I Can't Explain

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"I Can't Explain"
I Can't Explain.jpg
Single by The Who
B-side "Bald Headed Woman"
Released 15 January 1965 (1965-01-15)
Format 7-inch single
Genre Power pop[2]
Length 2:04
Label Brunswick
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) Shel Talmy
The Who singles chronology
"Zoot Suit/I'm the Face"
"I Can't Explain"
"Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"

"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 in December 1964 in the United States and on 15 January 1965 in the United Kingdom.[3]


"I Can't Explain" was the A-side of the group's first single released under the name The Who—their previous single, "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 single "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 on the writing of the song:

We already knew Pete (Townshend) 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.[1]

In a May 1974 interview with Creem Magazine, Jimmy Page claimed to have played rhythm guitar on the song as a session guitarist[4] and this was confirmed by Pete Townshend and record producer Shel Talmy.[5] According to those working on the recordings, however, Page's session contribution is believed to have not made the final cut, and has been brought into question.[6] The Who have used "I Can't Explain" throughout many of their live performances, often as the opener, and it continues to be a staple today.

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Pete 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."[7]

Critical reception[edit]

The song is ranked No. 9 on Pitchfork Media's list of the "200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s",[8] No. 59 on Spin's list of the "100 Greatest Singles of All Time",[9] 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.[10] The single was much less successful on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching only No. 93.[11]


Cover versions[edit]

Scorpions version[edit]

"I Can't Explain"
Single by Scorpions
from the album Best of Rockers 'n' Ballads
B-side "Lovedrive"
Released 1989
Genre Hard rock
Length 3:22
Label Polydor
Writer(s) Pete Townshend
Producer(s) 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'.



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


  1. ^ a b Bauldie, John. "Feature: B-Nnanngg!". Q. EMAP Metro Ltd (Q96, September 1994): 90. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ "I Can'T Explain". Thewho.com. 2012-04-29. Retrieved 2014-02-22. 
  4. ^ Kent, Nick (May 1974). "CREEM—May 1974". Creem Media, Inc. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "SHEL TALMY". Richie Unterberger. Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  6. ^ Rock History: Recording Sessions in Rock, Neil Albert, pg 223, "I can't explain". Highland Publishing, UK.
  7. ^ Greene, Andy. Who's Done? Pete Townshend's Ambivalent Farewell.. Rolling Stone. May 7, 2015. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  8. ^ Pitchfork's 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s
  9. ^ Spin
  10. ^ "The Who – I Can't Explain". Chart Stats. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  11. ^ "Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles > I Can't Explain". Allmusic. Retrieved 5 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "Leif Garrett, Can't Explain". Retrieved December 16, 2016. 
  13. ^ K Records online catalog