#517: I Can See For Miles by The Who

Peak Month: October 1967
6 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #1
1 week Hit Bound
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #9
YouTube.com link: “I Can See For Miles
Lyrics: “I Can See For Miles”

The Who are an English band who emerged in 1964 with singer Roger Daltry, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon. The band enjoyed popular singles, such as “I Can See For Miles”, “Pinball Wizard” and  “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. In Vancouver the band had eleven Top Ten hits, while in the UK they charted fourteen singles into the Top Ten. But in America they only charted one single into the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100, “I Can See For Miles”. The band were innovators of new genres in rock n’ roll with their rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia. The Who early on were known for outlandish antics on stage. At the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone, England, in June, 1964, Peter Townshend destroyed his guitar on stage and smashed it into other instruments. The Who stand alongside The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as among the most influential rock bands from Britain. They had their first Top Ten single in the UK and in Vancouver in 1965 titled “I Can’t Explain”, which peaked at #8 in the UK and #2 in Vancouver.

Roger Daltry was born in East Acton, a suburb of London, in 1944. He learned how to play guitar and became the lead singer and lead guitarist for a skiffle band called The Detours, in 1959. He worked as a sheet metal worker by day and musician by night. After their first hit single Daltry’s bandmates in The Who kicked him out of the band after he beat up Who drummer Keith Moon for providing drugs to Pete Townshend and John Entwistle. Daltry had to assess his strategy for dealing with conflict with others. Seven days later, Daltrey was allowed to return to the band, but he had to be put on probation. Daltry swore that he wouldn’t be physically violent anymore. He later reflected, “I thought if I lost the band I was dead. If I didn’t stick with The Who, I would be a sheet metal worker for the rest of my life.”

Peter Townshend was born in West London in 1945. Born into a musical family, Townshend learned to play guitar at the age of eleven. He and a schoolmate, John Entwistle, formed a traditional jazz group called the Confederates where Townshend played banjo and Entwistle played horn. John Entwistle joined Roger Daltry’s band, The Detours, in 1961. And soon after suggested Pete Townsend join the band. In 1964 there was another regional band named The Detours and so Daltry’s band came up with a new name, The Who. They also were briefly billed as the High Numbers – releasing one single under that name – then switched back to The Who.

John Entwistle was born in Cheswick, a suburb of London. From the age of seven be began to learn piano and then went on to learn the trumpet, French horn and guitar. He played with Pete Townsend in the Confederates and later joined Roger Daltry’s band, The Detours, in 1961.

Keith Moon was born in 1946 in Central Middlesex and grew up in the Greater London suburb of Wembley. He initially learned the bugle while in Sea Cadets at the age of twelve, but soon moved on to learn the drums. He was part of a band in the early 60s called The Escorts, but by the end of 1962 Moon had moved on to join the instrumental band, The Beachcombers. At age seventeen he auditioned for and got the position as drummer for The Who.

The Who were one of a number of classic rock ‘n roll bands from the UK who were part of the British Invasion. Others who were part of that wave include The Yardbirds, The Kinks, Cream, The HolliesThe Troggs, Manfred Mann and the Small Faces.

I Can’t Explain” was the first single released by The Who. Their next single, in the winter of 1965 was called “My Generation.” It peaked at #2 in the UK, but only climbed to #74 in the USA, but made the Top 20 in Vancouver peaking at #18. Several more singles that did well in the UK failed to make a dent on the Vancouver charts until the release of “I’m A Boy”. The song had been released in the UK in July 1966 and climbed to #2 on the British charts. In Vancouver the song managed to peak at #4.

June 16-18, 1967, the Monterey International Pop Festival was held in Monterey, California. The festival featured many popular rock n’ roll artists and debuted Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Otis Redding and The Who to a large American audience. At the end of their set Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and Keith Moon kicked over his drum-set. Following their appearance at Monterey, The Who went on tour with Herman’s Hermits as the opening act. According to Dave Marsh in his book Before I Get Old: The Story of The Who, the band added to their notoriety for violence while on this tour. It was in a hotel in Flint, Michigan, that the band caused $24,000 worth of damage to their hotel room.

In the midst of growing stardom, born of both musical success, live performance antics and unflattering news stories, The Who released “I Can See For Miles”.

I Can See For Miles by The Who

“I Can See For Miles” was written by Pete Townshend. He had written the song in 1966 but had held it back as an “ace in the hole”, believing it would be The Who’s first number-one single. He is quoted as saying, “To me it was the ultimate Who record, yet it didn’t sell. I spat on the British record buyer.” The single peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #10 on the UK singles chart. “I Can See for Miles” was rarely performed live by the Who during the Keith Moon era; the complex vocal harmonies were difficult to replicate on stage, as was the percussion style found on the original recording. The song was performed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in September 1967, but it was mimed.

“I Can See For Miles” was three minutes and fifty-five seconds in length, over one to two minutes longer than the standard single on the pop charts at the time. It was the only single released from The Who Sell Out. There was a psychedelic rock overtone to the single with the buzz of the guitar, trance-like repetition of the word “miles,” and the invocation of Taj Mahal. The song opens with a problem: “I know you’ve deceived me, now here’s a surprise. I know that you have ’cause there’s magic in my eyes.” The magic allows the singer to see the “little tricks you play,” and “when I was so far away…holding lots of other guys.” The singer can also see the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. He puts former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who once bragged she could see Russia from her own house in Anchorage, to shame.

The consequence of his magic eyesight is at the very least tough love. The singer is going to put their lover on trial. They poke them and predict they’re going to choke (when they discover their partner can see for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles, and miles). Finally, they’re going to lose the smile they’re wearing. The lover who’s been caught from a distance fooling around, still wants to invest in the primary relationship. But does the person singing the song? He thinks she has a “got the nerve to say you still want me.” Or does he just want to gloat over having caught his partner stepping outside the accepted rules of their relationship? Is this relationship going to go anywhere? The lack of trust, as a result of her holding lots of other guys, has left the relationship in a precarious state.

In an article titled “What Typically Happens When Deception Gets Discovered?” the staff writer comments, “uncovering a partner’s deception is difficult because it calls into question many important beliefs and values. Typically, when deception is discovered it brings to light something negative about a romantic partner. As such, finding out about a partner’s use of deception raises many questions (“Who are you?” and “Why didn’t I see that coming?”)” Other questions soon follow such as How did this happen? and What else have you been lying about? Depending on the person and the deception, apologies may never restore the trust that was once there. Being deceived can permanently impair the health of the relationship. And so, it may be a time to cut ones’ losses and move on.

Despite the song being about deception, United States senators alleged the song was about being high on drugs. Pete Townshend referred to this in the liner notes on The Who Sell Out. “The words, which aging senators have called ‘drug oriented,’ are about a jealous man with exceptionally good eyesight. Honest.” “I Can See For Miles” appeared on the soundtrack album of the 1969 film Easy Rider, though it didn’t appear in the film’s soundtrack. It also was featured in the 1995 movie with Tom Hanks, Apollo 13. The song is listed at #258 on the Rolling Stone Magazine’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, published in 2004.

“I Can See For Miles” climbed to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Locally, it peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Toronto, Miami, Ann Arbor (MI), Fargo (ND), and #2 in Reno (NV), Orlando, Kansas City (MO), Hamilton (ON), Cleveland, Charleston (WV), and #3 in Sacramento, Vernon (BC), Providence (RI), Bismarck (ND), Minneapolis/St. Paul, #4 in San Diego, New Haven (CT), Tulsa (OK), Oshawa (ON), Fort Wayne (IN), #5 in Los Angeles, Hartford (CT), Chicago, #6 in Trois Rivieres (PQ), Calgary (AB), Detroit, Seattle, Rochester (NY), Pittsburgh, Houston, #7 in Birmingham (AL), Santa Barbara (CA), Des Moines (IA), Toledo (OH), Oklahoma City, #8 in Bathurst (NB), Columbus (OH), Memphis, Omaha and #9 in Dallas and Whitehorse (YT).

On July 17, 1967, The Who appeared in concert in Vancouver at the Agrodome. The band returned to Vancouver on March 1, 1968, at the Garden Auditorium at the PNE.

The Who went on to chart another 14 singles into the Top 20 in Vancouver into the 1980’s. One of these was “Call Me Lightning”, a hit in the spring of 1968. They went on to record a rock opera, Tommy. From the album came “Pinball Wizard”, “I’m Free” and “See Me, Feel Me”. Other hit singles by The Who include “Magic Bus”, “Squeeze Box”, “Who Are You” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

The Who returned to Vancouver after a 12-year absence on April 14, 1980, at the Pacific Coliseum. Drummer, Keith Moon, died in 1978 and was replaced by Kenny Jones through to 1988. The band appeared in concert in Vancouver at the BC Place Stadium on August 19, 1989.  The Who have released eleven studio albums, their last in 2006. They continue to perform in concert and came to the Rogers’ Arena in Vancouver on October 17, 1996; October 8, 2006; May 13, 2016, and October 21, 2019.

February 17, 2020
Ray McGinnis

The Story of The Who, The Who.com
Pete Townshend, “Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy: Pete Townshend on the Who’s ‘Tommy,” Rolling Stone, December 9, 1971
Andy Greene, The Who Bio, Rolling Stone.com.
What Typically Happens When Deception Gets Discovered?,” Truthaboutdeception.com.
Dave Marsh, Before I Get Old: The Story Of The Who, Plexus Publishing, 2015.
Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, October 28, 1967.
Ritchie Unterberger, “The High Numbers Biography,” All Music.com.

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One response to “I Can See For Miles by The Who”

  1. Colin Sanders says:

    The basis for the line was Governor Palin’s 11 September 2008 appearance on ABC News, her first major interview after being tapped as the vice-presidential nominee. During that appearance, interviewer Charles Gibson asked her what insight she had gained from living so close to Russia, and she responded: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska”: Two days later, on the 2008 season premiere of Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler appeared in a sketch portraying Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, during which Fey spoofed Governor Palin’s remark of a few days earlier with the following exchange:

    FEY AS PALIN: “You know, Hillary and I don’t agree on everything …”

    POEHLER AS CLINTON: (OVERLAPPING) “Anything. I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.”

    FEY AS PALIN: “And I can see Russia from my house.”

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