Some of the most tantalising inclusions in the forthcoming super deluxe edition box set of The Who’s classic debut album, My Generation, are a number of demo recordings that Pete Townshend made between 1964 and ’65 – not least three songs that have never been heard before. While on a break from touring in 2015, Townshend came across a cache of unreleased recordings, among them songs never before known to have existed: ‘The Girls I Could’ve Had’, ‘As Children We Grew’ and ‘My Own Love’. And now fans have the chance to hear ‘The Girls I Could’ve Had’ in advance of the release of the box set.
Writing in his sleevenotes to the reissue, Townshend recalls that, from autumn 1964 to early 1965, he “spent every spare moment doing demos”. Who manager Kit Lambert acted as his sounding board during this period, partly ensuring that, as Townshend puts it, he “weeded out all the softer stuff”.
Not that ‘The Girls I Could’ve Had’ could be deemed “soft”. It has a hefty rock’n’roll chug right out of Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios, with Townshend’s distinctively choppy guitar on top. What is notable, however, is how his lyrics, even then, have a wistful nostalgia about them. Rather than boast of past conquests, Townshend recalls, “Sittin’ reminiscin’ about nights spent alone/Chicks’d talk, we’d take a walk/Then I’d get nervous and go home,” in an altogether more truthful look at life as experienced by most adolescents.
Though later in the song Townshend alludes to missed opportunities that, in his words, now “make it sound as though I was turning down girls every day”, he admits that the song was really about his lack of success in that department. Recalling that Roger Daltrey had a “sense of late teenage machismo” which ensured that he “did very well with girls”, Townshend notes that the song “would never have worked for him”.
Indeed, he notes that it’s “perfectly possible” that the rest of The Who never heard this song. “I can’t remember the band ever coming to my home studio to listen to my demos,” Townshend writes. “It may have happened, but I doubt it. Mick Jagger and Spencer Davis did, but Roger Daltrey didn’t!”
Fifty-two years on from their original recording, Townshend had fixed any serious problems with the audio in an attempt to present the demos in as authentic a state as possible. “I have used additional echo effects to emulate the sound I used to get with my old tape machines,” he acknowledges, but also asserts that, “In all other respects these demos sound just as they did when they were first made.”
The My Generation super deluxe edition, then, looks set to double as a time capsule, stuffed with artefacts to whisk the listener back to 1966 and a time when The Who married their love of US R&B with Townshend’s defiant, rebellious worldview in order to become one of the most dangerous – and revered – bands on the planet.