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 #38: The Beatles – And Your Bird Can Sing

1966 was a good year for England. The football team won the World Cup, Tony Adams was born, and The Beatles unveiled their seventh album to the world. Except for the USA, who wouldn’t hear the album in its original form until the remastered CD in 1987.

Revolver. My favourite album by The Beatles. One of my favourite albums by any band.

Where can I start? I think that everything I would say about it has been said by almost every reviewer there is. I’ll leave it to you lot to find out what they say.

Upon seeing the Beatles light in 2009, I went on any site where I could download their whole discography. ‘Revolver’ was one of their first albums I downloaded, and then I didn’t know what to think of it. I’ve said many times that it takes a few listens to appreciate each song individually, resulting in an accumulated appreciation for the album as a whole. This was another of those times.

I think the fact that the songs were so short was something that made the album seem really quick to me. I would be listening to a song, and then it would finish and it was onto the next one. It was hard to get into something when the last chord faded out before your ears.

And Your Bird Can Sing‘ was one example. Barely over two minutes, it’s one of the shortest songs.

Listening to it again and again though, I finally understood why the song was so sick. Sick is good. Now, it’s come to a point that when I see the cover, I either think of the fake countdown at the beginning of ‘Taxman’ or the introduction of this song.

It’s actually one of the more ‘basic?’ pieces of the album. A straight-forward rocker written by Lennon, with dual-guitar solos by both George Harrison AND Paul McCartney, Ringo doing his stuff on the drums. It;s just a really cheerful song, with hubris at its finest in the lyrics:

‘You tell me that you’ve heard every sound there is
And your bird can swing, but you can’t hear me
You can’t hear- MEEEEEEE.’

It’s just a huge ‘You suck. I’m great’ message. It’s brilliant. It’s everything you want musically and lyrically, and it’s only done in a short amount of time.

Then ‘For No One’ starts. Then you need to get the tissues. For drying your eyes.

It was clear that the band was a world away from their mop-top mania stage and had already embraced their dive into the unknown. That’s why they’re so great you know? They changed their sound on every album and they still sounded good! JESUS.

Revolver forever.

Until next time.