The Who’s Generation

Essential Question

How did the Who represent “My Generation” in mid-1960s England?


One of the most important bands of the British Invasion, the Who had a remarkable voice for expressing generational rage and an explosive performance style to match it. While neither the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones appeared at either of the most iconic 1960s music festivals—Monterey Pop in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969—the Who delivered signature performances at both. Through their songs, which expressed the visceral frustrations of adolescence and young adulthood, and their concerts, which set standards for a new kind of showmanship, the Who established a reputation as one of the toughest, most articulate, most influential bands in Rock and Roll.

This lesson centers on the Who’s 1965 song “My Generation.” The band’s second hit single (after “I Can’t Explain”), it has become perhaps its best-known record, an anthem for the youth of the 1960s that still resonates today. “My Generation” captures the spirit of the Who as well as, if not better than, anything the group recorded over its long career: confrontational lyrics that are simultaneously full of angst and defiance, stuttering vocals that evoke frustration and confusion, and a performance that at times feels on the edge of collapse.

In this lesson, students will evaluate live performances of “My Generation,” focusing on the one from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and analyze the lyrics and sonic character of the song. Finally, they will examine their own generational identity, and, following the Who’s lead, compose new lyrics for a new generation.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will

  1. Know (Knowledge):
    • The importance of the Who as a leader of the “British Invasion” of the mid-1960s
    • The role of the song “My Generation” in giving voice to disaffected young people in the 1960s
    • The influence of the Who’s signature live act, which introduced the destruction of instruments into the lexicon of Rock and Roll performance
  2. Be able to (Skills):
    • Extrapolate arguments about music by assessing sound, mood, tone, instrumentation
    • Draw connections among various print, audio and visual texts
    • Write creatively for personal and/or small group expression
    • Compare and contrast texts, arguments and ideas
    • Common Core: Students will closely read a text (song lyrics) for explicit and implicit arguments, including attention to multiple audiences, and to determine multiple meanings of key words and phrases (CCSS Reading 4; CCSS Reading 8; CCSS Language 4; CCSS Language 5)
    • Common Core: Students will cite evidence and engage in a wide range of writing and speaking exercises intended for varied audiences (CCSS Reading 1; CCSS Writing 4; CCSS Writing 5; CCSS Writing 10; CCSS Speaking and Listening 6)