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*5.13-I CAN SEE FOR MILES (The Who)

The Who

LISTEN

[Intro]

I know you've deceived me;
Now here's a surprise--
I know that you have 'cause
There's magic in my eyes.

        I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles!

If you think that I don't know about
The little tricks you play,
And never see you when deliberately
You put things in my way--

                Well, here's a poke at you!
                You're gonna choke on it too.
                You're gonna lose that smile
                Because all the while--

        I can see for miles and miles.(2x)

        [Chorus]

You took advantage of my trust in you
When I was so far away.
I saw you holding lots of other guys
And now you've got the nerve to say

                That you still want me.
                Well, that's as may be.
                But you gotta stand trial
                Because all the while--

        I can see for miles and miles.(2x)

        [Chorus]

[Break]

[Repeat 1st A verse]

        [Chorus]

The Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal
Are mine to see on clear days!
You thought that I would need a crystal ball
To see right through the haze.

                [Repeat 1st B verse]

        I can see for miles and miles.(2x)

        [Chorus extended from five to eight miles]

        I can see for miles and miles (9x & fade)


I Can See for Miles is, at the time of this writing, the Who’s only Top 10 hit in the United States. It was recorded in the fan magazines of the time that Pete Townshend was disappointed that the song had not gone to Number One. He complained that I Can See For Miles was true psychedelia, and it is, one of the best pieces of psychedelia in my estimation, but the song was loud and aggressive in a way that most psychedelic audiences (outside Hendrix fans) were as yet uncomfortable with. The notion of “hard rock” had not yet formed. Certainly the terrific wall of drumming that Keith Moon puts up throughout the song was more manic than anything most people had heard before. George Starostin on his website Only Solitaire wrote: “I Can See for Miles boasts one of Keith Moon's greatest performances, and ergo, one of the best drum parts ever on a rock record, right from the time Moon responds to the guitar twang with a couple of crackling beats. Ever-shifting, frequently pausing to increase the tension, the drums brilliantly convey the onset of a dramatic, doomy showdown.” And Pete Townshend’s crashing power chords and sustained notes were unfamiliar territory to those who hadn’t tuned into Hendrix’ Purple Haze, which I suppose was its closest kin.

An argument can be made however, that I Can See For Miles suffered from attempts at censorship, like the Byrd’s Eight Miles High, because a rumor developed, picked up by parents, that the song was about LSD. Some radio stations refused to play it, for fear that kids would take LSD in hopes of supernatural powers of sight. Unlike the Byrds, The Who were not an established group to the general U.S. population in late 1967, so this lack of exposure may have hurt them more.

Critics tend to mention the increased sophistication in recording for I Can See For Miles. It is recorded in Wikipedia that the backing tracks for the record were laid down in London, the vocals and overdubbing in New York, and the mixing in Los Angeles. On the website Only Solitaire Bob Josef and Rich Burnell both complain in discussion of I Can See For Miles that not nearly as much attention was showered on the other tracks of The Who Sell Out, the album on which the song appeared, and they both blame the producer, Kit Lambert.

Critics tend to praise the single’s complex harmonies and torrential drumming, which they say made a live performance of the song rare. However, You Tube had posted live performances from 1967, 1968, and 1969, where it was remarkable the changes of clothing and the manner in which the song is performed. (For the 1969 performance, for instance, Keith Moon is pushed to the front of the stage.) More remarkable are the attempts of American and English White kids to dance to this music. Most of the “dancers” look absurd, floundering in a torrent of beats. Like much of psychedelia, the song is jazz influenced and rushes impetuously forward, rather than being bound to a steady rhythm.

The lyrical meaning really goes no further than boasting of superhuman powers (like Donovan in Sunshine Superman) to detect the cheating of the singer’s lover while he was away. (Cheating of a wronged singer was a somewhat frequent theme for Townshend in those days--witness A Quick One While He’s Away.) But I do have to admire the veiled threat in “Here’s a poke at you! / You’re gonna choke on it too.” In the hip hop era, a singer would simply say suck my dick, bitch. There’s not much here lyrically to substantiate the claim that the song has anything to do with LSD. Outside the brief flirtation in The Who Sell Out, The Who were not much of a psychedelic group, and actually reached maturity later, with the first wave of hard rockers. Still, Pete Townshend managed to compose and The Who managed to perform, one of the most outstanding of psychedelic performances, in which psychedelics answered the desire to have extraordinary powers beyond the merely human dimension.


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