Welcome to what I hope will become a regular feature here on the Analog Kid blog. We’ll take two (or perhaps even more) versions of the same song and attempt to decide, once and for all, WHO WORE IT BEST?

TODAY’S SONG: “I Can’t Explain”

“I Can’t Explain” was The Who’s debut single, and it has remained a staple of their live set to this day. In the United States, “I Can’t Explain” only reached #93 on the Billboard Hot 100. No wonder the rest of the world hates us.

Let’s take a listen to a few different cover versions of “I Can’t Explain,” and attempt to decide who did The Who best…

Pin Ups

David Bowie: “I Can’t Explain” (Pete Townshend)

From the album Pin Ups

RCA Records, 1973

I Can’t Explain

David Bowie’s version of “I Can’t Explain” comes from Pin Ups, his 1973 album of cover songs from the London music scene of the mid-’60s. Bowie slows it down and adds his unmistakable sax, and does quite a decent job of making the song his own. Still, it seems to lack the urgency that made The Who’s version crackle like a mouth full of Pop Rocks.


Food of Love

Yvonne Elliman: “I Can’t Explain” (Pete Townshend)

From the album Food Of Love

MCA Records, 1973

I Can’t Explain

Pardon my French, but HOLY SHIT. I just found this version earlier this week while browsing through the $1 CD bin at Half Price Books. Yvonne Elliman is best remembered for the Saturday Night Fever smash “If I Can’t Have You,” but she earned her street cred via her performance as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar in the early ’70s. Until this week, I wasn’t even aware that she recorded any solo work before 1976– but here’s the proof, and it smokes. Of course, it helps a bit when you have Pete Townshend himself playing guitar on your Who cover. Again, I ask: how the hell did I not know about this?


Scorpions_ Singles & B-Sides

Scorpions: “Can’t Explain” (Pete Townshend)

From the album Best Of Rockers N’ Ballads

Mercury Records, 1989

I Can’t Explain

The Scorpions recorded “I Can’t Explain” as the one new track on their 1989 greatest hits CD Best Of Rockers N’ Ballads. I will always have a soft spot for Klaus and the rest of the Scorpions, but they seem to be going through the motions a bit on this cut. They definitely make it sound like the Scorpions, and that is never a bad thing.

THE VERDICT: Yvonne Elliman may be considered a one-hit wonder in most circles, but her version of “I Can’t Explain” squashes Bowie’s and the Scorps like a grape. With a voice like Yvonne’s, I really have no plausible explanation as to why her career was such a short one.

Which version do you like better? Am I right, or am I crazy insane? Let me know what you think in the comments section!


Bonus Tracks!

The first rule of The Analog Kid blog is that if you write about a song on the Analog Kid blog, you share the song on the Analog Kid blog.

Who's Last [Disc 1]

The Who: “I Can’t Explain” (Pete Townshend)

From the album Who’s Last

MCA Records, 1984

I Can’t Explain

This live version of “I Can’t Explain” comes from The Who’s 1982 farewell (ha ha) tour. Who’s Last has been out of print for years, so I thought I’d share this one in place of the original.


Saturday Night Fever

Yvonne Elliman: “If I Can’t Have You” (Barry Gibb/Robin Gibb/Maurice Gibb)

From the album Saturday Night Fever

RSO Records, 1977

If I Can’t Have You



The Clash: “Clash City Rockers” (Strummer/Jones)

CBS Records, 1978

Clash City Rockers

OK, so technically this isn’t a cover version. But who are we kidding?


Big Audio Dynamite: “Contact” [Single Version] (Jones/Donovan)

Original version from the album Megatop Phoenix

Columbia Records, 1989


Mick Jones obviously has an awesome sense of humor…

About The Analog Kid

"I'm 5-foot-8, 123 pounds. I have, uh, brown hair, blue eyes. I enjoy surfing, backgammon and men who aren't afraid to cry."

8 responses »

  1. You are correct. The Yyvonne Elliman version kicks Bowie and The Scorpions to the curb. I think association with Saturday Night Fever, although a short-term boon to anyone’s career, ultimately proved fateful to anyone’s career as the whole disco thing became hopelessly shameless and quickly dated.

    And, yes indeed, “Clash City Rockers” is a slavish rip-off of “I Can’t Explain.” But it rocked then, and still does.

  2. surpriseh says:

    Jesus is really happy you picked Yvonne’s version.

  3. WTF Pancakes says:

    Oooooh-can I try to explain it? Is it because talent is only a teensy weensy part of what makes someone successful in the music biz? Maybe if she worked on her twerking…

    Now, let’s see your “Tomorrow Never Knows” edition of this feature!

  4. Greggory says:

    Hope this isn’t considered sacrilege; but Fatboy Slim sampled Yvonne’s version for his ’97 tune “Going Out of My Head” thought I’d share if you didn’t know.

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