"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. It was the only song from the album to be released as a single, on 14 October 1967. It remains The Who's biggest hit single in the US to date, and their only one to reach the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
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. 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. The US Decca single has an overdubbed second bass line.
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. 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'd 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.
The song is ranked number 40 on Dave Marsh's "The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made", number 37 on NME's "The Top 100 Singles of All-Time", number 162 onPitchfork Media's "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s", and number 258 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
- Rock 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.
- 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' 1995 compilation Golden Throats: the Great Celebrity Sing Off. The cover was sung by actor Frankie Randall.
- 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.
- The intro to the song was used in the film The Boat that Rocked during the unsuccessful police raid scene.
- The song was used in the soundtrack of the Dennis Hopper film Easy Rider.
- The opening segment combined with the chorus part at 1:03 was used for an automobile headlights advertisement, by Sylvania.
- Featured in a Jiffy Lube TV ad campaign of the 1990s, "I can drive for miles and miles".
- This song is included in the Apollo 13 soundtrack.
- "I Can See for Miles" was also included in a commercial for American Honda Motors in September and October 2007.
- The song is part of the soundtrack of Rock Band 3.
- The song was used during the opening and closing credits of the BBC sitcom Supernova.