The Who, ‘My Generation Super Deluxe Edition': Album Review
The Who got bigger, brainier, better and generally tougher as they grew. But they were never as fiercely raw as they were on their first album, My Generation. In 36 minutes, they tore through the conventions of British rock 'n' roll until they found a place they could call their own. Five decades after its release, the album stands as one of rock music's greatest debuts.
For its 50th anniversary, My Generation has been expanded to a five-CD Super Deluxe Edition that adds new mixes, B-sides, singles, alternate takes and demos. And over the course of more than 75 tracks, the set sketches out a template the Who would build from and break down several times during their career, pulling in everything from R&B rave-ups and chiming pop to scorching rock 'n' roll and proto-punk anarchy.
While much of this material has surfaced on other collections, including previous anniversary editions of My Generation, the set attempts to wrangle most of the period's songs into one place. A few strays from earlier editions, mostly different alternate versions, are missing, but the Super Deluxe Edition is the most representative collection of a pivotal year in the life of the Who, starting with the "I Can't Explain" single from early 1965.
The center of it all is the My Generation LP, included here in a newly remastered mono mix and a stereo mix of the album from 2014 that was previously available only on iTunes. Both versions heighten the guitars and pulsing rhythm section that drive songs like "The Kids Are Alright," "A Legal Matter" and the classic title tune. The bonus tracks here -- shuffled between mono and stereo mixes, and including some of the singles and B-sides released before and after the album came out -- serve as jagged bookends to the LP's dozen tracks.
It's a vivid portrait of the Who's first several months as professional recording artists. All these years later, the explosive clash of garage-rock R&B and serrated pop from this period that later helped form their identity sounds like a launching point of things to come -- from Roger Daltrey's throaty vocals to Pete Townshend's whipping guitar attacks to that thing Keith Moon did on the drums where he was never quite on the beat but powered the rhythm all the same.
The weakest disc here, the one dedicated to almost a dozen Townshend demos from the era, provide the sketches (and, in one case, just a fragment) for the full-band takes. They're interesting as starting points, but they don't approach the force of the released versions. (Three of the songs are brand new to Who fans; Townshend discovered the stashed-away demo tapes in 2015.)
And that's why My Generation matters the most. As the band grew and got more popular, Townshend took control as its chief songwriter and architect. This Super Deluxe Edition of the Who's debut is all about the band -- before the rock operas, fringe jackets and trashed hotels -- in all of its raging glory.
The Who Albums Ranked Worst to Best