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!

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