#565: The Who – I Can’t Reach You

Just when one Who song has been done, another comes quickly around the corner. ‘I Can’t Reach You’ comes right after ‘I Can See for Miles’ on The Who Sell Out, and as I type this I’m slowly realising the contrast between the two. The latter expresses a narrator’s confidence in their ability to see all things, whereas the former witnesses one who’s trying their hardest to gain any sort of communication with a particular entity they want to get close to. Also, ‘I Can’t Reach You’ is one the daintiest compositions on the whole album which is a sudden change coming after the chaos of the preceding song. Clearly a lot of thought was put into the order of the tracklist. I’ve listened to this album for about seven years now and that’s just crept on me.

There’s a child-like innocence I sense when listening to this song, possibly aided by the foregrounded light piano that leads the melody and the fact that Pete Townshend sings here. At this point Roger Daltrey hadn’t fully developed his trademark howling vocals of the 70s so there’s not a large difference between the two’s vocal abilities on the album, but Townshend’s higher register lends this particular song a softer and vulnerable touch.

The song is the first on the album to use lyrics/music that would then be appear on the following album Tommy through the ‘see, feel, hear’ section of the chorus. ‘Sunrise’ does it. ‘Rael 1’ does it. ‘Glow Girl’ does it too, if you own the 1995 release. Other small, small things to look out for when listening is John Entwistle’s heavenly harmony vocal during the chorus, Keith Moon’s yet again going crazy on the drums – so much so that he lets out a scream before a drum roll around 2:32 – and the sneaky key change that occurs during the instrumental break which you won’t realise would have happened until Townshend brings in the final chorus. It’s all nicely tied together. One of my favourites on the album.

My iPod #564: Nine Black Alps – I Can’t Lose

‘I Can’t Lose’ is one of the many B-sides Mancunian alternative rock/grungy-type band Nine Blacks Alps made during the sessions for their debut album Everything Is, released in 2005, and appeared on the ‘Just Friends’ single. That album still sounds as good today as it did then as an eleven-year-old. I could possibly write a whole article about how much I like that album, how I got into it etc. etc. That would be for another time.

Everything Is is a perfect twelve song package of fast, biting guitar music. Couldn’t get much better. ‘I Can’t Lose’ is very much in the same vein as the songs on the album and wouldn’t seem out of place had the band decided it to be on the final tracklist, but its production doesn’t give it that heavy feel that is present on so many of the songs that did make it.

Not trying to take anything away from it though, ‘I Can’t Lose’ is still very enjoyable. It’s not meant to be a very heavy song at all. It has a self-deprecating vibe to it which I can’t really explain. I mean, the song’s called ‘I Can’t Lose’ but the song’s narrator mentions how they always lose even if they seem to be at an advantage. Whichever way it’s meant to be taken, it’s all good stuff.

My iPod #563: The Who – I Can See for Miles

Another old one. ‘I Can See for Miles’ is the seventh track and single from The Who Sell Out – the band’s third album overall – released in late 1967. I’m in that group, figuratively speaking, that rates the album as one of their best. Well, a lot of people would say that too. But I think it’s miles better than Tommy. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. All four members have more or less equal vocal duties on here and sound like they’re having a good time on every song (all 23 of them if you own the 1995 remaster/remixed edition). Plus this was the apex of The Who’s power-pop phase before they became the hard rock staple from the 70s onwards. Every song is just very entertaining.

The song concerns a narrator who, in basic terms, does not like to be taken for a fool and is number one when it comes to being observant but this is exaggerated to make it seem as if they are an all-seeing entity that can see far beyond any boundary. ‘I Can See for Miles’ is meant to sound massive. Pete Townshend described it as “the raunchiest, loudest, most ridiculous rock and roll record you’ve ever heard”. In some ways, the performance lives up to its description. I’m sure there are at least two drum takes by the manic Keith Moon on here, with drum rolls and various cymbal crashes overdubbed for full effect. It contains a memorable chorus characterised by rising vocal harmonies. There’s a guitar solo that consists of only one note. And there’s a key change for the last verse and chorus. You’d think it had everything to make it a great hit.

Apparently not. It peaked at ten in both the British and American singles charts in its day. Some would be thrilled about that, but Townshend was not too particularly happy. Despite how well (or not so) it did commercially, one can’t deny its audacity and ferocity. It also influenced Paul McCartney to write ‘Helter Skelter’ which is not so bad.

Below is a clearly mimed performance the band did for French TV in 1968.

My iPod #562: They Might Be Giants – I Can Hear You

I can’t vividly describe the first time I heard ‘I Can Hear You’. There was no situation I found myself in life where the song was playing on the radio and felt a wave of emotion. It just happened when I listened to Factory Showroom in full in 2010 or so. I can’t remember how I felt about the song on that first listen, though revisits to it revealed another noteworthy gem of the group’s within their illustrious discography.

The performance of ‘I Can Hear You’ was recorded at the Edison Historic Site in New Jersey on wax cylinder alongside three other songs on 27th April 1996, explaining the low audio quality of the track. Its thin sound also makes it quite hard to decipher what instruments are being played on it. All these years I never thought there was a bass being played in it, yet close listening made it much clearer. It also has quite a simple yet punchy rhythm to it which makes it that much enjoyable to hear.

The lyrics are sets of dialogue from other low-quality transmissions that you may come across in daily life, whether it be from a passenger in a plane calling a close friend from the sky to those intercom towers you order your food from at a fast-food drive-through. There’s a sad feeling I get from this song, I can’t explain it. There’s something about the sound of it and its cyclical nature – the ‘chorus’ at the beginning of the song comes back around at the end – that sometimes gets to me. It’s far from being one of the band’s best songs. Though I enjoy it a lot. Good tune.

The band replicated the recording process of the song as part of a Millennium special of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in 1999. This version is just as good, if not probably better, given some string flourishes that enhance its effect.

My iPod #561: The Rolling Stones – I Am Waiting

I’m not the biggest Rolling Stones fan. Not that I have anything against them as people or the music they make. I listened to what is considered to be their golden streak of albums from 1968’s Beggars Banquet to their 1972 double album Exile on Main St. I even gave Their Satanic Majesties Request a try. But from all of those there are only a few songs that I really enjoy. They’re just not for me. But that’s alright. They do their thing for millions of other people.

Same as ‘I Am the Cosmos’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘I Am Waiting’ appeared in my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify one day at some point last year. The track is from their 1966 album Aftermath. I haven’t listened to that album and probably should, but from what limited knowledge I possess this was produced in a period of time when they weren’t so bluesy in their musical approach – experimenting their sound whilst still remaining quite poppy.

What I like most about ‘I Am Waiting’ apart from its melody is how its instrumentation manages to match the lyrical content. Mick Jagger sings about waiting for something to happen in the sneaky quiet verses, and when the anxiety gets too much the drums come in with a thump and the song builds in intensity for the chorus. A dynamic that has worked well for many a band in history.

See the band perform it on British 60s music TV show Ready Steady Go! below. Jagger has a creepy-creep stare going on halfway through.

My iPod #560: Wilco – I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

The story goes that Wilco were going through some inner turmoil during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, particularly between lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy and fellow guitarist and composer Jay Bennett. Their original record label weren’t so impressed with the final result of their work, rejected it and told the band to get out of their faces, leaving them with an album to provide but no label to release it. Eventually things all fell into place. Wilco got signed again. The album, originally slated for September 2001, was physically released to the masses months later in May 2002. Critics ate it up, fans loved it. Still do to this day. It has gone down as one of the best albums of the opening decade of this century.

‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ is the album’s opener. It’s seven minutes long. It takes about a minute of that time for the song’s main chord progression to make itself known after a sort of instrumental prelude of pianos, percussion and organs. Tweedy’s mellow voice comes in with the album’s first (and possibly most quoted) lines “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue/I’m hiding out in the big city blinking/What was I thinking when I let go of you?”, and it all goes on from there really. You have to listen to it for that full experience.

Tweedy doesn’t have the greatest singing voice. Not soulful, or belting from the stomach or whatever. But it’s just perfect for the whole mood of the track. And the album in general. The vocal melody is the most simple thing. But it’s great. It will get in your head. And accompanied by the very full mix provided by Jim O’Rourke, it’s an enrapturing listen. It’s hard to not find yourself in a bit of a trance when hearing this. You probably won’t feel it on your first listen. It’ll sink in.

Above is the supposed demo of the tune, as recorded by Jay Bennett before it went through remixing for the album. Some prominent smooth Rhodes(?) piano in there, but not quite the same.

My iPod #559: Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos

Working for a year at a music magazine gave me a lot of opportunities. I interviewed Tiken Jah Fakoly. Received free tickets to festivals. Some manual labour thrown in there. A space to get my creative juices flowing, generally. It was also there that I was able to explore my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify which, to anyone not so familiar, compiles a two-hour or so list of songs based on a user’s preference of genres they listen to when using the application. It was one week that today’s song made it on there; had it not…. well, I wouldn’t be talking about it now. Funny how things can work out.

Chris Bell was a founding a member of the 70s power pop band Big Star, a group who didn’t get its just dues in its day but have since been recognised by many a cool musician person as one of the best of its time. Bell only appeared on the band’s debut album #1 Record, a great album and a favourite of mine but that’s talk for another time, before departing after its 1972 release to pursue a career of his own.

During this time he laid down ‘I Am the Cosmos’, a beautiful song concerning loneliness, longing and inner turmoil. The narrator of the track tries to come back around at the end of a relationship by telling himself that he is the universe and the wind, but knows that in doing so his partner is unlikely to return. It is a downer, but the production here shines. It feels like I’m flying through a California blue sky when I hear this song on some good headphones, especially when the guitar solo comes in. It sounds like the album cover. But there’s a lingering sense of melancholy to the whole thing which can make it hard to listen to on some days. I really appreciate this song. Love it to bits.

Sadly, Bell was never able to witness the acclaim his music would receive as the years rolled on, he passed away in a tragic car crash in the winter of 1978. The music lives on.