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The Who - The Who Sell Out  CD (album) cover

THE WHO SELL OUT

The Who

 

Proto-Prog

3.53 | 149 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Selling out? Hardly. The first real Who classic.

1967 was one hell of a year for rock and roll. Most people would probably call this the first great Who album and a few call it the best Who album. The CD reissue contains extensive liner notes by Dave Marsh where he goes even further, calling it the greatest rock album of its era, better than Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds. I'm reading Marsh's biography of The Who as we speak and one thing I was not aware of was the amount of acrimony in this band. I don't know if they came to like each other later (haven't read that far yet) but in the 1960s, it's not a stretch to say the lads despised each other a good deal of the time. They fought openly, publicly, and even on stage. Depending on who you believe, there were times when Daltrey came to blows with Townshend. Moon was already getting out of control by the late 60s, the band were broke due to their massive instrument budgets, and Entwistle felt unappreciated in his contributions. The band were pressured to tour incessantly and come up with new singles to pay the bills. Its been said before that out of conflict can come memorable albums and here's another that supports the theory.

"Sell Out" is something of a concept album although not entirely. As Marsh notes it lacks a firm storyline from track to track, but the underlying theme is an homage to the late 50s-mid 60s period when kids were immersed in the hits and the transistor radio heyday. They masterfully constructed what feels like an evening listening to London pop radio, with each of the tracks separated by public address spots and commercial product jingles. These bits are brilliant as they teleport the listener directly to 1960s London and the songs themselves reflect the theme and the period very well. Musically the album is still removed from the raging rock they would become known for a few years later, though you can hear the seeds planted in the ominous opening of "I can see for miles." But most of the material here strikes me as just brilliant pop music with a bit of Beatles psych influence, although The Who never allows flowers and beads whimsy to take over the bus. Rather Townshend shows off a more sensitive side here with the gorgeous melodies of "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" and "I can't reach you." "Odorono" has a funny punchline ending but the song itself has a certain loneliness in an English "Eleanor Rigby" way. "Silas Stingy" is the closest we get to pure whimsical silliness but it works in this setting quite well. All of the members are really starting to discover their personalities on this album, you can hear it especially in a track like "Tattoo" which sounds like trademark Who. Moon is beginning to smolder, Daltrey is finding his classic wail, and Pete is gaining confidence big time as a songwriter.

While my initial reaction to Sell Out was disappointment, it was based on my expectation that The Who had to be loud and more like their 70s selves. But after some time I realized just how great this collection was despite the somewhat lighter touch. Many of the tracks, while they are sometimes dissed for being too simple, are highly memorable. This album captures a moment in time very well, as the innocence of the radio days were passing the torch to the counter-culture. Townshend handles the concept very well, paying tribute to something special without being overly sweet, and writing material that manages to sound fresh even today. It all makes Sell Out nearly essential to any comprehensive rock music collection. The 1995 reissue is the way to hear this album. It takes the original album's 13 tracks and adds another 10 quality songs all from the same era, many which could have been used on the album. I still prefer to listen to the original 13 but as far as bonus tracks go this is as good as it gets. Excellent liner notes with dates and places of recording provide ample documentation for the history geeks (like myself.)

"....it is testimony to the greatness of Sell Out that, on the spot, in the midst of all that tumult, they wrote such a beautiful epitaph....without denying the dark side, they got it right. They made the trivial sublime....capturing the moment, making treasure from trash." -Marsh from the CD liner notes

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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