Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Dun. Duh-nuh. Dahn. Dah-nah. With that fanfare for the common mod, four lads from London announced their arrival on the music scene, asserting themselves as a powerful voice even as they admitted to not knowing how to say what they wanted to say.
When the Who released “I Can’t Explain,” Pete Townshend may not have achieved the levels of self-expression he would find, but his ability to connect with his audience was already fully formed – there were thousands of listeners who knew exactly what it meant to feel hot and cold down in their souls. And if that opening Kinks-ian riff didn’t drive the message home, the drumming of a still-teenaged Keith Moon did the trick, in a way that had never been heard on the radio before. “I Can’t Explain” would have been a tremendous explosion for any other group; for the Who, it was simply the lighting of the fuse.
The Who’s musical significance made their catalog fair game, and more than a few artists took their best shot at that opening salvo. How’d they do? Hear for yourself…
MP3: Oscar and the Majestics – I Can’t Explain (The Who cover)
The pride and joy of Gary, Indiana (at least until the Jackson 5 showed up), Oscar and the Majestics took “I Can’t Explain” out of the studio and back to the garage. Their cover was all about the fuzz, echo, and heavy bottom, and by doubling down on the song’s crudity, they managed to amp up its authenticity.
MP3: The Glowfriends – I Can’t Explain (The Who cover)
Who’s Not Forgotten was a tribute album filled with bands that stuck very close to the originals’ arrangements. The Glowfriends were a major exception; they didn’t throw out the Who blueprint so much as walk away from it. In their plaintive hands, “I Can’t Explain” turns into a slow, palms-up shrug that says so much, and in such a different way.
MP3: Yvonne Elliman – I Can’t Explain (The Who cover)
If you know Yvonne Elliman at all, it’s likely you know her for “If I Can’t Have You,” the smash hit from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But there’s much more to her: she was Mary Magdalene in the original Jesus Christ Superstar; she sang backup on Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff”; and on her 1973 album Food of Love, she does a cover of “I Can’t Explain” that really rocks. Of course, the presence of a certain Mr. Townshend on guitar couldn’t have hurt…
MP3: Scorpions – I Can’t Explain (The Who cover)
The Scorpions cover of “I Can’t Explain” comes from Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, a charity album made up of songs originally performed by bands who lost members to substance abuse. But don’t let that bring you down – they do the song proud, rocking it in a manner very similar to a hurricane, and took it into the top ten.
MP3: Eric Thompson – I Can’t Explain (The Who cover)
Eric Thompson takes an unusual route to his cover of “I Can’t Explain” – it’s based more on the impression of confusion inherent in the song. Thompson wanders aimlessly through an acoustic forest, meandering into “My Generation” and back out as he goes. It’s an interesting approach, and in his hands, it works.
If we could explain that the original version can be found on iTunes and Amazon, we would.