Originally posted six years ago today on Amazon.com. I was actually a bit late in getting around to The Who, but as they say, there is no zealot like the convert.
Where (or When) The Who Joined the Ranks of the Great
The Who Sell Out (1967) proved that The Who was not just another quick singles band for whom an LP was too large of a canvas. The Who Sings My Generation showed promise, but its follow-up A Quick One was undercooked. Sell Out was when they finally produced a complete set of all original songs that was uniformly strong from beginning to end. The sound on this record was much less mod, and an lot more pop and psychedelia. Fortunately, they were careful to not sound too much like freaks or hippies (cause after all, they were neither). Instead, Townshend was determined to embrace the sound of the late 60s without simply blending into it. And while their ambition was obvious, the fake commercials that connect the songs – including two longer ones written by John Entwistle – indicated that the band was unwilling to itself too seriously.
For as much of a quintessential Who album as Sell Out is, it opens with a song written by John “Speedy” King, a friend of the band and later a member of Thunderclap Newman. “Armenia City in the Sky” is about as psychedelic as The Who ever got, lyrically and musically.
“I Can See For Miles,” the band’s only US Top 10, is another slice of psychedelia, with its crashing drums, insistent guitar, and far off images of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand,” meanwhile, is an inviting acoustic singalong in the vein of The Grateful Dead’s folkier moments (think “Uncle John’s Band”). The Who also reinforced its powerful pop dimension on the gorgeous tunes “Our Love Was” and “I Can’t Reach You.” Finally, there is Entwistle’s lone full-length contribution, “Silas Stingy,” which anticipated The Small Faces’ 1968 classic Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.
And honestly, the great stuff doesn’t end there. “Tattoo” is a poignant, even bittersweet song that uses its title subject to symbolize an act of youthful rebellion of which the narrator will be forever reminded. Daltrey is in particularly fine form here. Indicating that Townshend was in a forward-thinking mode, the acoustic arpeggios on “Sunrise” and the electric riffs on “Rael 1” foreshadow Tommy. The only slip on the CD is “Odorono”, which is a bit silly and may have worked better in shorter form as one of the commercials.
At the point in their young career at which they needed to make a great record, The Who went above and beyond the call of duty with The Who Sell Out. The songs themselves were more solid than ever before, and the band milked the LP format for all that it was worth. Unfortunately, “I Can See For Miles” is the only track that has endured to the point of being known to non-Who fans, but at least a half-dozen other songs are among The Who’s best. Fans and critics will continue to bicker over whether Sell Out or Who’s Next is their best album. Even if Who’s Next remains the greatest by the standard of general consensus, The Who Sell Out will always be their most entertaining.