Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who 3: Sell Out

1967 meant psychedelia for most bands, and the Who were no exception. But instead of embarrassing themselves with a dated artifact, they put out a few classic singles, gigged incessantly and capped the year off with their first great album. The Who Sell Out uses the concept of radio, complete with jingles lifted from pirate radio stations as well as new ones recorded by the band. Even though the gimmick oddly runs out halfway through side two, the album garners repeat listening. (And the cover is a scream.)
A fanfare announces the days of the week, then it’s off to “Armenia City In The Sky”. This sounds so much like a Who song it’s hard to believe it’s not, as it plods away fantastically. “Heinz Baked Beans” is close enough to “Cobwebs And Strange” from the last album, but is a lot funnier and more fun to whistle. “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands” is something of a novelty song they recorded at least three times. A plug for Premier Drums turns into “Odorono”, a commercial too long to be used for a real ad. A “smooth sailing” jingle takes us into the story of “Tattoo”, with harmonies so pristine they’d keep doing them onstage. Radio London reminds you to go to the church of your choice, then Pete (who takes half the vocals on the album) sings “Our Love Was”, titled “Our Love Was, Is” for some reason on the American release. A bunch of jingles, both canned and recorded, go right into the classic “I Can See For Miles”, which fits perfectly on a collection of radio songs. A fantastic ending to side one.
A jaunty plug for Charles Atlas is followed by Pete’s complaint, “I Can’t Reach You”. “Medac” (titled “Spotted Henry” in the States) is another long original commercial, followed by the nearly Pink Floydian freakout of “Relax”. From here, the rest of the original album is jingle-free: John’s “Silas Stingy” is a feeble attempt to be as scary as his other songs; “Sunrise” is Pete singing with his acoustic guitar; and “Rael” ends the album with a mini-opera of sorts that’s just too buried to figure out, but does have a guitar refrain in the middle that would pop up again (and again).
When the big reissue program began in the ‘90s, the upgraded Sell Out boldly attempted to take the radio idea even further, and would almost succeed if the compilers hadn’t included four “unreleased” songs and two jingles that had already appeared on the box set a year earlier, as well as one track (“Glow Girl”) that is somewhat related thematically, but would reappear as an album track of sorts. By compromising value with these repeats, it also left no room for a handful of other tracks that would have been welcome. Luckily, those repeats are worth having—particularly the full band take on Pete’s “Melancholia” (which he swore the band hadn’t heard when the demo first appeared on 1983’s Scoop), Roger’s “Early Morning Cold Taxi” and even Keith’s “Girl’s Eyes”—and the “new” jingles do add an element of fun to the balance of the new tracks.
The album was an excellent candidate for a Deluxe Edition, since there was room for those still-missing tracks (as well as the singles and B-sides from that year), but the mono version sports a markedly different mix. When it finally appeared, both the stereo and mono versions were included, along with a good mix of extras from the 1995 remaster and other songs that should have been included the first time. Highlights include a demo of “Relax” that sounds more like Mose Allison than Pink Floyd, a studio take of “Summertime Blues” and the long-bootlegged instrumental “Sodding About”. Of course, there were still some jingles and whatnot that were left off. (Who freaks tend to nitpick, with some justification; after all, they wouldn’t care so much if these albums weren’t so damn good.)
As if someone was paying attention, the eventual Super Deluxe Edition, which was only three years late for its golden anniversary, managed to encompass not only most of the music the band recorded in 1967 leading up to the completion of Sell Out, but also gathered up everything completed in 1968 before the Tommy concept took hold. Along with the now-standard mono and stereo versions with timely singles and whatnot, one disc was devoted to expanded outtakes with extra takes and studio chat from the album sessions, while another presented 14 songs from 1968 as the proverbial “road to Tommy”, including the elusive long version of “Magic Bus”, finally. A disc of Pete’s demos, only two of which had been released before, provided even more insight into his creation process. They also saw fit to cram in two 45s in replica sleeves and the usual ephemera (Radio London bumper sticker? A replica of Keith’s Speakeasy membership card? Gee, thanks) but at least the book delivered.

The Who The Who Sell Out (1968)—4
1995 remaster: same as 1968, plus 10 extra tracks (and 9 unlisted jingles)
2009 Deluxe Edition: same as 1968, plus 27 extra tracks (and 5 unlisted jingles and 3 hidden tracks)
2021 Super Deluxe Edition: same as 2009, plus 61 extra tracks

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