The Who

I Can See for Miles

Song Review by

"I Can See for Miles" was one of the greatest Who songs and, although not the single very most famous one ("My Generation" would get the nod), their biggest American hit, making the Top Ten in late 1967. Although the lyrics were about a fairly conventional popular music situation -- betrayal by a lover -- the execution and construction were fiercely dramatic and unusual, bordering on psychedelia (a genre the Who rarely plunged into full-tilt). The song opens with a low, ominously sustaining guitar twang (a quite similar one, by the way, was used in Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive," also from 1967). "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. The verses are in a most uncommon irregular meter, slowing to a near-crawl for Roger Daltrey's menacing accusations of unfaithfulness and speeding to a frenzy (paced by furious Moon drum rolls) for the riffs that separate the lines of the verse. The chorus is a harmonized repetition of the title -- mostly the last two words of the title, actually -- that, combined with the battlefield guitars and drums in the background, creates the psychedelic effect of a dizzying echo on the verge of spinning out of control. The instrumental break is a remarkable exercise in taut, barely controlled anger, as one guitar note is insistently hammered as accompanying power pop guitar chords crash and Moon's drums play circles around them. The final verse raises the key by several levels -- a strategy that the Who had, in fact, used on the very single preceding "I Can See for Miles," "Pictures of Lily" -- which is an especially neat trick since the verses use imagery of the heights of the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal. The chorus of "I Can See for Miles" is tailor-made for a long fadeout, as the endless swirling repetitions of the title aurally sculpt the impression of the narrator seeing for endless distances and as Pete Townshend's guitar twangs jump an octave for an added bite. The "I Can See for Miles" phrase was ripe for psychedelic interpretation, hinting at the kind of sensory distortion and enrichment associated with the drug experience. In fact, however, it refers to the narrator's ability to see through the deception of his lover, and by extension is a play on one of Townshend's recurring themes: the mixture of reality and illusion.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Who Sell Out 1967 MCA 4:44
Direct Hits 1968 Classic Records
Easy Rider [Music from the Soundtrack] 1969
Various Artists
MCA 0:00
Backtrack, Vol. 4 1970 Track Record
Backtrack, Vol. 9 1970 Track Records
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy 1971 MCA 4:06
No Image 1974 MCA
No Image 1976
Hooligans 1982 MCA 4:02
No Image 1982 MCA
The Who 1985 Grupo Laser Disc
Brit's Blitz: The Very Best of British Rock 1987
Various Artists
Polytel (Silver Eagle) 4:06
Who's Better, Who's Best 1988 MCA 4:06
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B 1994 MCA 4:14
Apollo 13 [Music from the Motion Picture] 1995 MCA 4:09
My Generation: The Very Best of the Who 1996 MCA 4:21
The Ultimate Collection 2002 Universal Distribution 4:07
The Singles 2003 Polydor 4:03
British Invasion: 1963-1967 2004
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:08
Then and Now: 1964-2004 2004 UMVD 4:07
First Singles Box 2004 Universal International 1:38
The Early Collection: Magic Bus/Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who's Missing 2004 Griffin 4:06
No Image 2008
Greatest Hits 2009 Geffen 4:08
Greatest Hits & More 2010 Polydor 4:08
Sixties: Collected 2010
Various Artists
USM 4:21
Icon 2011 Geffen 4:08
Icon 2 2011 Geffen 4:08
The Who Hits 50! 2014 Geffen 4:09
Completely Under the Covers 2015 Edsel 4:14
Maximum A's & B's 2017 MCA / Polydor 4:04
Aquarius [Music from the Original Series]
Various Artists
Universal 4:07
No Image Hiwatt 3:59
Maximum BBC [Bootleg]
Pirate Radio
Various Artists
Island / Def Jam / Universal 4:07
No Image
Various Artists
Life Music / Time / Time Life 4:08
Time Life Presents the 60s
Various Artists
Time Life 4:07