The Music Lounge

Pete Townshend at Seventy

The Who’s Pete Townshend turns seventy…

pete_townshendToday, May 19th 2015 marks the birthday of one Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend and the fiftieth anniversary of a song he wrote whilst sat on a train from London to Southampton. The songwriter is of course, Pete Townshend of The Who and the song in question would become an anthem for a generation with a lyric which has epitomised youth culture ever since.

‘My Generation’ which contains that unforgettable line “Hope I die before I get old” set Townshend and The Who on the path to superstardom, a band who managed to capture the hearts of not only the original Mods but successive revivals as well as establish themselves as premier league rock gods with a notoriety to match. The song was written by a twenty year old Townshend frustrated at having to take a train after the 1935 hearse he drove and parked on the road close to the Queen Mother’s residence was towed away at her request. Unbeknown to Townshend, the hearse was similar to the one used to carry the coffin of the late King and he was indignant at being charged £250 for a car he had only paid £30 for, hence the anti-establishment lyric.

But what of Townshend the guitarist? Whilst he almost certainly promoted the use of feedback before any other popular musician of the time and smashed equipment before Hendrix and Blackmore, he has often received greater technical credit than he perhaps deserved. Like Jimmy Page, his real skill as a guitarist lay in his song writing ability which produced a long line of classics which do not require listing here. Alongside their drummer, Keith Moon, he could play a ferocious rhythm, attacking the chords with an aggression nobody had witnessed until he came along. Consider if you will the guitarists who preceded him; Duanne Eddy, Hank Marvin, Buddy Holly, Les Paul and so on and it isn’t difficult to imagine the impact his style would have had. The whole band had attitude and were making headlines in the States some two years before Led Zeppelin came along. It was Townshend who got arrested in America for assaulting a police officer he thought was a heckler and who else but Townshend would use his guitar to kick an anti-establishment cult leader off the stage at Woodstock, the world’s largest ever peace festival?

The Who continue to tour and looking at the likes of Townshend, Dave Gilmour and Jimmy Page as men in their seventies with honorary doctorates and Queen’s honours to their names it is difficult to imagine them as drug-taking, heavy drinking, care-free rockers in their twenties. But they were, and wherever you may wish to place him on the all-time great lists, Townshend was one of the originals. No question.

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