I Can’t Explain .. I really can’t

And I’m posting in advance for Monday, just in case, since I’m preparing to enter the lion’s den of the desert. Which is to say, to go to the movies in Laughlin, Nevada. I’ve mentioned in passing that the movie experience here can be harrowing, but perhaps “lion’s den” isn’t exactly the right way to put it. Bears, maybe. Bears, after a long winter in hibernation, and they just woke up, and they’re grouchy. And hungry.

I love movies, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to maintain my 50-to-100-movies a year (in theaters) habit the way I easily could in Los Angeles. There are things you give up, for the sake of cleaner air, an apartment three times the size for half the rent, and a neighborhood made up of nice quiet retired people and of casino workers who, if they are home, are almost certainly asleep. Sure, the Southwest attracts stoners, bikers, and for some reason Wiccans; the one and only Meetup.com activity in Laughlin (this is true) is a coven. But the stoners don’t seem to have bands, the bikers are mostly across the river in Arizona, and the Wiccans are just going quietly about their lives like the rest of us. The Wiccan who parks in the space next to mine drives a Lexus.

And I’m not one of those people who moves out of a city and then complains that everything was better there. I love L.A., but I am from L.A, and not Chicago, say, or Boston or New York. I have no idea why anyone ever leaves those cities and moves west, since apparently each and every one is an earthly paradise. So I just assume that anyone who moves west and then spends years or decades whining about how much was better it was back East is fleeing an angry drug dealer and can’t go home.

So I don’t mean this sort of thing as Laughlin-bashing at all. Every community has its eccentricities, and I’m sure I took things for granted in L.A. that would curl the hair of people who live in regular cities. It’s just that it takes me days to recover from seeing a movie here. But I’m sure the locals don’t think anything of it. Perhaps I’ll harden to the experience with time.

But before I go, another in our series of songs by artists paying homage to — or flat-out imitating — other artists. And it’s the Who, with “I Can’t Explain,” a song Pete Townshend himself freely acknowledged is “straightforward Kink-copying.”

Explain this e-mail link (and join the e-mail people; look to the right!)

Everybody wanted to sound like the Kinks, who were the most consistently hard-rocking act of the British Invasion. The Animals and Them hit their stride a little later; the Kinks’ Dave Davies was blowing the doors off with power chords in the spring of 1964. The Who, always difficult to categorize and with no charismatic frontman (yet) to market, got their first proper single out in December of ’64, and didn’t make it to U.S. radio until 1965. (The terrible Mod-exploitation record “I’m the Face” was released when they were still the High Numbers.)

“I Can’t Explain” was that first single, and it didn’t go anywhere in the U.S., barely breaking the top 100, and did somewhat better in the UK. But this wasn’t the Who’s breakthrough record — we all know what that one was. It’s just a nice, rocking two minutes 20, with Townshend taking a relatively light hand on the opening power chords, certainly lighter than Dave Davies, and of course more aggressive drums than you’d have heard from anybody else around this time.

Moon did love his cymbal splashes and he’s making a lot of noise, but it’s organized noise, and his fast fills provide half the record’s energy. Jimmy Page says he played some of the rhythm guitar on this record as a session musician, and members of the Who later confirmed it, but it’s not clear on the final version exactly what his contribution may have been. Certainly not the sloppy guitar solo; that’s Townshend all the way.

Daltrey sounds good on this, though; this is one of the early Who records that’s in a low enough key for him to be comfortable, and he’s allowed to give some authority to what are pretty generic lyrics along the lines of:

I’m dizzy in the head
And I feel bad
The things you said,
They got me real mad

Meanwhile, Townshend and John Entwistle provide some almost Dave Davies-worthy “ooohs” in the back; Townshend and Dave were natural high tenors and Entwistle could always come up a respectable, bang-on-pitch falsetto as circumstances required. “Can’t Explain” isn’t one for the ages, and it would take the Who a few more years to figure out what they were best at, but it’s a nifty little bit of British Invasion pop just the same.

About Bridey

Bridey has been a music nut since falling in love with Elton John's "Caribou" album in grade school (why that one? I was nine). She's a magazine editor by trade who writes regularly about radio, music, and related industries.
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