I Can't Explain
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I Can't Explain

"I Can't Explain"
I Can't Explain.jpg
Single by the Who
"Bald Headed Woman"
Released15 January 1965 (UK)
December 1964 (US)
Format7-inch single
GenrePower pop[1]
Pete Townshend
Shel Talmy
The Who singles chronology
"Zoot Suit"
"I Can't Explain"
"Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"
Music video
"I Can't Explain" on YouTube

"I Can't Explain"[a] is a song by the English rock band the Who, written by Pete Townshend, and produced by Shel Talmy. The song was issued as a single on 15 January 1965 in the United Kingdom and December 1964 in the United States. It was the band's second single release and first under the Who name. There was a misprinted label re-released in 1968 on the second color band series label entitled "Can't Explain" but it was soon withdrawn and released with the correct title of the song as released on the first 1964 release, and other previous and future label releases.[2]


"I Can't Explain" was the A-side of the group's first single as the Who; its predecessor, "Zoot Suit"/"I'm the Face," was released under the name the High Numbers. In the album's liner notes, Townshend noted the song's similarity to the contemporaneous hit "All Day and All of the Night" by the Kinks: "It can't be beat for straightforward Kink copying. There is little to say about how I wrote this. It came out of the top of my head when I was 18 and a half." In a 1994 issue of Q magazine, Roger Daltrey echoed Townshend's comments regarding the Kinks' influence:

We already knew Pete could write songs, but it never seemed a necessity in those days to have your own stuff because there was this wealth of untapped music that we could get hold of from America. But then bands like the Kinks started to make it, and they were probably the biggest influence on us - they were certainly 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.[3]

In a May 1974 interview with Creem, Jimmy Page recalled playing rhythm guitar on the song as a session guitarist.[4] This was confirmed by Pete Townshend and producer Shel Talmy.[5] According to those working on the recordings, however, Page's contribution did not make the final cut.[6] "I was on 'I Can't Explain', just playing rhythm guitar in the background," he clarified in 2004. But the main riff, he confirmed, "was all Pete... He was roaring, man." Page also played on the b-side, "Bald Headed Woman".[7]

In Roger Daltrey's autobiography, 'ROGER DALTREY MY STORY', published in 2018, on pages 94 and 95 he gives his version of the "I Can't Explain" recording and states that Jimmy Page was on lead guitar.

The Who have used "I Can't Explain" throughout many of their live performances, often as the opener. It remains a staple today.

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Townshend referred to "I Can't Explain" as "a song, written by some 18-year-old kid, about the fact that he can't tell his girlfriend he loves her because he's taken too many Dexedrine tablets."[8] In his autobiography Who I Am, Townshend says he came up with the song after being told by managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp to write original tunes for his up-and-coming band. He locked himself up in his bedroom listening to Bob Dylan, Charles Mingus, John Lee Hooker and Booker T. & the M.G.'s, and tried to summarise the feelings caused by the music, with the idea that came up the most being "I can't explain". Thus came the first verse, a meta approach where the lyrics are about songwriting itself. After being introduced to producer Shel Talmy, Townshend listened to "You Really Got Me" trying to make the rest of "I Can't Explain" a love song similar to the Kinks, hoping to please Talmy.[9]

Critical reception

The song is ranked No. 9 on Pitchfork Media's list of the "200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s",[10] No. 59 on Spin's list of the "100 Greatest Singles of All Time",[11] and No. 371 on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".


On the UK Singles Chart, "I Can't Explain" first appeared on 20 February 1965 at No. 45, and then reached its highest position on 17 April 1965 at No. 8. The song left the charts on 15 May at No. 29, having spent a total of 13 weeks there.[12] The single was much less successful on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching only No. 93.[13]


The Who

Additional musicians

  • The Ivy League - backing vocals, handclaps
  • Perry Ford - piano
  • Jimmy Page - Lead guitar according to Roger Daltrey's 2018 autobiography. 12 string rhythm guitar (session only; contribution not used in the final mix)[14][6]

Cover versions

Scorpions version

"I Can't Explain"
Single by Scorpions
from the album Best of Rockers 'n' Ballads
GenreHard rock
Pete Townshend
Keith Olsen
Scorpions singles chronology
"Passion Rules the Game"
"I Can't Explain"
"Is There Anybody There? (Long Version)"

Scorpions recorded their version of "I Can't Explain" for their 1989 compilation album Best of Rockers 'n' Ballads and the various artist compilation "Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell". The album featured bands that performed at the Moscow Music Peace Festival; an anti-drug & alcohol event, highlighting the related deaths of various famous musicians, such as the Who's Keith Moon, who died of a drug overdose.

The Scorpions version was released as single via Polydor Records, and reached No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. They performed the song live during their 'Crazy World Tour'.

Other notable covers

  • Yvonne Elliman recorded a version in 1973, which appears on her album Food Of Love. It features Pete Townshend playing lead guitar.


  1. ^ First U.S. pressings were incorrectly titled "Can't Explain".


  1. ^ Kitts, Jeff; Tolinski, Brad (2002). Guitar World Presents the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: From the Pages of Guitar World Magazine. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 21. ISBN 0-634-04619-5.
  2. ^ "I Can't Explain". Thewho.com. 29 April 2012. Retrieved 2014.
  3. ^ Bauldie, John. "Feature: B-Nnanngg!". Q. EMAP Metro Ltd (Q96, September 1994): 90.
  4. ^ Kent, Nick (May 1974). "CREEM--May 1974". Creem Media, Inc. Archived from the original on 26 October 2009. Retrieved 2010.
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "SHEL TALMY". Richie Unterberger. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ a b Rock History: Recording Sessions in Rock, Neil Albert, pg 223, "I can't explain". Highland Publishing, UK.
  7. ^ Murray, Charles Shaar (August 2004). "The Guv'nors". Mojo. No. 129. p. 71.
  8. ^ Greene, Andy. Who's Done? Pete Townshend's Ambivalent Farewell.. Rolling Stone. May 7, 2015. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  9. ^ Townshend, Pete (2012). Who I Am. HarperCollins. pp. 71-2. ISBN 978-0062127242.
  10. ^ Pitchfork's 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s
  11. ^ Spin
  12. ^ "The Who - I Can't Explain". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2012.
  13. ^ "Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles > I Can't Explain". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012.
  14. ^ The Who (2002). My Generation (booklet). Decca Records. p. 26. 112 926-2.

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