The Who | The Who Sell Out (Super Deluxe Edition) – Reissue Review

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Conversations about the Who’s best albums typically begin with Tommy and end with Quadrophenia. Everything before and after that period of 1968 to 1973 is often rendered secondary by the masses, though noted pivotal to the group’s legacy and longevity. Their rise in the 1960s can be attributed to their wild stage antics, punctuated by Pete Townshend’s guitar smashing, Keith Moon’s mantic style of drumming, Roger Daltrey’s tough-guy looks and lofty vocals, and bassist John Entwistle — a steady, unwavering anchor who somehow tolerated the other three. In the studio, the group quickly advanced beyond early hits like “My Generation” and “Magic Bus.” On 1966’s A Quick One, they featured a nine-minute “mini opera” called “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” The song, broken into six movements, was the beginning of Townshend’s vision of writing and recording conceptual pieces. The following year, The Who Sell Out took that vision even further.

Released at the end of 1967, The Who Sell Out was intended as a loose concept album that would include jingles and commercials. The original plan was to sell advertising space on the album. The band decided instead to write their own jingles, tipping their hat to pirate radio stations, while simultaneously calling attention to commercialized consumer marketing to an unsuspecting public. The cover art of the album, taken by photographer David Montgomery, has each band member promoting a product — Odorono deodorant (Pete Townshend), Medac spot cream (Keith Moon), Charles Atlas (John Entwistle), and Heinz baked beans (Roger Daltrey). Daltrey reportedly contracted pneumonia from sitting in the cold beans for too long.

The real appeal in The Who Sell Out is in the songs. “I Can See for Miles,” the album’s big hit, marked an attack and depth from the Who, signaling a new direction that would later help shape Tommy. Speaking of which, “Rael,” the album’s closing number slowly turns from a Beach Boys-flavored verses into an instrumental section that would later be incorporated into the overture of Tommy. It seems to work either way.

The lift-off is “Armenia City In The Sky,” a song written and sung (with Daltrey) by Speedy Keen from the band Thunderclap Newman. This is the Who’s step into psychedelic pop. Each successful nudge forward reaps more gold. “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand” is a song that more Who fans need to listen to. “Odorono” finds Townshend in a decidedly pensive mood, and “Tattoo,” a concert staple for years, has the band snapped together in a tight formation, Daltrey brooding over manhood and the consequences of getting tattoos. Nowadays everyone’s got ‘em.

“I Can’t Reach You,” “Relax” and “Sunrise” all take the record to greater musical heights, consolidating an ascension in Townshend’s imaginative ideas, egged on by the immeasurable talents of his other three band mates. Reissues in 1995 and 2009 of  The Who Sell Out have included several extras that show how much of a roll the group was on 1967. For 2021, The  Super Deluxe Edition is packed with 112 tracks, 47 previously unreleased, posters, fliers. The usual swag, plus an 80-page book with photos, memorabilia, track-by-track annotation and sleeve notes by Townshend with comments from Pete Drummond (Radio London DJ), Richard Evans (designer) and Roy Flynn (the Speakeasy Club manager).

In addition to mono and stereo mixes of the original album, the set includes a sessions disc shining with hidden gems like “Glittering Girl,” Keith Moon’s “Girl’s Eyes,” spirited covers of the Rolling Stones’ “the Last Time” and “Under My Thumb,” and actual jiggles the group did for “Rotosound Strings,”  “Track Records” and “John Mason Cars.”

Odd tracks and singles the band cut after The Who Sell Out and before Tommy — essentially an unreleased album’s worth — fill out a fourth disc while Townshend’s demos with some of the songs that landed on the album comprise the fifth disc. You’ll appreciate John Entwistle even more when you listen to “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.” And Townshend’s spin through greyhound racing on “Dogs” just goes to show there was nothing too trivial to inspire a song back in those days.

The Who Sell Out is the Who as one of the premiere rock bands for the ages. They’d already conquered America at the climax of the Summer of Love with a spell-binding performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. They’d go on to record a string of hits that would lead to Tommy and world domination. Who can argue with what followed — Live At Leeds, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. It’s time to put The Who Sell Out on the list of albums that everyone talks about when the topic is their favorites by the Who.

~ Shawn Perry

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