#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.

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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 #547: The Who – How Many Friends

Afraid of turning thirty and becoming irrelevant in the music business, Pete Townshend expressed the personal issues he was going through in his songwriting. The material written resulted in The Who by Numbers, The Who’s seventh album released in 1975, which marked a return to the straightforward studio album format after their second rock opera of Quadrophenia in 1973.

“How Many Friends” is the penultimate track, and is arguably the one in which Townshend’s insecurities are laid bare. It is something of a biography, with Townshend recalling moments of being hit on by a guy, falling in a love with a lady at the cinema, and signing a contract for the first time. However, all of these times bring up the issue on whether he is just being used, leaving him questioning who he can really trust and whether he has true friends he can really depend on and will take him for the person he is. Its message struck a chord with Keith Moon, who is said to have cried and hugged Townshend after hearing the song’s demo for the first time.

Once again the band provide a brilliant performance, but what really gives the song its delicate touch is the lush piano courtesy of the late Nick Hopkins, who fills the slot as the ‘rhythm guitar’ while Townshend delivers what is essentially a four-minute solo in the left channel. It is maybe one of the songs by The Who where the rhythm section aren’t the musical highlights. Of course you can’t disregard the playing of John Entwistle and Keith Moon completely, they very much do their job greatly, but Daltrey’s majestic vocals with Hopkins’ piano and Townshend’s intense guitar work reinforce the track’s sad energy. A tear will be shed.

My iPod #512: The Who – Helpless Dancer

The eighth track on The Who’s second rock opera Quadrophenia is “Helpless Dancer”, a piano led march that is meant to represent the ‘tough guy’ persona of the album’s central character Jimmy. It is also one of the four themes present that portrays one of the members of The Who, in this case the song is the theme for Roger Daltrey. The narrator is angered by the unfairness and injustice within the society around him; Jimmy gives up on it, and his ‘dancing’ and naivety are brought to a sudden halt.

The aforementioned piano boldly begins the track and its chords simmer throughout the introduction, which continues to build as acoustic guitars and a French horn courtesy of bassist John Entwistle enter the mix. The melody provided by the horn is something of a motif, appearing at crucial points in the album’s storyline.  It is soon after this slow build that the track’s marching rhythm starts, led by a vamping piano which blasts out chords whilst Roger Daltrey’s passionate vocals pan regularly pan from one ear to the other. Acoustic flourishes by Townshend appear within its second verse to give the track a further boost, and the way the guitar is played is mirrored again by Keith Moon and his drums later during “The Rock” (which I actually just noticed while writing this).

The piano and French horn end “Dancer” just how it started, but a nice little snippet of “The Kids Are Alrightreally closes the song off – maybe to lift a weight off the serious subject matter.

My iPod #447: The Who – Going Mobile

“Going Mobile” is the seventh track from The Who’s classic album Who’s Next from 1971. The track features only Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon on their respective instruments. But don’t come to the conclusion that this track can’t be compared to the other eight just because it misses the presence of Roger Daltrey’s monstrous voice. In fact, the song rocks just as hard as them. Even if Pete does play the acoustic guitar for the majority of it, it is again the wonders of Moon and Entwistle that give the track its emphatic edge.

The track concerns the wonders of being on the road, on the move with no sign of stopping, just generally feeling free with the cool air blowing in the wind and not having a care in the world. And as much as the track is about continuously moving lyrically, it also gives this idea in it’s actual execution. Keith Moon particularly pulls off an incredibly energetic performance (as ever) on the drums, ending every single measure with thundering drum fills and generally playing them as if he has more than two arms. At one particular point, he turns the track into some sort of barn-dance before seamlessly transitioning back to the regular pattern. It’s crazy. John effortlessly keeps it all together with his fluid bass playing, and Pete can’t contain his excitement on the vocals, ad-libbing at any given opportunity.

Being on the same album as tracks such as “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again“, “Going Mobile” tends not to get so much attention. But it should. It is honestly just as brilliant.

My iPod #435: The Who – Glow Girl

“Glow Girl” closes out the 1995 reissue of “The Who Sell Out, The Who’s third album which was originally released in 1967. The song was recorded during 1968, and was planned to be on an album entitled “Who’s for Tennis?” which obviously never came to be. It captures the band at their most poppy phase with jangly guitars and sweet vocal harmonies that last throughout the song, but still manages to contain that rock edge via the swaggering basslines and erratic drum fills.

Despite the light and heartwarming tone the song details the scene where people are getting on a flight which unfortunately crashes shortly after taking off. But after an instrumental break of guitar string scrapes the song comes to the pleasant conclusion in which the “glow girl” is born. To a “Mrs. Walker”, funnily enough. That caught me by surprise when I listened to it for the first time too. Does that mean Pete Townshend just stole bits from this track and “Rael 1” and inserted them into “Tommy”, or did he have that music planned all along? Who knows.

The thing I know is, after more than an hour or so of great music and a few mock adverts, “Glow Girl” with its pleasant overtones and silly mock-Sgt.Pepper locked groove is the perfect way to cap off the “Who Sell Out” listening experience.

My iPod #426: The Who – Girl’s Eyes

“Girl’s Eyes” is a song recorded during the making of The Who’s third album The Who Sell Out, which went on to be released in 1967. The song did not make it onto the original album’s tracklist. Though it did appear in the extended tracklisting when the album was remastered and remixed years later in 1995. The track is one of the very few Who songs to be written by the ever-eccentric Keith Moon. He couldn’t sing very well, but you’re still able to hear him take lead vocals in the right channel with bassist John Entwistle singing along with him in the left.

After a false start in which someone blows over the top of an open bottle and Moon hurriedly says “Hello” to the listener (maybe to test the microphone or something), the track eventually gets going and is driven by a delightful piano and acoustic guitars, but Moon and Entwistle do their business on their respective instruments too. The track concerns a fangirl who Moon sees at every show the band perform at, but he clearly doesn’t care about her as much as she about them. He wonders if he could have the audacity of hurting this girl if they were ever to meet, though whether this actually happens is not revealed as the lyrics pretty much end there. I also think that Moon couldn’t think of a true ending to the song’s music, as the band improvise an ending where each member eventually gives up playing after a few reiterations of the song’s chord progression.

This song’s a-okay. Moon was always meant for the drums, of course, but this track shows that he could actually write a good tune as well too.