‘I can’t explain’: The song that “captured the testosterone” of The Who, although they “copied” The Kinks

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On January 15, 1965, the debut of four young Englishmen. That day, it went on sale his first song, ‘I can’t explain’, with his new name: The Who. It was also his debut in composition tasks. Specifically it was Pete Townshend the creator of the theme that “came from the top of his head” and told how a guy took so many amphetamines that he felt unable to explain to his girlfriend how much he loved her. The guitarist too He openly admitted that he had copied the Kinks. When Dave Davies heard the song and couldn’t help but say, “Damn bastards.”.

In the mid-60s, four guys in their twenties were trying to make a name for themselves – and a name – in London’s gambling dens. The name was variable. They started calling each other Detours and then The High Numbers. They represented the growing ‘mod’ movementthey dressed in mod clothes and had recorded a single – “Zoot Suit” https://los40.com/”I’m the Face” – to attract mod youth. Those young people were Pete Townshend (guitarist), Roger Daltrey (vocalist), John Entwistle (bassist) and Keith Moon (drums). At the end of 1964 they adopted a new name… and this time definitively: The Who.

“In those days,” as Roger Daltrey explained in Q Magazine, “It didn’t seem necessary to have your own material. because there was an abundance of wasted music that we could get from America.” But that changed, as Pete Townshend writes in his autobiography ‘Who I am’, when his new managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, decided to take charge of his career and They told him to write original songs for his promising band. Pete locked himself in his room and listened to Bob Dylan, Charles Mingus, John Lee Hooker and Booker T. & the MG’s, and tried to synthesize what that music had caused him. That’s how most of ‘I can’t explain’ came about. There was another part in which the influence of The Kinks had a lot to do with it.

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“Is a song written by a guy about 18 years old, about the fact that he can’t tell his girlfriend that he loves her… because he is taking too many Dexedrine pills”Townshend confessed in a 2015 interview for Rolling Stone. Dexedrine is an amphetamine that could explain the “dizziness in the head” referred to in the song’s lyrics.

The American Shel Talmy, who had moved to London in 1962, was hired to produce the song. Known for accentuate the powerful guitars on their albumsand for producing some songs by The Kinks (such as ‘You really got me or ‘All day and all of the night’), he revealed in an interview for Songfacts: “The first time I heard The Who, I thought, ‘Nowadays, this is the best rock and roll band I’ve heard in England. Pete wrote a song he thought I might like and he was right.“.

The Who acting in the movie 'The Kids Are Alright'

The Who performing in the movie ‘The Kids Are Alright’ / Michael Ochs Archives

In early November 1964, recording sessions began at Pye Records studios in London. Talmy had brought extra musiciansa common practice because I knew from experience that was not guaranteed that the young and novice groups were competent enough with their instruments to make a decent recording. However, not all those summoned played. For example, when drummer Clem Cattini arrived Keith Moon told him to go back the way he came. Allegedly, according to Pete Townshend, he blurted out, “Get out of the fucking studio or I’ll kill you!”.

English drummer Keith Moon (1946-1978) of rock group The Who in action during a performance on the set of the BBC Television music television show 'A Whole Scene Going'  at BBC Television Center in London on 5th January 1966. The group would perform two tracks on this first edition of the show, 'Out in the Street'  and 'It's Not True'.  (Photo by Ivan Keeman/Redferns)

English drummer Keith Moon (1946-1978) of rock group The Who in action during a performance on the set of the BBC Television music television show ‘A Whole Scene Going’ at BBC Television Center in London on 5th January 1966. The group would perform two tracks on this first edition of the show, ‘Out in the Street’ and ‘It’s Not True’. (Photo by Ivan Keeman/Redferns) / Ivan Keeman

When the band entered the studio, they discovered that Shel Talmy was sitting next to a 22-year-old young man, another of the session musicians he had summoned. His name was Jimmy Page.. The producer He wanted to make sure his guitar solo was absolutely correct.; if it were the case that Townshend wasn’t capable, Page could do the job instead. The fact that founder of Led Zeppelin (in 1968) recalled this very particular session in ‘Uncut’ magazine: “I had seen them at the Marquee. Being a kid, being in the room, right there amidst the sound that Pete, John and Keith were creating, it was phenomenal. In the session, My job was to play something underneath Pete’s riff.he had his Rickenbacher 12 string. You can barely hear me, to be honest, because his guitar was tremendously powerful.. “That session really impressed me.”

Guitarist Jimmy Page

Guitarist Jimmy Page / Armando Gallo

“Really, Talmy didn’t want to use The Who, he wanted to use Jimmy Page and some other drummer, But we said ‘No way,’” says Chris Stamp, the band’s manager, in the book ‘Pretend You’re In A War: The Who In the Sixties’ by Mark Blake. He also says something that Talmy later flatly denied. He didn’t want to replace Keith Moon. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I never even thought about bringing in a session drummer. “Moonie was the greatest rock drummer of all time.” However, Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle backed their manager’s claims. Furthermore, according to the producer: “The Who didn’t do choruses, or, to be more precise, they did them badly.”

The resemblance to ‘All day and all of the night’ was evident. Pete was enthusiastic about the music of the band of brothers Ray and Dave Davies. And when he found out that Shel Tamy would be the producer of his composition, he wanted to finish it Kinks style to please her. “There’s nothing better than directly copying the Kinks. There is little to say about how I wrote this. It came from the top of my head when I was 18 and a half,” Townshend wrote in the album’s liner notes. When Dave Davies heard ‘I ca n’t explain’, he supposedly said, “bloody bastards.” Roger Daltrey, in his interview with Q Magazine, explained: “The Kinks were probably the biggest influence on us – they were a huge influence on Pete, and wrote ‘I Can’t Explain’, not as a direct copy, but it’s certainly very reminiscent of the Kinks’ music.”

On January 15, 1965 ‘I can’t explain’ was released (with Bald Headed Woman’ on the B-side of the vinyl), the song that truly launched The Who’s career. Your presentation to fans around the world. Roger Daltery stated in ‘Uncut’: “I feel very proud of that album. That was us. It was an original song by Pete and it captures that energy and that testosterone that we had those days.”


Written by

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is a dedicated writer and key contributor to the WECB website, Emerson College's student-run radio station. Passionate about music, radio communication, and journalism, Christopher pursues his craft with a blend of meticulous research and creative flair. His writings on the site cover an array of subjects, from music reviews and artist interviews to event updates and industry news. As an active member of the Emerson College community, Christopher is not only a writer but also an advocate for student involvement, using his work to foster increased engagement and enthusiasm within the school's radio and broadcasting culture. Through his consistent and high-quality outputs, Christopher Johnson helps shape the voice and identity of WECB, truly embodying its motto of being an inclusive, diverse, and enthusiastic music community.