The Who’s reputation as one of the UK’s greatest bands, both on stage and in the studio, isn’t fully reflected in their singles track record across the Atlantic on the Billboard Hot 100. Compared to 14 singles chart entries during the 1960s, for instance, they had only nine in the States, and only one of those made the top ten. That track entered the bestsellers 49 years ago, on 14 October 1967. The name of The Who’s biggest US hit? ‘I Can See For Miles.’
The song charted at No. 72 (next to the new single by Elvis, as you can see here) and went on to spend two weeks at No. 9 on the American chart in late November and early December, compared to a No. 10 peak at home. It was a marked improvement on the No. 51 position achieved in the US by the band’s previous single, ‘Pictures Of Lily.’
Billboard’s 30 September 1967 issue reported that ‘Miles’ was said to have one of Decca’s largest advance pressings. The single was rush-released in the US to capitalise on The Who’s infamous performance on the Smothers Brothers’ CBS network TV show, on which they mimed to both ‘I Can See For Miles’ and ‘My Generation.’
As Townshend explained hilariously in his Who I Am autobiography: “For televisual effect, Keith set off an oversized theatrical charge of gunpowder, blowing up the entire band in front of a panic-stricken Bette Davis and a sweetly concerned Mickey Rooney. My hair caught fire and my hearing was never the same. Keith was such a twat sometimes, even if he did make this a significant moment in pop history.”
At this time, Billboard’s reviews classified singles by where the magazine thought the track would reach on the Hot 100. Interestingly, while 45s by Stevie Wonder, Bunny Sigler and Lee Dorsey were seen as top 20 material, they predicted only “top 60” for ‘I Can See For Miles,’ even though they said of it: “Compelling, off-beat number full of excitement and drive. Strong dance beat supports smooth vocal blend with top production work of Kit Lambert. Referring to The Who’s previous biggest success in the US a few months earlier, Billboard concluded: “Should surpass their ‘Happy Jack’ smash.” They weren’t wrong.