Thursday, June 7, 2012

"The Who Sell Out," by The Who (Jan. 1968)

Dad's Take:

It's hard to say for sure, but if I were forced to choose only one Who album for my collection, I think I would pick this one. I love the combination of The Who's loud rock with the sometimes delicate production. The result is a psychedelic concept album more subtle than most, creating the sounds of the time without the over-indulgence of many of the psychedelic bands. Whatever the Stones failed to do with their psychedelic experiment, The Who succeeded at. In spades.

Part of the reason for the success was the concept. Blending songs that are mostly about commercialism with both real and fake radio ads creates a cohesive feel that makes the album a delight. Best of all, though, are the songs. There's the hit, the great "I Can See For Miles," the only single from the album and a genuine classic. But there's so much more. And, of course, a concept helps you get away with silliness like "Heinz Baked Beans" and "Medac."

There's not a bad song on this record. The Who's Pythonesque humor comes through in many of the tunes, and the band really tries to stretch their limits and grow beyond those often bombastic garage proto-punk of much of their early material. Story songs like the sad/comical "Tattoo" and "Odorono," their song about using the wrong deodorant, show The Who moving toward the rock opera they'd record soon. And let's not forget great characters like Silas Stingy.

It's hard to single out favorite songs here, but some of the tunes that stay with me include the aforementioned "Tattoo" and, of course, "I Can See For Miles." But there's so much more. "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" has become a classic, with arguably the best melody the group ever produced, all over amazing Latin rumba rock. Perhaps less generally well known, but every bit as good are songs like "I Can't Reach You" and the incredible "Our Love Was" (maybe my favorite on the record), with its deep personal lyrics and great melody, set to the expected heavy bass and guitar, but played much more subtly. Mostly. You can't listen to this song without hearing the obvious inspiration for Queen's operatic rock. Some of the songs also foreshadow the great "Tommy" rock opera. Especially "Rael 1&2," which is built around one of the main riffs from Tommy. You also get lyrics in "I Can't Reach You" about not being able to see, hear, or feel.

Producer Kit Lambert deserves as much credit as the band. Every time I listen to this record, I hear little touches I didn't notice. A clever bit of percussion. Some little horn thing. A soft guitar lick in the background of a heavy rock song. The album is perfectly produced, and impeccably mixed.

Great songs. Great production. Fun concept. Brilliant performances. There's nothing this record doesn't have. It's one of the reasons I often claim that 1968 is my favorite year for rock and roll. The experimentation of 1967 solidifies into great records like this, less avant garde, but full of all those brilliant studio touches that had been developed over the previous two years.

So get this record. It's both exactly what you'd expect from The Who, and not at all what you think you'll hear. Great stuff.

Brad's Take:

The Who is a band I've been pretty familiar with my whole life, thanks to my old man. Songs like "My Generation," "Baba O'Reilly," and "Pinball Wizard" are a small handful of classic songs that I can name off of the top of my head. None of which are on  this album, unfortunately.

Although I can and have always said "I like The Who," I feel like I am missing something here. Maybe this is an album you have to listen to a few times before you can truly understand the beauty and greatness of it. Only listening to it once though, nothing really clicked with me until the sixth track began, "Our Love Was." The next few tracks that followed were pretty great too, but to me, nothing really special. None of these songs are even on their Greatest Hits albums, besides "I Can See For Miles." Which, again, makes me feel like it's more of an album that you need to listen to more than once to fully appreciate it.

I think the biggest reason I feel kind of let down by this album is because I assumed every Who song sounded like "My Generation" and "Baba O'Reilly." I don't get that feeling from any of the songs on this Who record though, unfortunately. Sorry dad!

"Days of Future Passed" by The Moody Blues (Jan., 1968)

Dad's Take:

This is one of my desert island discs, one of the seminal prog rock masterpieces, a blend of rock and roll and classical that leads the listener through a day, morning to night. It was a complete surprise to those who knew the Moody Blues as a relatively minor British R&B band, known primarily for their biggest hit, 1964's "Go Now."

One of the biggest changes between "Go Now" and "Days of Future Passed" was the addition of two new band members, Justin Hayward and John Lodge. These two set the direction of the Moody Blues throughout their classic period and beyond.

Fittingly, the record begins with an overture, "The Day Begins," which starts with an orchestral crescendo that informs the listener that this is not going to be your typical rock and roll record. The "story" itself begins with a poem, echoed by it's near twin at the end of the record, a brilliant set of bookends. The record moves through song after song of orchestral rock and roll, leading us through the day. Along the way, we get the classic "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)," better known as "Tuesday Afternoon." At the end, of course, is the even more classic "Nights In White Satin," a hit at least twice, and the final song of many dances I attended as a kid.

But those aren't the only worthwhile songs here. The moody (blue) "Dawn Is A Feeling," the wild "Peak Hour," and one of my favorite tracks on the record, "Time To Get Away." It's a record that lends itself well to multiple listenings, with a musical depth most normal people don't fully catch the first time through.

Do the Moody Blues present rock and roll? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame don't seem to think so, but there's no question that, despite the orchestrations, this record has R&B roots, blended with mid-sixties psychedelia and art rock. It's a wonderful record, and I can't imagine life without it.

Brad's Take:

This was my first time listening to a Moody Blues record. I can't imagine that all of their stuff sounds like this, especially this classical. But either way, this is great, and definitely something new to our list.

The orchestral pieces on this album are fantastic. "The Day Begins" was probably my favorite of the classical songs, or interludes, whatever you want to call them. The instrumentation sounds so big and full on these recordings. They're gorgeous and listening to them actually makes me want to listen to an entire classical album right now.

Days of Future Passed isn't only classical music though. It's got some rock songs too. "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)" is a track I recognized immediately. I've heard this song many times in random places. I think I remember a recent commercial using that song, in fact. One of my favorites is "Dawn Is A Feeling."

Aside from "Forever Afternoon," this isn't an album of singles. I feel like this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole. It's no surprise that their record label was a little hesitant on releasing this. It's different than anything we've reviewed so far from this era. It's different, but I love it.

I wouldn't expect the classical music to run so smoothly with the rock songs, but (somehow) it works magically.