Album post: “The Who Sell Out” (1967)

I spent the last half hour going down the rabbit hole that is looking for a functional mid-century kitchen clock on Etsy, and then I realized I should be making this post instead! Next on our list of The Who’s albums is The Who Sell Out, which was released in December of 1967.

I like to imagine he’s modeling the bear.

This album was the first major step towards their sound evolution. Pete Townshend had been an art student before fully dedicating to the band, and this was his take on musical pop art. Listening through the album replicates listening to a radio station broadcast on Radio London. Between songs are jingle tracks for things like Heinz Baked Beans and Coca-Cola (hence the “sell out” in the title).

The front of the album’s cover art reinforces the selling out by featuring Pete and Roger advertising Odorono and Heinz, respectively (that image of Roger in the beans may be the most disgusting piece of album art; Pete’s armpit bothers me less). On the rear are Keith and John.

The album leads off with “Armenia City in the Sky,” which was written (and co-sung) by Speedy Keen of Thunderclap Newman fame. Prior to joining them he lived with and worked for Pete, and wrote the song for The Who to record. It’s a really psychedelic song, and very different than what The Who put out previously. The fact that it leaves you thinking, “What. Was. That.” makes it such a perfect album opener.

Steven Van Zandt, seen here as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, often plays “Armenia” on his show/station Underground Garage on Sirius XM

“Tattoo” became one of their live staples. It’s a humorous song about a pair of brothers who went to get tattoos to prove their manliness. The chorus is my absolute favorite part:

Welcome to my life, tattoo

I’m a man now, thanks to you

I expect I’ll regret you

But the skin graft man won’t get you

You’ll be there when I die

Tattoo

“Tattoo”
Pete playing an acoustic guitar

The most well-known track from this album is “I Can See for Miles.” It was their most successful single, but had only topped at #9 on the Billboard charts. Oftentimes this is discussed as one of their greatest songs, and while I’d have to disagree with that level of praise, I will concede that it is a very good one. It’s melodic, it’s catchy, and it’s memorable – what more could you want out of a single?

We get to hear a lot more of Pete’s voice on this album. He was lead vocals on 4 tracks, and co-lead with Roger on 3 more. I am a fan of his voice, and even prefer it sometimes – I’ll get into that a bit more when I get to Odds & Sods. “Relax” is another psychedelic song written by Pete. It’s followed by a storytelling song written and sung by John, called “Silas Stingy.” That is then followed by my favorite track, “Sunrise.” It’s an acoustic and melodic lovey dovey song, but I appreciate it.

The album ends with “Rael,” which is another psychedelic type of track that tells the story of someone who returns to their hometown to protect it, and may not end up going back out to sea. “Rael” also features music that will be familiar upon listening to Tommy, as it makes up a lot of “Sparks.”

Overall it’s another fun listen, especially if you dig the psychedelic vibes of 1967, as they’re in there a plenty. The experimentation in these tracks also brings about excitement over where they’ll go with it, and with Tommy being the follow-up studio album, they did not disappoint. Next up is going to be our first compilation album, Magic Bus: The Who on Tour. Stay tuned!

Pete smashing his guitar a second before Keith’s drums explode on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

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