THE WHO My Generation Deluxe Edition (MCA/Universal) Rating: NNNNThe Who with Counting Crows at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Saturday (September 28). $50-$250. 416-870-8000.
Had Maverick Indie producer Shel Talmy not taken a tip to see a promising new group rehearsing in a Shepherd's Bush church hall, The Who's Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey might now be working at a Cornwall haberdashery instead of playing the ACC Saturday. Although The Who had already smashed their way through a pile of guitars and drum kits by the time Talmy witnessed their explosive energy first-hand in late 64, it was the visionary Chicago-raised studio whiz who turned The Who into a serious chart threat -- just as he'd done with the Kinks.
The revealing two-disc My Generation Deluxe Edition -- encompassing The Who's kick-ass debut album and 17 additional tracks from early singles, alternates and outtakes -- is a brilliantly restored and informatively annotated document of The Who moving beyond R&B covers to become one of the most exciting and influential bands of their time.
"I loved The Who from the first moment I saw them," insists Talmy from his Los Angeles office. "They had everything -- the songs, musicianship, a good singer and punch. The music in England at the time was very polite, and The Who were raunchier, easily the most American rock 'n' roll band I'd seen since coming to England.
The Who's manager, Kit Lambert, was looking for someone who could help get his group on the charts, so Talmy, who'd just hit it big with the Kinks' You Really Got Me, seemed like the best bet. Sure enough, the first single Talmy produced, I Can't Explain, was a UK top-10 smash.
"Taking into account what the Kinks had done, Pete wrote I Can't Explain with the intent of it being a single. But the demo he'd made at home was only a minute and a half long, so I had to stretch it out.
"The Who weren't doing great backing vocals, so I brought in the Ivy League guys for that. I was after a hit and The Who were definitely thinking pop chart, so we did what we had to do, and it worked."
Since Talmy had a reputation for frequently employing session musicians uncredited -- Jimmy Page was rumoured to have played the guitar on You Really Got Me -- there's been some speculation about whether it's actually Townshend's guitar on the My Generation sessions.
"Jimmy Page was my numero-uno session guy, but generally speaking, as a rhythm guitarist. I don't think he ever played lead on any recording where the band already had a lead guitarist -- that includes The Who. And I can assure you, Page did not play lead guitar on You Really Got Me."
Perhaps Talmy's most innovative collaboration with The Who was the follow-up single, Anyhow, Anywhere, Anyway. Townshend's now-famous feedbacking guitar break proved highly influential for Detroit teen Wayne Kramer, who would later use the buzzing noise to great advantage with the MC5.
Unlike Roger Daltrey's stutter in My Generation ("It was one of those happy accidents and I thought we should keep it in," shrugs Talmy), the feedback was no mistake.
"Oh no, that was completely planned. Only recording it was a bitch because of the tube equipment we were using. But if Pete could play it, I was determined to get it on tape. So we set up three microphones to catch the different echoes coming off the walls, and it came together pretty quickly."
The whole My Generation album was cut and mixed in just a couple of weeks, which, like the abundance of cover songs -- including ill-advised cracks at James Brown's Shout And Shimmy, I Don't Mind and Please, Please, Please -- and the dearth of session outtakes, was typical of the times.
"Because I was paying for the studio time and money was very tight, we went over all the songs we'd be recording and then rehearsed them before going in so I'd be certain of what I'd come out with.
"There was also a feeling back then that if a band spent a long time in the studio they weren't very good, which is just the opposite of the situation now."
Since Talmy paid for the sessions and the tape, he has maintained ownership of the My Generation recordings for the past 37 years. That helps explain why MCA/Universal hasn't reissued the album before, but what changed?
"When I put up my Web site (www.sheltalmy.com) Pete contacted me via e-mail and we soon discovered that we'd both been lied to by the record company. We were actually on the same page about a lot of things.
"Once we found someone at MCA (Bill Wadell) who was willing to work things out, everything got sorted fairly quickly.
"I'd always thought we'd made a good record and listening back to the tapes, I was surprised how great everything sounded -- it was like we'd recorded those songs yesterday." email@example.com