Classic Album – The Who – Sell Out (CD review)

The Who – Sell Out (1967) CD review –

The Who’s career began with singles – loud and ferocious, like “My Generation,” then morphed into brainier territory with 1969’s rock opera “Tommy.”  In between those two distinct styles comes Sell Out; still, the most fun the band ever had on record.  Their third album, Sell Out, is an ingenious re-creation of a mid-1960’s radio show, complete with jingles and fake commercials performed by the band in between songs.

The LP opens with “Armenia City in the Sky,” the closest the Who ever got to psychedelia, followed by their spoof-commercial for “Heinz Baked Beans,” with a marching band and various members asking “what’s for tea,” which is a real hoot.  You get the school-boy humor of “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand,” and the coming-of-age “Tattoo.”  Both “Odorono” (another fake commercial), and “Our Love Was, Is,” show that leader Pete Townshend had grown melodically and lyrically in a short amount of time.  Then, there’s perhaps the finest 4 minutes the group ever laid down in “I Can See For Miles.”  There’s a dark tension in the way the song builds; Townshend’s cutting power chords and Daltrey’s aloof vocals set up a call and response with Keith Moon’s frenetic drumming.

The amazing thing is that everything mentioned here occurs on side one.  Oddly, there are no jingles and just a smattering of fake commercials on side two; perhaps the band was rushed and couldn’t properly finish the album (they were churning them out at break-neck speed back in those days).  It’s not to say that the second side is not worth hearing; quite the opposite.  The acoustic “Sunrise,” breathtaking in its simplicity, sounds like nothing the band did previous.  And, there’s the mini opera, “Rael,” considered a “warm up” for Tommy, which would come 18 months later.  Soon, the band would be receiving high-brow praise, and performing at distinguished venues like Carnegie Hall.

Sell Out shows, for a fleeting moment, the Who not taking themselves so seriously. There are several versions of this disc available: The 1995 remaster contains nine bonus tracks, including several unreleased songs like “Glittering Girl,” and “Girl’s Eyes,” where Townshend was working on the Tommy motif.  There is also a 2009 “Deluxe Edition” containing an extra disc with the entire album in a punchier, mono form, plus even more bonus tracks.  –Tony Peters