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.