Behind the Meaning of The Who’s “My Generation”

When The Who released “My Generation” in 1965, they couldn’t have known the vast impact it would have on the counterculture for decades to come. Though the lyrics are simple, they’ve become a rallying cry for anyone who feels like they don’t fit into society’s expectations.

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Written by Pete Townshend, the track was created for a post-war generation that was feeling lost and put down by their parents. Since the song’s release, the fury on “My Generation” has been translated across many genres, with subsequent bands following in their oppositional footsteps. “My Generation” is generally considered one of the first proto-punk songs, paving the way for the full-blown punk movement in the ’70s.

Find out what prompted Townshend to pen this timeless hit, below.

Behind the Meaning of “My Generation”

The pervasive story of why Townshend wrote “My Generation” involves The Queen Mother removing his Packard hearse from in front of his house – which happened to be near Buckingham Palace.

“It turned out that [the Queen Mother] had it moved because her husband had been buried in a similar vehicle and it reminded her of him,” Townshend once said. “When I went to collect it, they wanted two hundred and fifty quid. I’d only paid thirty for it in the first place.”

While that moment might have been a point of contention for Townshend, the actual motive behind “My Generation” came from a much larger problem for the guitarist: his struggle to find his place in society.

“‘My Generation’ was very much about trying to find a place,” Townshend once told Rolling Stone in 1987 (per Songfacts). “I was very, very lost. The band was young then.”

In 2019, Townshend provided a little more color to the song’s inspiration. “‘My Generation’ was inspired by the fact that I felt as artists we had to draw a line between all those people who had been involved in the second world war and all those people who were born right at the end of the war,” he said.

“Those people had sacrificed so much for us, but they weren’t able to give us anything,” he continued. “No guidance, no inspiration. Nothing really. We weren’t allowed to join the army, we weren’t allowed to speak, we were expected to shut up and enjoy the peace… And we decided not to do that.”

With “My Generation,” The Who took a side in the ever-growing culture clash between an older generation of Brits and a younger one that strived to break free of norms.

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

The Legacy of “My Generation”

“My Generation” has been covered countless times by The Who’s progeny in the rock scene. Everyone from Green Day to Oasis and Iron Maiden has delivered Townshend’s words to a new set of teenage rebels.

The song, largely considered the band’s signature, secured several coveted nods for the band including an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant” value. It also resulted in spots on Rolling Stones500 Greatest Songs of All Time and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll lists.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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