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"I Can See for Miles" is a song written by Pete Townshend of The Who, recorded for the band's 1967 album, The Who Sell Out.[1] It was the only song from the album to be released as a single. It remains The Who's biggest hit single in the US, and, after debuting on the Hot 100 at #72 on 14 October 1967, their only one to reach the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, at #9 on 25 November - 2 December 1967.[2]


Recorded in several separate sessions in studios across two continents, the recording of "I Can See for Miles" exemplifies the increasingly sophisticated studio techniques of rock bands in the late 1960s, such as those used for the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The backing tracks were recorded in London, the vocals and overdubbing were performed in New York at Talentmasters Studios, and the album was mastered in Los Angeles at the Gold Star Studios.[3] The initial UK mono pressing (Track Records) and the US Decca single has an overdubbed second bass line mixed upfront, whilst the drums are mixed slightly lower.

It reached number 10 in the UK and number 9 in the US. Though these figures would seem successful to most bands, Townshend was disappointed. 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.[4] 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 song may have inspired The Beatles' "Helter Skelter". Paul McCartney recalls writing "Helter Skelter" after reading a review of The Who Sell Out in which the critic claimed that "I Can See for Miles" was the "heaviest" song he had ever heard. McCartney had not heard the song, but wrote "Helter Skelter" in an attempt to make an even "heavier" song than the one praised in the review.

"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. It was performed more regularly beginning in 1979 when Kenney Jones became the band's drummer, albeit in a much more straightforward rhythm. It was also played at nearly every show of the group's 1989 tour with Simon Phillips on drums and has been performed a handful of times with current drummer Zak Starkey.

Roger Daltrey has played this song with his band No Plan B since 2009. It is a regular encore for his Tommy show.

The 1979 compilation/soundtrack album The Kids Are Alright has a 2'45 abridged alternate mix of this song, as heard in the September 1967 mimed performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The 1984 compilation album The Singles on both LP and CD releases has the 4'02 initial UK mono single version with the overdubbed second bass line mix.

Critical reception[]

The song is ranked number 40 on Dave Marsh's "The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made",[5] number 37 on NME's "The Top 100 Singles of All-Time",[6] number 162 on Pitchfork Media's "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s",[7] and number 258 on Rolling Stone magazine's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[8]


  • R&B singer Tina Turner covered the song for her 1975 solo album, Acid Queen.
  • It was covered by Japanese thrash metal band Outrage for their 2004 album Cause for Pause.
  • In 2005, "I Can See for Miles" was covered by Styx for the album Big Bang Theory.
  • Also in 2005, Petra Haden covered "I Can See for Miles" on Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out, an album which covers The Who Sell Out in its entirety, a cappella.
  • In 2007, country music star Marty Stuart teamed up with bluegrass quintet Old Crow Medicine Show to cover the song on the album Compadres, which consists of Stuart's covers of famous songs with other guest musicians.
  • "I Can See for Miles" also appeared in Rhino Records' 1988 compilation Golden Throats: the Great Celebrity Sing Off. The cover was sung by Frankie Randall, who originally released it in a 1968 album titled The Mods and the Pops.
  • The song, along with "I Can't Explain", was covered by Incubus in 2008 at Vh1's Rock Honors show, which was a tribute to The Who.
  • Raul Midon covered the song on his 2014 album DonTemplate:'t Hesitate.

In other media[]

The song is used at the opening theme for the CBS series CSI: Cyber.

The song is used in during opening and closing credits of the BBC sitcom Supernova.

The song is used featured films, TV shows and video games including In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Valley of the Dolls, The Graduate, The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Twelve Chairs, Deliverance, Soylent Green, Westworld, Blazing Saddles, The Towering Inferno, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, Mad Max, History of the World, Part I, Mad Max 2, To Be or Not to Be, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Solarbabies, The Doors, Tombstone, The Last Boy Scout, Soldier, Blood Diamond, Time Bandits, A Fish Called Wanda, Wayne's World, Dazed and Confused, Josie and the Pussycats, Sid and Nancy, This Is Spinal Tap, Airheads, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Back to School, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Dude, Where's My Car?, Empire Records, High Fidelity, Rock Star, The Rocker, The Full Monty, Napoleon Dynamite, Idiocracy, Speed, Broken Arrow, Entrapment, Lethal Weapon 4, Exit Wounds, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Speed Racer, Need for Speed, Bridge of Spies, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Boat That Rocked, The Rock, Con Air, Tigerland, Deep Blue Sea, Identity Thief, Monkeybone, That '70s Show, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Apollo 15, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Martian, Children of Men, Inception, Minority Report, The Matrix, Interstellar, Gravity, Oblivion, Contact, Lost in Space, Sphere, Red Planet, Space Cowboys, Edge of Tomorrow, The Monuments Men, Jarhead, Easy Rider, Flushed Away, Chicken Little, Toy Story 3 and Rock Band 3.

The song is used TV commercials including Honda, Sylvania and Jiffy Lube.

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