Friday, 16 March 2012

The Who - I Can See For Miles

It has become apparent that, quite unconsciously, I have been led, as if by some unseen hand to post more than a few column inches about the so-called psychedelic era of 1967-8.  First there was the exotic ‘Paper Sun’ by Traffic, then the accordion infused ‘Reflections’ by The Supremes and finally, virtually anything by Cream, but especially stuff like the wah-wah drenched ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’.  This is not really something I’ve thought a lot about before, but now I come to muse on those years, there are some cracking songs to pick on.

There is something about that summer-of-love period and just after that threw up some really adventurous sounds, presumably prodded on by the studio trickery of ‘Sgt Pepper’.  Some very intriguing singles can be found amongst the output from the psychedelic period, like ‘Rainbow Chaser’ by the Anglo-Greek band, Nirvana (i.e. not Kurt’s lot) with its dizzyingly flanged chorus, virtually anything from The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and as early as 1966, the rush of jangly guitars that heralds the Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’.

But having wallowed in a bit of strictly non-substance related nostalgia; I have come to a conclusion.  One song that, for me at least, has strong links to that time is from none of the bands so far mentioned, but from those mod-rockers, The Who.  Of course the song in question is ‘I Can See For Miles’.  Released in the relevant window of late 1967, it sees the Who on the rise to their creative peak probably around 1969/70 and uses so much studio enhanced ingenuity and complicated harmonies that, like many of its contemporaries, it was impossible to reproduce live without it sounding a tad on the thin side.

At the time, this was considered a bit inhibiting as most bands still went out on tour to hawk their wares instead of lounging around whilst their marketing company drummed up a bit of business (I know, what were they thinking?)  Whatever, it has a strange beguiling atmosphere that Who singles hadn’t had up to that date yet it still majors on the staple Who ingredients of the restlessly manic drumming of Keith Moon and the windmill chords of Pete Townsend.  Its almost whispered verse leading to a relentlessly rising chorus is one of Townsend’s crowning achievements.  There is a tension throughout the whole piece that is not fully resolved and gives it a twitchy, slightly anxious quality.

Whilst I am not convinced that any one decade is musically superior to any other in the history of pop music, there is an undoubted freshness about the 50s, 60s (and possibly 70s) born of charting new unexplored territory that is difficult to replicate now.  ‘I Can See For Miles’ has that new-born patina and listening to it even now allows you to feel it.

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