also paying 40% of their cut in management commissions to Lambert & Stamp, who now had to settle with Talmy for breaking their contract. The Who and Lambert might have reckoned they could make better records and more money without him but in the end Talmy, in an out of court settlement, was granted a 5% royalty on all The Who's records and singles for the next six years, up to and including Who's Next in 1971. While Lambert and Stamp were now able to negotiate a new record deal that assured them more income collectively than they had received from Talmy, when the money was divided up the individual members of the group would earn considerably less in royalties from their record sales than Talmy who, henceforth, made a fortune at their expense and did sod all to earn it. Even today, over 35 years later, Shel Talmy still collects royalties on every track The Who recorded up to 1971.
        But no-one cared much about their long term future in an era when no pop band, not even The Beatles, had established the concept of a sustained career in this field. Pop groups were evanescent in 1965 and no-one could have known, or even dreamt, that The Who would still be going strong in six or 16 years’ time, let alone become the kind of million dollar superstar touring rock attraction that they eventually did. So The Who, like so many others, signed away a big chunk of what was rightfully theirs in the adrenaline rush to get into the recording studio. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination, therefore, to realise that The Who have never received a just reward from their best-selling work, and that the only way for them to survive was to work hard on the road, performing live as often as possible, perfecting the show and pocketing the increasingly large fees they could command.    
        Such survival tactics thus turned The Who, at their peak, into the greatest live band in the world. Indeed, with the possible exception of the Grateful Dead, The Who are probably the only legendary rock band of their era whose wealth was derived more from live work than record royalties – though in time they would be joined in this regard by other ‘legends’, most notably Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones, who came to realise that while their new albums sold only a fraction of their classic work, vast sums could now be made on the road. 


Luke said...

Hi Chris, I have a few questions/comments about this. First, from the first part:

"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."

What do you mean by "rights"? My understanding, based both on the record labels over the years and contact with MCA/Universal, is that Decca/MCA always had the worldwide rights to the My Generation era material, which was licensed to Polydor for compilations outside of North America. That's why they (MCA) were able to reissue The Who Sings My Generation over the years (including on CD), as well as issue previously unreleased tracks on Who's/Two's Missing.

No question that Talmy owned the session tapes and first generation masters, but again, I question that he had any rights to the material.

"Even today, over 35 years later, Shel Talmy still collects royalties on every track The Who recorded up to 1971."

Is that true? The details have always been a bit vague, but I always thought it was that Talmy collected royalties until 1971, which is one reason Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy was released then, as Talmy wouldn't be collecting any royalties on it.

Also, while you don't touch on it in your piece, it appears that the 3-track tapes that Talmy turned over are partially (or perhaps completely) alternates. Many tracks are missing overdubs or have slightly different overdubs from the mono mixes. Missing guitar on My Generation and A Legal Matter, missing double-tracked vocals on The Kids Are Alright, missing tambourine on I Can't Explain, different vocals on Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, etc. Apparently the assumption was that some overdubs were made directly to the mono mixes, but that does not appear to be likely. The versions of Leaving Here and Daddy Rolling Stone on the Deluxe Edition both contain differences, yet the original mono and stereo mixes of both songs match. That is to say, there had to exist 3-track tapes of both songs from which the original mono and stereo mixes were made that were missing at the time of the Deluxe Edition. Surely the same is true of the other songs.

I also have a theory about the stereo mixes found on Who's/Two's Missing and the aborted mid-1965 LP, but I'll leave that for another time.

Chris Charlesworth said...

Hi Luke
As I understood it, Talmy owned the rights to those recordings he produced for The Who which, of course, he had leased to MCA/Universal in the US and they in turn released them in the UK on their Brunswick label and, subsequently, Polydor. The point I was making was that The Who DIDN'T own the rights to this material and received a pittance from sales wherever and by whoever it was released, the lion's share going to Talmy. That was why Direct Hits contained no Talmy productions, though he would have received his 5% royalty from it, which was less than he received from his own work. I thought MBBB arrived when it did simply because a Hits album was timely and everyone realised that to exclude the Talmy productions was self-defeating, art triumphing over money.
I was given to understand that Talmy continued to receive royalties from all The Who's recordings up to 1971, five years after the 1966 agreement, in perpetuity. The royalty stream didn't stop in 1971 - it applied to Who records released until then.
And you're absolutely right in pointing out these discrepancies in the tapes that Talmy finally handed over. Quite what happened here I don't know as by the time the de lux My Generation was compiled my involvement in the reissue programme was over. All I did was suggest David Swartz as an intermediary.

Luke said...

I don't know. I was specifically told by Andy McKaie that Decca/MCA always had the worldwide rights, which they then licensed to Polydor for compilations outside of North America. If Talmy actually owned the rights and just licensed the material to Decca/MCA, presumably he could have licensed the material to another company at some point (which never happened). The fact that Talmy collected royalties wouldn't have been dependent on him having the release rights.

I have to wonder if the lack of Talmy material on Direct Hits and the inclusion of it on MBBB was due to the expiration of the UK Decca contract. That is, since US Decca didn't have a direct presence in the UK at the time of My Generation, they had a licensing agreement in place with UK Decca (using the Brunswick imprint). Did UK Decca perhaps still have a UK license to the material at (or at least shortly before) the time of Direct Hits, precluding its inclusion? It appears the UK division of MCA was started in February 1968. Several months before Direct Hits, but it isn't clear if the UK Decca agreement was immediately terminated at that point or not.

As far as the tapes go, I did ask Talmy once about it, but he didn't know, saying he turned over all he had to Universal. I have to wonder if reels with the master takes were compiled at some point and stored elsewhere, and subsequently lost. I guess it's unfortunate regardless of the exact circumstances.