Business Day (!?) reviews The Who Sell Out

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Tue Feb 21 09:33:38 CST 2006

CRUCIAL CD COLLECTION: The Who Sell Out - The Who 

PETE Townshend once wrote, with more than a trace of
self-deprecation, that he rarely left any good idea
unused. He was talking about Glow Girl at the time, a
relatively minor song but one, according to Townshend,
that is a "rock 'n roll airplane crash song with a
real Pop Art plane crash and a happy reincarnation

Inevitably, some of his ideas turn out to be better
than others. One that he often returned to, and
generally with a fair degree of commercial and
artistic success, started out by approaching the
humble pop song as a multifaceted musical suite,
eventually growing in both scope and stature to a
point where the rock album was treated as a thematic,
conceptual or even, in its most extreme case, operatic

>From as early as THE WHO's second long player, A Quick
One, there were signs that the maximum rhythm and
blues that had propelled the group to both chart fame
and critical acclaim wasn't going to be enough to
satisfy its main songwriter's aspirations. 

A Quick One While He's Away may have creaked a little
under the weight of both its ambition and its
description as a minirock opera, but it eventually
emerged as a highly creditable exercise in extended
rock 'n roll composition. 

Rock 'n roll was growing up, and even a string of Top
10 hits that, atypically, easily matched quantity with
quality, commercial clout with provocative punch,
seemed tame in comparison with the exploratory strides
pop had begun to make in hands that initially seemed
adventurous but were often exposed, in more sober
light, as not much more than self-indulgent. 

At his best, and probably because he never lost sight
of the power of the three-minute pop song, the more
than usually rock-articulate Townshend avoided nearly
all of the progressive pitfalls. 

For most, his grand plan would culminate in Tommy,
though there is tidy support, particularly more
recently, for Quadrophenia. In hindsight, though,
Tommy would seem to stretch too few of those good
ideas too far, and it's that record's predecessor — if
one discounts the intrusion of the cobbled-together
US-only release, Magic Bus — late 1967's THE WHO SELL
OUT, that may have been the acme of the Townshendian
concept album.

Sequenced as a radio show and conceived as a tribute
to pirate stations, its mock advertising jingles left
the band's jaundiced view of the already frenzied and
single-minded commercial focus of pop radio in no

Yet a couple of those jingles were fleshed out into
terrific pop songs.

Jaguar, about the car, was especially fine and formed
Townshend's starting point, though it was left off the
original album. But a marvellous 1995 CD reissue added
it, the once-discarded Glow Girl and eight more tracks
from the period, plus previously unheard jingles,
giving the project not only extra length, but breadth
and depth as well. 

So many expanded reissues are a case of never mind the
quality, feel the width. This time the exercise was
performed with both sense and care. Nevertheless, the
heart of the record lies in the original songs. The
hard psychedelia of I Can See For Miles is still
possibly the greatest of all The Who's singles — in
Townshend's estimation, too.

Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand's stylistic similarity
to I'm A Boy and thematic connection with Pictures Of
Lily remain completely irresistible. Armenia City In
The Sky, written by Speedy Keen of Townshend-produced
band Thunderclap Newman, may be one of the defining
songs of 1967's incredible journey from pop into rock.
An added alternative version with guest Al Kooper on
organ has its charm, but there's no doubt that the
band chose the right take the first time round. 

A good deal of The Who Sell Out foreshadowed Tommy as
several of the latter's musical and even lyrical
motifs crop up in prototype, especially in the
perplexing but captivating Rael, which might, in Who
parlance, be considered a micro-minirock opera, and in
Glow Girl, which includes the later differently
gendered line, "It's a girl, Mrs Walker, it's a girl!"

Moments of acoustic introspection signal a side of The
Who that the relatively recent My Generation could
scarcely have imagined, but most of the time glorious
pop tunes abound, with even the apparently minor Early
Morning Cold Taxi an obvious blueprint for indie
heroes Guided By Voices. Factor in the now trademark
slashing guitar chords and tumultuous rhythm section
and Sell Out serves as prime, and perhaps primary,
essence of The Who.

Richard Haslop

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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