The Who Sell Out

The Who

Decca / MCA Records, 1967

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When it comes to The Who, it sometimes is a difficult choice as to what album I should listen to next. This could be why I've waited so long since I last featured them here.

So, the decision was left to reader (and Who fan) Andrew Santoni,who made his suggestion with almost no hesitation: The Who Sell Out. Digging deep into the Pierce Memorial Archives, I passed on the re-issue from MCA and grabbed my copy of the original 1967 release - when I do things like this, you know I mean heavy business.

Believe it or not, prior to this review, I had never listened to the whole album. Now, I'm kicking myself - this contains some of The Who's strongest material, and shows the band at their creative and humorous heights.

Coming off of the "mini-opera" of "A Quick One," Pete Townshend starts to create a true concept album, by making the first half of the record sound like you were listening to a London radio station. And though it partially continues onto the second side, I wish he had run the theme through the entire album.

And then there is the music - holy cow! I had become familiar with some of the cuts courtesy of the 30th anniversary box set (a wonderful Christmas gift from Bill Ziemer last year), but when surrounded by the ads for Heinz baked beans, Rotosound and Charles Atlas, the true beauty of these songs come out.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Most rock fans - even those who have a limited knowledge of the Who - are familiar with the big hit "I Can See For Miles," a song which started to plow new ground for the band. But it's not the strongest song on the album. In fact, with the exception of the throwaway ad-song "Odorono," the entire first side is incredible. "Armenia City In The Sky" starts the aural barrage, and it doesn't let up until the last note of "I Can See For Miles" fades out. Cuts like "Tattoo," "Our Love Was, Is" and "Mary-Anne With The Shaky Hands" are all songs that should be revered as classics. (I'm still undecided as to whether "Mary-Anne..." is another song like "Pictures Of Lily", related to masturbation. Reader comments are requested on this concept.)

The second side is a shade weaker - possibly because the theme is broken early on. Songs like "Silas Stingy" have lessons that can be learned, but they also feature The Who a little sillier than I would have liked. Other songs like "Sunrise" and "Rael" are solid efforts - one could even say that drummer Keith Moon is finally showing some control in his playing.

What is a shame is that The Who Sell Out is more known not for the music, but for the pictures on the album jacket, including one of Roger Daltrey sitting in a tub filled with baked beans. (The pictures all fit with one of the ads recorded on the album.) These days, you're hard-pressed to hear anything about the album or from the album on the radio.

And this, kids, is a damn shame. Not only is some of The Who's best music being overlooked (and hardly shows any age after 30 years), but you'd also miss the germination of ideas for their eventual "masterpiece" Tommy. You can hear a little bit of "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me" in some of the movements - if you didn't know this album was recorded two years before Tommy, you'd swear Townshend was stealing his own riffs. I find it interesting to hear the conception of Tommy, as well as the further development of the band as musicians and songwriters.

The Who Sell Out could possibly be the lost treasure of The Who's career - I personally think it's their best work. And even with the one tiny mistake of not following through the album's concept to the finish, it still is an album that awaits rediscovery.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Decca / MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.