Influential British rock band The Who started their legendary run in the music industry almost 50 years ago with the release of their debut record, “I Can’t Explain.”
The Who was formed in 1964 and was originally composed of Roger Daltrey on lead vocals, Pete Townshend on guitar, John Entwistle on bass, and Keith Moon on drums. Technically, their very first effort would be the single “I’m the Face” (with “Zoot Suit” on the B-side) which was released shortly after their formation; however, they recorded this under the name The High Numbers in the hopes of appealing to a mod audience.
Unfortunately, “I’m the Face” flopped, and this prompted the group to change their name and switch managements. Thus, “I Can’t Explain” was recorded in September 1964 in London. On side A was the title track, while the song “Bald-Headed Woman” was on the other. Penned by Townshend, the title song was produced by renowned record producer Shel Talmy. It was issued first in the US just a month before its UK release.
Townshend himself noted the similarity of their song “I Can’t Explain” with their contemporary The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”, but denied it being “straightforward Kink copying.” “There is little to say about how I wrote this. It came out off the top of my head when I was 18 and a half," he said. Daltrey also spoke up about this in an old interview with Q magazine, acknowledging how The Kinks were “a huge influence on Pete, and he wrote ‘I Can’t Explain’ not as a direct copy but certainly it’s very derivative of Kinks music."
Interestingly, their B-side track “Bald-Headed Woman,” a traditional blues tune, was actually covered just a little earlier by The Kinks and appeared on their own debut album.
Anyway, it took a little over a month before this Who single even made it to the UK Singles Chart, and even then it only reached the #45. The highest it got was #8, though, and by the time it ended its 13-week run in the chart that May, it was already on #29. As for the US Billboard chart, the single only reached #93.
Over the years, though, the song “I Can’t Explain” reached popularity among other musicians in the industry. It was covered by acts like the Scorpions, David Bowie, Incubus, and Iggy Pop. More importantly, the song has been touted by popular magazines Pitchfork, Spin, and Rolling Stone as one of the 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s (#9), 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (#59), and 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (#380), respectively.
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