FLASHBACK: THE WHO SELL OUT

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.

blog_The-Who-Sell-Out-lp

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.

blog_The+Who+sell+out_Pic

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.

Advertisements

FLASHBACK: THE WHO SINGS MY GENERATION

The original idea for the FLASHBACK column was to post these reviews on the same day however many years after I originally put them on Amazon. Sometimes I am off by a few days, as I was with Exile In Guyville and am again with this one. This write-up of The Who Sings My Generation, one of my shorter reviews, first appeared on December 5, 2006.blog_MyGeneration

Forty-one years on, the debut record by The Who is still impressive. Classics like “My Generation” and “The Kids Are Alright” are certainly not to be second-guessed, and most of the other originals give the album plenty of muscle. “The Good’s Gone” and the humorous “A Legal Matter” highlight Pete Townshend’s superb riffing, and in the latter case, voice. “Much Too Much”, “It’s Not True”, and the psychedelia-flavored “Instant Party (Circles)” are fine mod tunes. Finally, the instrumental romp “The Ox” is the clearest indication of the mayhem that The Who were to create on stage, if not ever again on record. The bits of feedback on this track surely perked up the ears of guys like Jimi Hendrix, as well as Lou Reed and John Cale, perhaps just enough to make them realize the potential it could have in their own work. This song – along with “My Generation” – serves to rightly place Townshend and Co. among the forefathers of punk.

(Anyone who is going to read this has seen The Who’s performance on The Smothers Brothers, right?)

However, “La La La Lies” and “The Kids Are Alright” indicate that The Who might also be rightly credited as the originators of another genre: power pop. (Townshend said in a 1967 interview, “Power pop is what we play,” thereby allegedly coining the phrase. But he continued, saying, “What the Small Faces used to play and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun Fun Fun’ …”)

All of this genre’s elements are in place on these songs – azure vocal harmonies, echoey guitars, plump bass lines, and marching drums. It was this formula that would be adopted by the likes of The Flamin’ Groovies in the 1970s and Guided By Voices in the 90s, bands who were among the very best power poppers of their respective decades.

Also included on My Generation are two James Brown covers. Now, I have quite frankly always found The Who’s claims to be purveyors of “maximum R&B” to be disingenuous at the very least. These covers – “I Don’t Mind” and “Please Please Please” – sound a bit forced, as if they were trying to prove their R&B credentials (not that I doubt their love of the genre, nor the fact that it inspired their sound). That said, there are some good R&B-inspired moments here, such as the opening track “Out in the Street.”

At times, The Who Sings My Generation sounds a bit too rough around the edges for its own good. Granted, full-on Spector-esque production certainly wouldn’t have served the band’s energetic assault any more effectively. The Who’s second album, A Quick One, would prove to be a bit of a holding pattern, but it’s follow-up – The Who Sell Out – would be their triumphant great leap forward. Knowing how ambitious and refined their music would become, their debut sounds almost charming in its youthful recklessness. But whatever its shortcomings, their is no overlooking the fact that the single “My Generation” landed in the mid-60s London scene like a hand grenade, and proved that The Who wasn’t just another rock band. Their influence would expand exponentially over the decades, and as an opening statement, The Who Sings My Generation remains a powerful one.