One of the surprising things about The Kinks’ proto-metal song You Really Got Me (see part 1 of this series) is how little followed immediately from it. Aside from the Kinks’ own follow-up All Day and All of the Night, nothing else recognisable as tending towards metal hit the charts until a full year and three months had passed. Then this happened:
My Generation wasn’t The Who’s first single — in fact it was their third (fourth if you include the non-charting debut I’m The Face), but their previous offerings were relatively mainstream. The raw aggression of My Generation is its contribution to the development of heavy metal. It’s expressed in the brutality of the drumming, in the predominance of bass guitar as a near-lead instrument, in the distortion of the guitar, and most of all in the vocals. Roger Daltrey doesn’t so much sing as sneer — it sounds like punk-come-a-decade-early. The lyric is rudimentary, with only two verses (both repeated), and drips contempt. The delayed final word in the line “Why don’t you just Ffff … fade away?” promises, if it does not deliver, a slap-in-the-face obscenity.
It’s in the outro that the song really land in heavy metal territory: the drumming degenerates into chaotic rolls, the bass is thunderous, and vocal howls overlie a clanging near-atonal guitar part that finishes in a mess of feedback.
There’s a certain irony in that Roger Daltrey was still singing this song at least as late as 2005: the iconically harsh line “Hope I die before I get old” sounds strange from a man in his sixties. But let’s not dwell on that. My Generation opened new musical doors — although again it would take some time before anyone walked through them.