Until this year, if you wanted The Who’s debut album on CD, you had to settle for the American version (The Who Sings My Generation) released on MCA with the typically mediocre presentation their CDs had in the 1980s (poorly reproduced cover art, generic back cover design, ads for other fine MCA compact discs, etc). The original British release of the album has remained missing in action thanks to legal problems over ownership since the 1960s. The mildly bizarre spectacle of producer Shel Talmy trying to auction the master tapes on eBay a couple of years ago suggested the situation might be about to change, and at last it has, with My Generation becoming part of MCA/Universal’s Deluxe Edition series.
What we now have is a 13-track album (conflating the UK and US versions, each of which had a different 12th song) plus a swag of additional tracks from the period. Just how successful the enterprise is, of course, is hard to say. It goes without saying that the original album is a fantastic piece of work, for all that the band themselves soon came to despise it. However, as the new CD’s notes explain, the album that emerged in December 1965 was not the album the band set out to record. Early sessions for the album were held in March and April 1965, for release in July; however, when music columnist John Emery heard a tape of those sessions, he expressed disappointment that the band had relied on so many covers, and suggested they write more of their own stuff.
The advice was duly taken to heart and Pete Townsend started producing more originals. Four songs from the earlier sessions were retained and added to eight new tracks from new recording sessions in October to finally produce My Generation. The remaining tracks from the earlier sessions later saw release on 7″ singles and the rarities compilation Who’s Missing (the legal problems that followed the album’s release gave Decca the right to release and re-release a total of 24 songs, album tracks, single sides and others, from those sessions), and now form part of the bonus material on the second disc. Which is, in a way, where the problems with the new deluxe edition begin for me.
Undoubtedly the band made the right move in redoing the album. The four March/April tracks on the finished album are fine enough, and actually don’t stand too far out from the later recordings (apart from the fact that three of them are covers). But it’s fair to say Talmy picked the best tracks; the leftover material on disc two (to wit: “Leaving Here”, “Lubie (Come Back Home)”, “Shout and Shimmy”, “Heatwave”, “Motoring”, and “Anytime You Want Me”) is simply not as interesting. Not bad as such, but just pretty average. Methinks the band’s debut would’ve been somewhat less well-remembered had they stuck with those tracks.
Then we come to the other bonus material. On disc one, following the original album, we have debut single “I Can’t Explain” with its respective B-side “Bald-Headed Woman” (featuring a certain Jimmy Page on guitar), plus the B-side of second single “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”. That track is conspicuous by its absence, and appears here only as an alternative version hitherto released only on a French EP in the 1960s. Nice to have, but equally nice to have the original as well, surely? (Yes, I know it’s on Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy, but that’s beside the point.) On disc two we have the aforementioned March/April outtakes (one of which is itself an alternate version) and an assortment of hitherto actual unreleased stuff.
To begin with, we have “Instant Party Mixture”, which is essentially fluff, amusing but disposable. Then the full-length versions of “I Don’t Mind” and “The Good’s Gone”, which had been trimmed for album release. Nice to have, again, but I’m not sure exactly what the uncut versions add; and if those uncut versions were what the band originally intended, why not do what eventually happened with the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and “New Age”, and reintegrate them within the album itself in place of the cut versions? Then an instrumental version of “My Generation”, which sorely lacks Roger Daltrey’s voice to fill in the spaces, and the vocal track of “Anytime You Want Me”. Neither especially necessary.
Finally we come to what are, in a way, the most galling bonus tracks: the mono single versions of “A Legal Matter” and “My Generation”. The notes state these have been included for purposes of comparison, as they include some different guitar parts not found on the stereo tapes. Ultimately I think this is what bothers me the most about the My Generation reissue, the fact that the mono version wasn’t also thrown in. I’ve come to the conclusion since hearing the recent bootleg CDs of the mono versions of the Rolling Stones’ 1960s albums that music from the 1960s is indeed perhaps best heard–at least sometimes–in mono; and as rough as the old CD version of My Generation was, it at least had the virtue (as I now recognise it) of being monaural.
The new My Generation is presented in proper stereo for the first time, remixed from three-track masters (yes, they didn’t even have the four tracks that the Beatles were using at the same period) The resulting stereo picture isn’t as artificially wide as stereo mixes tended to be in those days (bass on the left, drums on the right, and all that), but it might’ve been nice if this deluxe edition had included the original mono version too (cf. the most recent reissue of the first Velvet Underground album, or Love’s Da Capo, or the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, which feature mono and stereo versions of each album), given that the latter differs from the new stereo mix in some quite remarkable ways. This page enumerates the differences, should you be interested.
All up, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that My Generation Deluxe Edition is a bit of a missed opportunity; this article from Ice Magazine claims the original plan for the reissue was to include some 40-odd tracks as opposed to the 30 ultimately included. Still, none of this is to detract from My Generation itself; though condemned at the time by the band themselves whenever they got the opportunity, it stills holds up as a cracking debut, and its return to circulation in whatever form is an undeniably good thing. Just don’t abandon that old CD version just yet.