Listening to “My Generation” from Live at Leeds
Posted on September 3, 2023
I often credit the Who’s Live at Leeds album for getting me into drumming, and I’ve been wanting to talk about it again before the summer ends. I’m particularly drawn to the penultimate track on the album: a blistering, transcendent, 14 ½ minute rendition of “My Generation”.
In the past, I’ve discussed how, for my website, I need to find more ways to talk about the music I like. Transcribing all ~15 minutes of “My Generation” was not something I was prepared to do this week (maybe I’ll get around to it during the next pandemic).
Todd Bishop has been doing an interesting type of article on his site that he calls “Listening”, where he writes in an almost stream–of–conscious style about different songs and albums, with minimal sheet music. At the start of August he did one about Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 record Somethin’ Else; here’s another great one from June about the Miles Davis record Sorcerer (1967).
I want to try and do something similar with “My Generation” today. This particular recording from Live at Leeds is almost half the length of an album on its own, and the track has several distinct sections. Hopefully, this will be another way for me to talk about music that I love — this album really was a huge inspiration to me as a young drummer.
I’ve already stolen one idea from Todd (not to mention that his blog was a huge inspiration for my own site), so in lew of anything better to call this kind of post, I think I’ll also use “Listening” until I can come up with something more creative. Using a label like “dissection” or “analysis” feels too thorough for what I’m doing here.
While I can already say that I enjoyed writing this, I’ll revisit my article in a month to see how productive I think it was. I tried to think outside of the box for Pink Floyd, and I can begrudgingly admit that my post may have been a waste of time.
I previously talked about the Live at Leeds concert when I transcribed part of “Amazing Journey” from that show, so I won’t repeat myself much here. If you want to know even more, here’s a fascinating article about the concert from an old Who fansite, thewho.net — I missed this page last time.
Nearly 25 years after I heard this record for the first time, I’m still learning things about it. For instance, recording technology was so primitive back then that it was difficult to send each track from a PA mixer to a tape machine. So the solution was to mic every instrument twice.
Seriously. Here’s a photo of the gig; look behind Pete to see that there are two vocal mics taped together, one for the PA and another for the tape machine:
You can also spot two mics on the amp behind him on the right. According to this thread, around 20 mics were onstage to capture the four musicians. I really don’t know how easy I have it these days.
Anyway, let’s get to the song. As I said, this version of “My Generation” has several parts, although what some of them are was an enduring mystery for me. Unlike other live albums (such as Led Zeppelin’s How the West Was Won), most releases of Live at Leeds don’t highlight the different movements of “My Generation” on the liner notes or the track listing.
The reason I say “most versions” is because I eventually found one release that designates the sections of “My Generation”. It’s a 1973 Canadian vinyl pressing from MCA Records, catalog № 2022. Seven movements are shown on the vinyl disc and are as follows:
- “My Generation”
- “See Me, Feel Me”
- “Over Bridge”
- “Coming Out to Get You”
- “Driving Four”
So let’s dive in!
“My Generation” (0:00–2:42)
There’s not much more to say about this one — it is one of the most famous songs in rock history after all, and the band totally kicks this song’s butt.
This week, I recently listened to the studio take of “My Generation” for the first time in probably 20 years. I never really wanted to listen to it growing up because I’d rather listen to this version from Live at Leeds. And like most classic rock recorded in the 60s, the timing of the studio cut is a mess. Keith especially sounds like a totally different player on the live album
Something I never noticed until now is that “My Generation” actually has a few key changes: the tune starts in A before going up to B right after the bass solo, while the outro of the song is in D.
At least, that’s the live version. The studio version starts in G and goes to A after the bass solo, continuing into the third verse. We go up to B♭ for the fourth verse (which isn’t played on the live version) before the finale in C.
Bands usually futz with the chords of a song to either help the singer’s range or to make for a smoother transition between songs. Or both.
“See Me, Feel Me” (2:42–4:01)
Next, we get a curious reprieve of the Tommy set from earlier in the show — an interesting way to make for a more holistic medley. I’ve seen some speculation online that “See Me, Feel Me” was added to this jam to help associate the Tommy album with the Who; only six tracks were on the original Live at Leeds release, and none of them are from the Tommy set.
Of course, there’s no song from Tommy that’s actually called “See Me, Feel Me”. What we get here is basically the second chunk of the album’s finale “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. The “See Me, Feel Me” motif shows up several times throughout Tommy in different songs, while the second half of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was eventually spiced into its own song and released as a 45 single (this single has also shown up on later compilation releases).
Now things are getting interesting!
If you’re a big Who fan, you might be thinking, what the hell is “Higher” from? Well, the conjecture online is that “Higher” is actually an early version of “Naked Eye”. Indeed, the last 90 seconds of “Naked Eye” are lifted right from “Higher”. Other than that though, I’m not sure to what extent the two tracks are related, since the rest of the five–minute “Naked Eye” doesn’t sound much like “Higher”. To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of live recordings showing how “Naked Eye” evolved over the years, other than recordings of “Higher”.
The studio cut of “Naked Eye” was eventually released in 1974 on the 11–track outtake compilation Odds & Sods (it had been recorded several years prior during the Who’s Next era). In the liner notes of Odds & Sods, Pete provides some brief commentary on the LP’s 11 songs. Or, in his words, “I’m going to tell you all why they were never released in the first place.”
Pete says “Naked Eye” was going to be part of a canceled EP, although he doesn’t name this release in the liner notes — it was later revealed that the EP would have been called 6 ft. Wide Garage, 7 ft. Wide Car. As Pete explains:
This number was written around a riff that we often played on stage at the end of our act around the time we were touring early Tommy. It came to be one of our best stage numbers, this was never released because we always hoped we would get a good live version one day.
It seems to be the case that the riff in question is in fact from “Higher”. It’s fascinating how the outro of “Naked Eye” ended up inspiring the rest of the track.
Before we move on, I must say that I don’t really follow Pete when he says, “We always hoped we would get a good live version one day.” A great version was captured at the Young Vic Theatre in April of 1971.
Well, I think it’s great at least. Maybe the band felt there were too many issues, but it’s nothing a few surreptitious studio overdubs couldn’t fix (which many bands do for live records). I guess it’s also possible that the tape went missing, which is something that apparently happened often back in the day.
(The Young Vic concert has not been released as its own album. Instead, most of it has been tacked onto the 2003 deluxe reissue of Who’s Next.* You should listen to it — the guitar solo for “Pure and Easy” is one of the best things I’ve heard in my life.)
“Over Bridge” (5:55–8:43)
Alright, so what the hell is an “Over Bridge”? I’m not sure, but it seems to be a play on “Overture” from Tommy. Indeed, this section starts out with some noodling that’s very reminiscent of the climax to “Overture”. Eventually, the noodling turns into this riff:
The melody above is very similar (albeit slower) to a leitmotif that I like to call “Captain Walker’s Theme”. You first hear this theme towards the end of “Overture” right before Pete sings “Captain Walker didn’t come home…” It shows up again throughout the LP, such as at the end of “Amazing Journey”, right before “Sparks”.
Here are the two melodies compared:
They’re basically the same.
The band joins in after about a minute and continues riffing on this line as Roger belts out some indistinct phrases. Things speed up slightly before a big trashcan ending, which no doubt fooled some of the audience into thinking the jam was over. (Not quite — we still have about six minutes to go!)
Thanks to both a lengthy intro and outro, this movement is the longest of the bunch, at 3 minutes and 38 seconds.
“Coming Out To Get You” (8:43–9:54)
Here we have another song with seemingly mysterious origins. Personally, I think this is an early version of what would become “The Seeker”. Well, that’s what I thought until I actually looked into it.
I knew that “The Seeker” was released in 1971 on the compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, but I just recently learned it was released earlier in March of 1970 as a standalone single, barely a month after the Leeds show (funny enough, the single was released earlier than the live album, which came out later that year in May).
This makes me think that “The Seeker” was pretty much in its final form by 1970, which seems to put the kibosh on my theory. Still, I can’t help but notice some likeness between the two tracks.
It’s mainly from the pocket — the tempos are similar (“The Seeker” is about 4 clicks faster) and the strumming patterns are definitely reminiscent of one another:
They are very much alike, although the chords are different, but you wouldn’t get this from just the guitar part; you’d have to listen to the rest of the band.
That being said, you can’t deny that the lyric “coming out to get you” sure has a similar vibe to “they call me the seeker, I’ve been searching low and high”.
So then, I wonder if “Coming Out To Get You” is not an early version of “The Seeker”, but rather an alternate version that uses similar ideas to different musical effects.
Here’s something odd: several bars after entering, Keith abruptly changes to double time (or, he starts in half time before going to a 2 & 4 feel). It’s tough to know if Keith had a sudden change of heart regarding how the groove should sound, or if this was just an accident. Knowing Keith… it was probably the latter.
This one comes from the 10–minute instrumental off the Tommy album.
It doesn‘t seem like “Underture” was a typical part of the original Tommy set. That’s probably because “Underture” is really just an extended version of the 2–minute instrumental “Sparks” — both songs use the same chords and melodies, including this riff to start:
It would actually be tough to tell the difference between a long version of “Sparks” and a short version of “Underture”. I suspect the band didn’t do both of them live because it would have felt redundant.
Indeed, some have wondered if “Underture” was written just to fill up the double album (the song is used to close side two of the first disc). It’s not uncommon for an opera to revisit musical themes... but for 10 minutes? Probably a bit of overkill.
Might as well add some fun trivia, since I’m not when I’ll ever talk about this tune again: It’s long been rumored that Elvin Jones thought “Underture” was the best display of Keith’s drumming. Well, it’s no rumor; I tracked down the quote from Life Magazine, February 6, 1970: “See there, where the tempo started to die, how he picked it up! The man is a drummer. Everything they play, he contains it.”†
While we’re at it, here’s another blog post from 2014 making the same case.
“Driving Four” (12:45–14:44)
The last movement of “My Generation” is the creatively named “Driving Four”; another theme that seems to come from thin air. Unlike the other sections, I struggle to trace this one to another Who song. I think the band may have just cooked this one up for live shows, and it never evolved into anything more than that.
It’s not an intricate piece of music — the band simply takes some solos while jamming on this riff:
Things start with Pete playing the riff slowly and softly before cueing the rest of the band to come in at full blast, around 200 BPM. There’s actually a faint flub at this slow part when Pete whiffs the low G; it surprises me that this was never overdubbed (or even spliced out) for any of the five releases of Live at Leeds.
This last chunk wraps up with a big trashcan ending and a guitar cadenza, where Pete messes with his pickup selector and a delay effect to make it sound like his guitar signal is cutting out. According to thewho.net, the only pedal Pete used at the show was a Univox Super-Fuzz (which, unsurprisingly, has no delay settings), so perhaps this effect was added at the mixing stage.
“My Generation” finally concludes with yet another trashcan ending, complete with gong hits! It’s enough to make me want a gong, just for the one time (at most) I would ever want to play a trashcan ending during a concert.
As we wrap this up, I have a message to all you jam bands out there: listen to how the Who plays these movements. I mean really listen. It’s a 15–minute track and not once does it sound repetitive. Nothing overstays its welcome and dynamics are never used as a gimmick to get more mileage out of every section. Some of the transitions are instantaneous, while others are drawn out; whatever the song needs, it gets.
“My Generation” on Songwhip.
* ↑ It looks like the entirety of this gig (all 18 songs) will be included in the upcoming super–ultra–mega–deluxe edition of Who’s Next, due for release this September 15th. This one has 10 discs and more than 9 hours of music. Boy howdy!
† ↑ Elvin shits on Ginger Baker in the same article after hearing “Do What You Like”, to hilarious effect: “Nothing happenin’. Cat’s got delusions of grandeur with no grounds. They should make him an astronaut and lose his ass!”