But which generation? When the band members first sang “My Generation,” they were in their 20s. Now they are pushing 70.
Like the Olympic torch passing from one runner to another, the London games’ closing ceremony was an all-ages affair designed to show the flame of British creativity leaping from one age group to the next.
The 21-year-old singer Ed Sheeran sang “Wish You Were Here” with members of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Jessie J belted out “We Will Rock You” with Queen’s Brian May. The Kaiser Chiefs played The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.”
Jessie J performing with Queen’s Brian Mayduring the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
A ceremony that director Kim Gavin called an “elegant mashup” of music and creativity was designed to show that the British Invasion never ended, thank you very much.
“It’s about how good British music is in the world, and how global it is,” Gavin said a day before the ceremony.
If that was too old hat, there was One Direction, boy band of the moment, as well as Tinie Tempah, Jessie J and Taio Cruz – who performed their own songs, then a Bee Gees track from the golden age of disco.
And if that was all insufficiently quirky, there was a brass band playing Madness; a Guards band in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats playing Blur; and Monty Python’s Eric Idle singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” accompanied by centurions, bagpipers and roller-skating nuns.
We heard the voices and songs of the departed – Queen’s Freddie Mercury singing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Liverpool choirs performing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
There were some notable absences: No Rolling Stones – the band said they were out of practice. No Elton John, although he did record one of the official games anthems. There was a David Bowie montage, but no Bowie in person.
It wasn’t just about the music. Gavin said he wanted to show how “U.K. culture, media, music are locked together to create the next big thing.”
So there was a nod to Britain’s scandal-tarred but vibrant press, in the newsprint-covered landmarks and vehicles of the opening scene.
There was fashion. We saw 1960s Mods, whose sharply tailored look can be seen in the modern designs of Tom Ford and others. There were images of supermodels in designs by Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen – and Victoria Beckham, now a designer as well as a Spice Girl.
One of the models was even a Jagger – Georgia May Jagger, daughter of Rolling Stone Mick.
The show rocked the 80,000 spectators inside Olympic Stadium, but didn’t get rave reviews from those watching on TV. Some found it too kitschy, or too incomprehensible – youngsters wondering who Ray Davies was, parents scratching their heads at One Direction.
The sarcastic spirit of many British Twitter users – banished for two weeks by the Olympic feel-good factor – was back with a vengeance.
“Embarrass a generation,” tweeted film critic Dave Calhoun in a play on the games’ official motto: “Inspire a Generation.”
That Olympic slogan could also sum up the ceremony’s ethos.
Or perhaps, to misquote The Who, the kids are alright – and their parents are, too.