Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 238
Thurs. Oct. 17, 2013
“I Can See for Miles [Mono Version]”
“♫ I know
I remember the moment I became a true lover of the sound vinyl. It was the time I was working at my own record shop in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans and in the middle of a quiet afternoon in my store when I dropped the needle on a mono copy of The Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” As soon as I heard Pete Townshend’s explosive guitar riffs, my life changed, for then on, I longed to hear all my music on 33 1/3 or 45 RPM. In his 2012 autobiography Who I Am, Pete Townshend remembers penning my favorite Who song when he wrote, “It was this kind of paranoid, unhinged thinking that spurred me to wrote “I Can See for Miles,” one of my best songs from this period. The first lyric was scribbled on the back of my affidavit in the case between Talmy and Polydor. Perhaps that’s why the song, about the viciously jealous insinuations of a cuckolded partner, adopts the tone of a legal inquisition.”
In his book, Behind Blue Eyes: The Life of Peter Townshend, author Geoffrey Giuliano described this 1967 single as, “a genuine Townshend masterpiece.” Giuliano also quotes Townshend’s recollections of “I Can See For Miles” as “One of the best songs I’ve ever written. Quite a fiery Wagnerian piece. I spent a lot of time working on the vocal harmonies and structuring it. It was [originally] written about jealousy but actually turned out to be the immense power of aspiration. You often see what it is you want to reach, and know you can’t get at it and say, ‘I’m gonna try.’ Those words start to move you in a direction, as long as you say, ‘I can see what I want, but there’s no way I can get it.’”
“I Can See for Miles” was embraced by Americans but lack of chart success in the UK left Pete feeling “humiliated,” or as Townshend later expressed his disgust in an interview when he said, “To me it was the ultimate Who record yet it didn’t sell. I spat on the British record buyer.” The furious explosive riffs of “Miles” is the same loud electric sound that Americans would grown to embrace and would be a precursor of the success that Jimmy Page would experience with Led Zeppelin in the 1970’s. It was this sound that made me such a die hard fan of The Who.
I grew up in the 80’s when The Who was in the middle of their classic revival period. Thanks to M-TV and their push to re-educate a new generation to the sound of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, Who’s Next was actually the first album I ever bought by myself with my own money. Leap forward to 2003 when was working at my own record shop, remember those, it was an annex of N.O.’s famous and now extinct record store Magic Bus, I remember that I would spin records every day, all kinds of LP’s, music I would never listen to, I would drop the needle just to experience new sounds in my own record shop. During those afternoon hours was when I truly started to fall for vinyl but it wasn’t till I heard the mono mix of “I Can See for Miles” that everything changed.
Townshend talked about the original mono version I adored so much in the liner notes for Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy when Pete said, “The real production masterpiece in the Who/Lambert coalition was, of course, ‘I Can See For Miles.’ The version here is not the mono, which is a pity because the mono makes the stereo sound like The Carpenters. We cut the track in London at CBS Studios and brought the tapes to Gold Star studios in Hollywood to mix and master them. Gold Star has the nicest sounding echo in the world. And there is just a little of that on the mono. Plus, a touch of home-made compressor in Gold Star’s cutting room. I swoon when I hear the sound. The words, which aging senators have called ‘drug oriented,’ are about a jealous man with exceptionally good eyesight. Honest.”
Pete’s so right the original mono version makes the stereo mix sound like The Carpenters. I recall, every day I would have to spin that specific mono version of my favorite Who song because it brought some energy and electricity to the air in my record store. I remembered the sound of “Miles” was so loud and inspiring I was doing Pete’s actual windmill air guitar behind the counter. I didn’t care who was in my store besides the customers appreciated my unbridled enthusiastic love for my rock music. Thanks to that mono version of “I Can See for Miles,” I grew to fall in love with the crackling sound of vinyl. The sound of the record coming out of my stereo speakers was akin to the luscious voice of a vixen whispering in my ear longing to seduce me. It’s been years and I miss the sound of vinyl. It was like going to vinyl music school and I was the student, teacher and the only member of the class and it was awesome. In the morning I would put on some Blues, around noon was Jazz hour and then after lunch until closing time it was pure non-stop hours of spinning Rock ‘n Roll.
Rock ’n Roll history was changed the moment The Who unleashed “I Can See for Miles” to the world. Think about it, “Miles” was released almost four months after The Beatles’ peace and love sounds of Sgt. Peppers. It wasn’t until after Pete boasted in The Melody Maker about his new single, Paul McCartney fearing The Who were going to creatively surpass The Fab Four, sparked The Beatles back into action by just the idea of “Miles” as Macca explained in Bill Harry’s The Paul McCartney Encyclopedia when he said, “[Pete] said The Who had made some track that was the loudest, most raucous rock ‘n roll, the dirtiest thing they’d ever done. It made me think, “Right. Got to do it.” I like that kind of geeking up. and we decided to do the loudest, nastiest, sweatiest rock number we could. That was Helter Skelter.”
If it wasn’t for “I Can See for Miles,” The Beatles would never have been motivated to create “Helter Skelter.” We all need to thank The Who and specifically Pete Townshend for this classic rock cut. The amazing fact about ‘Miles” is Pete’s amazing one-note solo that was inspired by the fear of being bested by emerging guitar gods Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. Originally telling Richard Barnes in his book The Story of Tommy, the reason Townshend ‘riffed’ his one note solo was that he “couldn’t be bothered,” in reality, Pete felt he had to go out of the box and create something that these three guitar giants would never lay down on wax.
In a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine editor-in-chief Jann Wenner, Townshend talked about the legacy of “I Can See for Miles” when The Who guitarist said, “The reason “I Can See For Miles” came out good was because I sat down and made it good from the beginning. The fact that I did a lot of work on arrangements and stuff like that doesn’t really count. I think that unless the actual song itself is good, you know, you can do all kinds of incredible things to it, but you’re never gonna get it, not unless the meat and potatoes are there. Although I do fuck around in home studios and things like that, I think it’s of no importance; I don’t think it’s really got anything to do with what makes the Who the Who.”
I still can remember the moment I dropped the needle on the vinyl and as soon as I felt Pete Townshend’s explosive guitar riffs, from the mono version of The Who’s “I Can See for Miles” my life changed; for then on, I longed to hear all my music on 33 1/3 or 45 RPM. Now’s your chance to relive the true sound of one of The Who’s most explosive songs heard in it’s original mono sound. “I Can See for Miles” lives in it’s original incarnation, in mono. As a gift from me to you, I urge you to follow the link and experience, the same loud and raucously dirty sound of The Who’s “Miles” in mono that sparked The Beatles to write and record “Helter Skelter.”