Certain Songs #153: Buzzcocks – “Why Can’t I Touch It?”

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Album: Singles Going Steady
Year: 1979

Totally influenced by reggae – Steve Garvey’s huge bass line is the driver of the entire song – but not sounding a lick like it, the stellar b-side (to “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”) “Why Can’t I Touch It?” is my favorite song on Singles Going Steady.

Like so many great Buzzcocks songs, “Why Can’t I Touch It?” lyrically has one thing on its mind:

Well it seems so real I can see it
And it seems so real I can feel it
And it seems so real I can taste it
And it seems so real I can hear it
So whyyyyyyyyyyyyy-yyyyyyyyyyy-yyyyyyyyyy can’t I touch it?
So whyyyyyyyyyyyyy-yyyyyyyyyyy-yyyyyyyyyy can’t I touch it?

That’s pretty much the extent of the words: Pete Shelley only has four senses working overtime, when he needs the fifth for ecstasy. But this song isn’t really about the words, it’s about the big groovy beat that Garvey & John Maher create and what the guitars of Shelley & Steve Diggle do over that beat.

In between those verses all of that frustration that Shelley is singing about gets worked out via their battling guitars. Pete’s in one speaker & Steve is in the other, and those guitars tease, taunt, circle each other, shove, back away, fight. retreat, and generally perform an exquisite lover’s dance.

You can almost see Shelley & Diggle staring each other down in the studio during this song, each one daring the other to try something else until Maher just says “fuck it” and ends the song. At 6:31, “Why Can’t I Touch It” seems like it ends wayyy too soon.  Why maybe is why Shelley couldn’t touch it in the first place.

“Why Can’t I Touch It?

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