Friday 4 July 2008

The Who "Sell Out" (1967) ('Core' Review #19, Revised Review 2016)

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The Who "Sell Out" (1967)

Track Listing: Armenia City In The Sky/ Heinz Baked Beans/ Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/ Odorno/ Tattoo/ Our Love Was// I Can See For Miles/ I Can’t Reach You/ Medac/ Relax/ Silas Stingy/ Sunrise/ Rael

"Hi there hi hi hi hi hi and hi from your DJ Max The Singing Dog, sponsored by *whistle* AAAAALAN'S AAAALBUM AAAAARCHIVES  bringing you all the best hit sounds. *siren* *explosion* What a cracking *crack* programme full of hits *punch* flops *crowd sigh* and owl-bum *twit-a-woo* tracks we have for you tonight, folks! *audience applause* What do you mean you're all turning off so you can listen to a record instead? *shotgun* Come back here this minute! *piano crash*...

Ah, the days of pirate radio. Weird jingles, stranger disc-jockeys and downright bizarre songs all vying for space between the commercial candyfloss that filled up most of the top twenty at the end of the sixties. Well if that’s your cup of tea then so is this album: a suite of new Who songs scattered between genuine period jingles and some made-up adverts so that you never quite know what's going to happen next all the way through. There are several theories making the rounds as to why the Who made this album. Some people say the idea was to mirror the success of the Ready Steady Who EP’ds tribute to Ready Steady Go in celebratying a defunct institution for a generation of music fans (the Who, remember, reflected their audience more than most and knew what they were into). ‘The Who Sell Out’ is, according to one line of thinking, a fond farewell to the illegal pirates after a government act outlawed them in mid 1967 (Radio London, the stationed most linked with The Who and from where many of this album's jingles were directly, umm, pirated, closed down in August, the same month this album's sessions started in earnest). In the end ‘The Who Sell Out’ came out just three months after a ‘proper’ legal replacement pop radio service began in Britain, the BBC’s Radio One (whose popularity would surely have been hit if the pirate stations still existed: for the benefit of our non-UK readers the BBC there couldn’t really be both; the BBC was and still is a unique creation paid for by the taxpayer and thus under Government control more than a commercial or indeed illegal station would be, paid for by annual license fees but without interruptions for commercials like every other TV and radio station around the world). In a way it's a 'thankyou' - like many an act on this list, many Who singles were just too off-the-wall to be played much on mainstream radio and the group owed pirate radio a lot for their success back in the 1960s. In another it's a typical two fingers up to the BBC, following a string of unwarranted radio bans; so what if they shut the pirates down?  The Who and their fans will still keep the faith!

A second, less generous idea, claims that Pete Townshend was so ashamed of his latest batch of material compared to most of the epic suites that were being written post- ‘Sgt Peppers’ that he came up with the overall idea to tie his songs together without having to re-write any of them (and by over-shadowing the songs with as many gimmicks as he could put his hands on). A third theory says that the band were laughing hilariously at the fickle world of 1960s commercialism and thought it would be a great display of wit if this self-acclaimed pop-art band started spoofing pop-art commercials for things that blatantly don’t do what they say on the tin. In contrast, however, a fourth thought behind the Who Sell Out concept says that the title is ‘true’ and that The Who recorded their jingles for things like cars and drum-sets in the hope that the companies they advertised would be willing to give them loads of freebies (I hope they liked baked beans – much to their annoyance they never got a car). What's more, the band’s desperate need for quick funds (which continued until 'Tommy' time in 1969) had already led to the band selling their soul (or at least their music) for a string of 'real' adverts - it may have helped The Who sleep better at night if they thought they were parodying themselves over selling out too. Maybe, also, there’s a fifth view that I don’t think has ever been offered before: maybe The Who (natural music fans and collectors, especially Pete and John) hated the idea of their favourite jingles being lost forever and vowed to have them included on an album for posterity. Different fans and reviewers believe all four versions (plus the last one I just made up): the truth is probably a little bit of all of them.

Whatever the reason this truly unique album exists, let’s just be glad that it does because – despite featuring the heaviest material Pete had written up to that time – The Who’s third album is more than anything else one hell of a lot of fun. The jingles (written, if the stories are to be believed, by Entwistle and Moon in one hurried evening down the pub) are hilarious, a bit like The Who’s almost fully-comedic second record ‘A Quick One’ only funnier, spoofing the often loony world of consumerism with enough innocence to still ring true as a ‘proper’ bunch of jingles for some mythical ‘proper’ station. Few bands in the pre-1967 period had ever been as eclectic style-wise as The Who and ‘Sell Out’ is in many ways a re-claiming of the band’s legacies from the hundreds of new pop bands of the psychedelic era who were stealing the Who’s eclectic thunder, the ultimate ‘ha ha we were the biggest’ statement as The Who range from out-flower powering the psychedelic movement to playing some of their heaviest, scariest material and throwing in some ballads too. Back in the days when every band tended to have a 'set sound' it makes sense that The Who of all bands should be the one to give a typically varied radio station playlist a go. It speaks volumes too that the only song from this album that was played on the radio at any great length was, naturally enough, the single 'I Can See For Miles' - which sounds like the least commercial song here. The Who have been struggling for a direction ever since realising they couldn't carry on like 'My Generation' in changing times and this record temporarily solves the problem heard on 'A Quick One' of what to do next (just do everything!) The 'hero' (at least according to his book - and nobody's contradicted it yet) is Pete's old art college flatmate Richard Barnes who suggested the idea to Roger, who loved it but was laughed out the room when he suggested it to Pete - it was only when Keith and John kept coming up with idea for hilarious jingles that the guitarist relented. The eclecticism of ‘The Who Sell Out’ is staggering and the album could easily pass for a radio station featuring many different groups if heard by an unsuspecting listener, thanks to its wide range of styles and adverts interrupting the narrative flow and on those terms it's often taken as the greatest and the bravest Who album of them all (which it probably is in pure musical terms, although the added dimension of the concept trilogy 'Tommy' 'Quadrophenia' and 'Lifehouse/Who's Next' might just edge them ahead a little).

In this context the jingles work their magic superbly, even if they do disappear partway through side two (for reasons unknown: maybe the band feared a court-case from Coca-Cola or Jaguar after having recorded jingles for them, though it seems unlikely their label Track Records would have objected to a free plug as heard on the various CD re-issues of the album). These jingles add a self-deprecating chuckle to the end of some of Townshend’s heavier moments that’s very Who and help clean the palette before the Who embark on some other completely different path. In a deeper sense they also offer a greater reflection of how music was viewed in 1967: as a commercial commodity first and foremost, even if the fans buying it were moving towards treating music as a spiritual necessity in the age of the hippie (music was, in fact, about the only commercial commodity still being celebrated as hippies forwent posh food, fashions and even clothes to still buy their 45 rpm singles). The jingles are, in other words, as deep or silly as you want to make them: as a countercultural attack on the impending relentless interruptions by a capitalist society intent on milking everybody dry or as light relief from Pete's deeper songwriting.

Keith and John are clearly going for the 'fun' part of things though, coming up (largely un-credited) with an impressive array of jingles for such delights as 'Premier Drums' (a real business where Keith bought his drums - and yes they did send him more after this plug!),  the band's favourite London club of the day 'The Speakeasy', the fictional 'Rotosound Strings' provided by the real company 'Rotosound' who normally specialised in bass guitars and the 'Charles Atlas' course (to help build up your muscles) as well as, most famously, a whole song about baked beans that sounds like a mischevous Entwistle mini-opera spoof of [42] ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’. Pete also threw in a new song he'd been writing about the fear of failure and turned it instead into a parody song about hoping his deodorant doesn't run out, creating the fictional company 'Odorono' in the process. The many CD re-issues of this album down the years also show that The Who recorded plenty more of these sorts of things with a particularly memorable pair of jingles for Coca-Cola, a lazy one for John Mason's Motors' (a rather desperate attempt to get a new car from a local second-hand dealer), Jaguar (an even more desperate but rather better attempt to plug a much-wanted make of car with proper lyrics and a melody and everything), their record label 'Track Records' (which sounds to me as if it was intended to be used on the vinyl's run-out groove so it would be repeated over and over until you physically lifted the needle away - the release of 'Sgt Peppers' six months earlier made this sort of thing popular at the time) and yet another London Club, The Bag O'Nails.

The jingles also inspire one of the greatest AAA album covers of them all in which The Who become capitalist stooges while poking fun at themselves too. Designed and photographed by David Montgomery (mainly because he'd just worked with label-mate Jimi Hendrix on the, umm, 'revealing' sleeve for The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 'Electric Ladyland') it follows Alan Aldridge’s for ‘A Quick One’ in being ‘pop-art’ ans resembling Andy Warhol’s soup cans.  Looking like some glossy magazine, all four band members advertise the different products they sing about on the record, some real and some made up, complete with fake advertising jargon below each picture that are often so spot-on they're hysterical. That’s Pete ‘turning perspiration into inspiration’ with a stick of deodorant, Keith demolishing the ‘dark side to his Moon’ with Medac pimple cream, John getting ‘huggy bear biceps that bring those beach beauties running’ from the Charles Atlas muscle course and poor Roger in a tub of freezing cold baked beans who clearly isn't thinking 'Thanks to Heinz Baked Beans every day is a super day' but probably something unprintable. In actual fact poor Roger caught pneumonia from the shoot (as most of the beans were frozen – what you can’t see in the picture is the big fire behind him defrosting them) and had to be taken to hospital (‘How did you get like this, love? It’s not that cold outside’ ‘Oh I’m in a pop-art band and I was sitting in a bath of defrosting baked beans to be used on our next front cover’ ‘Oh I see, not another case like that – can I have your autoigraph when you’ve stopped shaking? Next patient please!’), suffering for his art even though he wasn't even meant to be in that picture; a wily John Entwistle, passing Kit Lambert's office the day before, is said to have overheard his manager’s request 'the  baked beans needed for John's part of the photo-shoot tomorrow' and decided not to turn up that day, requiring a hasty change of band-member and a noticeably 'cheaper' shot for John's portrait which does look as if it was done in a hurry. Get saucy indeed! This does raise a point though – did this last minute switch kills off John’s standing within the group? Clearly whoever ended up in the beans was going to end up on the cover (it is the ‘money’ shot after all, with more time spent on it than the others) and Entwistle’s reputation had never been higher within and without the band since [34] ‘Boris The Spider’ made him a superstar close to Townshend.  By relegating himself to the back cover The Ox may have shot himself in the foot here when Roger’s stranglehold over the group was becoming tenuous and poor Entwistle goes from being Townshend’s heir apparent to The Who’s writer of B-sides from now on. That probably still beat being in a bath of beans, though.

Yet in amongst the fun and games ‘Who Sell Out’ also marks the true beginnings of Pete’s more worldly-weary and deeply serious style for which he will become famous, moving away from songs about teenage rebellion and cartoon characters into something a little more real and spiritual. Though it's actually an older song 'held back' until The Who were 'ready' enough to perform it 'I Can See For Miles' sets the tone: yes it's another breakup song of the sort The Who had already recorded lots acrodds 1965 and 1966, but it's a darker, scarier breakup than before. The Who have, till now, been good at denying their 'feelings' and covering them up with Roger's growl or sheer noise but here Pete's narrator isn't denying how deeply things hurt him - this isn't a causal encounter as it's left him being able to see and feel (and hear) everything, for miles and miles and miles, his senses on high alert. Elsewhere 'Our Love Was' is a very complicated love song about the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship which would never have been possible in the world of teenage pop. ' I Can't Reach You' is a 'Tommy' template and possibly Pete’s most British song in which the narrator does everything he can to get attention, short of - you know - actually asking for it. Then there's 'Tattoo' which may be the most charming coming of age song of all, which much like the album works on two levels - on one it's a simple, silly tale of getting a tattoo despite mum's disapproval; on another it's about that ongoing Who search for identity and finding solidarity with others who’ve done the same and the stupidity of human beings for thinking that a bit of ink on the outside changes the person on the inside. And then there's 'Rael', a second mini-opera as ambitious as anything around in what was arguably rock and roll's most ambitious year: a tale of the overthrow of a Chinese invasion of Israel, no less, scrunched up from around about an hour to four minutes here regardless of the fact it made the storyline unintelligible (how I’d love to have heard the whole thing which, alas, doesn’t seem to have ever been recorded – even by Pete in demo form). The irony is that none of these songs especially this one, would ever have been played on pirate radio for real (where they'd have been far too serious). Never mind though: 'Sell Out' is the kind of 'loose' album that get away with this sort of thing and simply sounds like a teen half-heartedly listening to the news and thinking how daft it sounds and wondering when the fun music is going to come back on and half-listening for what club he can go and get drunk in tonight.

However 'Sell Out' still isn't as deep an album as that lot implies: there's still room for the 'old' Who sound on the comedy morality tale of 'Silas Stingy' and period single [65] 'Pictures Of Lily's, ahem, sister song as 'Mary Anne With The Shakey Hand' finds her own equally sexual way to lull herself to sleep. Plus there's 'Relax', a song which sounds like every period psychedelic song ever recorded and 'Armenia (City In The Sky)' by Pete's mate Speedy Keene (the teenage drummer in that year's weirdest trio Thunderclap Newman) which effectively is The Who trying to sound like a completely different band, 'Sgt Peppers' style. In fact - and this may come as a surprise to newcomers to the band who assume all their records sound like ‘Live At Leeds’ - the only style the Who don’t really mine for this record is their early no-holds-barred rock charge, which is interesting given that all of their albums from their next one to the end all have at least one throwback to this early genre. No matter, though, this is an album that actually proves to be as witty or as intellectual as its cover, depending on how you read it, with ‘Who Sell Out’ working on as many levels as you wish it too.

As for the musicians, Townshend’s guitar is more of a lead instrument here than on most Who recordings. Interestingly, just at the point when Pete began to gain confidence in his guitar-playing (and his vocals – he takes nearly as many on this album as Daltrey, fitting their fragility more than his partner’s world-weary tenor) he loses his confidence in his writing ability, confessing years later that he felt he was writing himself into a cul-de-sac in the years 1966-68 before ‘Tommy’ came along. In truth, all of his songs on this album are fine and there isn’t a bad song in amongst his bunch on this album (with the outtakes from this record particularly strong, even by Who standards), but all too often they do indeed try a bit too hard to impress and use such a wide array of styles that at times its hard to believe that they are by the same writer at all. Indeed, hearing ‘Who Sell Out’ is a bit like hearing the whole of Townshend’s writing career compressed into one album: from the sneering rockers to the witty pop songs to the fragile ballads to the epic concepts through to the 1970s social commentary into the self-doubt and questioning of the late Who through to the uneasy pop/confessional hybrids of his solo albums, the next 30-years-plus of his writing is here somewhere, lurking behind a safe-playing jingle or three. ‘The Who Sell Out’ is, much like pirate radio of 1967, a trip that can take you absolutely anywhere, good or bad, safe or mad, rock or mod, full throttle or plod.

Townshend is backed ably on this album by school chum John Entwistle, he of the quiet laidback nature and booming ever-restless bass riffing, who extends his instrument’s range by a further mile or so on this album, even if his one actual ‘song’ (as opposed to advert) on the album is a pale shadow of his earlier glories. Keith Moon is, well, Keith Moon, turning even the ballads on this album into a ferocious powerhouse of angst and chaos, although he clicks into Pete’s songs even better than normal here, with not a tom-tom or a cymbal out of place in his quest for power and noise. The only member of the Who that feels a bit out of place on this album is Roger Daltrey. At the halfway stage between the snarling James Brown impersonator of the early 1960s and the peace-loving hero of the early 1970s, Roger isn’t quite sure what his role with the band is at this point. It is as if Pete, after trying to find his voice for so long, has finally worked out how to write and sing from the heart,m without having to hide behind Roger as he allows his characters to feel vulnerable and isolated ands insecure – things that Roger’s growl isn’t yet suited to (though he will be once Pete hits on the idea of expressing this in ‘character’, the real feelings lurking behind Tommy, Jimmy and whoever it is this week on ‘Lifehouse’). Roger’s vocals on ‘I Can See For Miles’ are a career highlight however, being truly menacing without sacrificing the song’s poppyer elements, and point towards the impressive subtlety of his work on the next two albums ‘Tommy’ and ‘Who’s Next’ where his vocals are exemplary. Certainly, despite their many and violent differences, The Who are really working as a 'band' again here and have put the arguments of 1966 on hand and 'Sell Out' features some of their brightest, crispest performances while The Who have also got to grips with the recording techniques now too, with 'Who Sell Out' one of their greatest sounding records in mono or stereo, even before an excellent CD re-mastering job.

The only bad news, in fact, is what didn't make this album with 'Sell Out' featuring as many quality songs again as made the original album (although the deluxe edition's attempt to fool us into buying two discs' worth at triple the price of the original set is pushing things a bit). There's much here that seriously deserved to make the final album: Roger's sprightly tale about love in the back of a car [73] 'Early Morning Cold Taxi', Keith's unusually straightforward take on Pete's listening-and-watching-you-in-the-audience on groupie tribute [75] 'Girl's Eyes', Pete's own take on groupies with the more thoughtful [70] 'Glittering Girl', the gorgeous streamlined near-instrumental [72] 'Jaguar', a funky rock version of Grieg's [74] 'The Hall Of The Mountain King' because pirate radio sometimes played classical music too, a [29] 'The Ox' style instrumental take nicknamed (a trifle unfairly) [77] 'Sodding About', the deeply impressive [71] 'Melancholia' which really does sound dark, desperate and very very scary plus best of all 'Tommy' first draft [76] 'Glow Girl', in which Pete takes a drug overdose on an areoplane that's in a spot of trouble, hallucinates that he's a teenage girl about to die with her life left unlived and which he ends up being reincarnated on landing as a baby girl (classic couplet: ‘The wing of the aeroplane has just caught on fire, I say without reservation we ain’t getting no higher’). They don't write songs like that anymore! Truly, any one of these outtakes would have enhanced the original album no end (it's just the unnecessary extra verses on 'Odorono' and 'Rael' that don't quite come off and were better left in the vaults) and 'Who Sell Out' could easily have been a double album without any loss in quality whatsoever.

However 'Who Sell Out' sounds pretty fine as it does anyway. Careering through whole genres in songs it takes other bands whole records to work their way through, there are few albums around as eclectic or as magical. Both silly and serious, delightful and daft, heavy and light with each and every throw of the dice, 'Sell Out' is a reminder of a time when the band had the power and talent to become anything they wanted.  This record is, in so many ways, the perfect response to 1967: The Who were never ones to follow the crowd and everyone would have been expecting The Who to come up with something similar after the half-concepts on their last few LPs. Instead they parody the whole general and laugh at everyone – while also creating some of their deepest and most brilliant material, just to prove that they could have made a ‘Peppers’ if they’d wanted to. While evertyone else turns to the East and gores spiritual, The Who go all-American and commercial. Wgile everyone else uses sitars, this is The Who’s most guitar-based album, with every backing track drenched in a sea of guitars. ‘The Who Sell Out’ is a record that has its cake, eats it and then records a saft jingle about cakes so that we buy a few more, a damning take on the commercialism of Western society that nevertheless helped pay off a few debts and kept The Who’s head above water just long enough to give the band momentum across the dark years of 1968. If in truth these songs still don’tsound as if they fit together if you take the jingles away and some of the tracks (like’Silas Stingy’ and the cover of ‘Armenia’) are experiments too far, this is nevertherless a strong LP, perhaps The Who’s best of the 1960s ‘The Who Sell Out’ has a bit of everything and re-launches the band in a way that they can now go absolutely anywhere, the top of a hill and riding a crest that allows them to see music in every direction for miles and miles and miles. Few, including The Who I suspect, would have guessed where the band would have gone next from here though - a concept album about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball-playing whizzkid who ends up accidentally creating a whole religion is about the only thing The Who don't hint at with this album!

The Songs:

The album’s lead-off track is the loopy tape-loop special [52] Armenia City In The Sky, written by Pete’s Acton Grammar school friend Speedy Keen of Thunderclap Newman who was at the time working as Pete’s cheauffeur (chauffeurs will play a big role in The Who’s life for some reason). This is a rare case of The Who doing something for their friends and for their managers, plugging a song by a fellow Track Records signee. In a way this song is like a ‘wanted’ ad for his drummer pal who was looking for a band, but by 1969 Townshend will have sorted that problem out too, putting two of his other mates together to form the unlikeliest power trio ever (grandad pianist Andy Newman was a second art college friend, teenage guitarist whizzkid Jimmy McCulloch someone Pete already admired and thought would be big – he will when he hits his twenties and Pete recommends him for the middle stint of Paul McCartney’s Wings). Hearing the song here is a bit weird – it’s not obviously Who-like a song, especially with everything sped up to sound different and space-age (though space-age chipmunk might be a better description) but it kind of works on an album that’s meant to be about pirate radio and can thus feature anything, including The Who doing stuff by other people. The title is interesting: as presented here ‘Armenia’ is a hippie utopia that helps you ‘relax’ once you get too stressed about daily life. Given the vibe of the rest of the record it sounds dangerously like an advert for drugs to go with the other commodities on sale across this album – ‘Armenia’ even makes time run at a different speed (as mirrored by the performance itself) and turns ‘the sky glass’ and ‘the sea brown’ while inevitably ‘everything is upside down!’ However ‘Armenia’ isn’t a drug, not even a slang term. It is instead a small country somewhere between Turkey, Georgia and Iran (although it is pronounced ‘Ahhhmeeeannneeeeeyaaaa’ instead of ‘Ahhhh-meaaaaaan-yaaaaa’ as here). It is definitely not in the sky. Keen says he wrote the song based on a painting but he can’t remember what; no paintings seem to include this title that he might have seen but then as he explained some forty years alter he was too embarrassed to tell Pete he’d got the title wrong anyway and he meant it as the much more hippie-ish pun ‘I’m an ear in the sky’. Despite the fact that Who scholars then and now have taken Speedy’s comments at face value, I myself wonder if it wasn’t all some giant piss-take. The Who, after all, are a mod band suspicious of psychedelia – perhaps along with ‘Relax’ this is the closestthey ever come to a hippie vibe and peace and drugs connotations. They are not natural companions for this sort of spaced-out music which they play with too much precision and noise. From the little there is to read about him and despite the nickname, Keen wasn’t your natural drug taking hippie either – ‘Something In The Air’ for instance is a political song that seemed to annoy him when it was taken as a hippie polemic rather than a piece of social commentary. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Townshend got the ‘joke’ that his friend was writing a drug song about an actually quite violent and un-hippie-like place and decided that the best non-hippie band to perform it would be The Who. The result is weird, even for this album, with the ultimate makeover of Roger the Bully as he becomes some squeaky voiced rodent fighting vainly against Pete’s backwards guitar scarpes and the crunch of Entwistle and Moon mixed particularly loudly and brashly. However innocent the vocals, though the fact that Moon is absolutely crashing the cymbals every time he’s called on to wallop them in this song and the way several eerie held guitar notes ebb and flow over each other give Armenia the aura of a bad rather than a good ‘trip’. An unsettling opener, which only lifts off the throttle when we get seven pirate radio jingles in a row (‘Monday…Tuesday…Wednesday…’, you get the idea) perhaps implying that this mythical land exists every day of the week in somebody’s head somewhere.

The Who are, after all, a band more at home dealing with earthy matters, such as [53] Heinz Baked Beans. An Entwistle re-write of Moon’s [38] ‘Cobwebs and Strange’, a song that may well have been based on hiw own ubncredited riff anyway, this is the most substantial of the many jingles The Ox wrote for a giggle down the pub the night Roger and Richard Barnes first came up with the concept for pirate radio. You can tell that the band must have had a great night that night as the humour is still in the room here – of all The Who’s pure novelty moments (almost all of them by Entwistle) this is by the funniest and – much as I hate album archive songs being used in advertising - Heinz really ought to dig it out for their own ends. After giving way to his more classical leanings on multiple brass overdubs, John skewers the classical feel of the music with a series of Goon Show ish voices. Moon’s child, Townshend’s businessman husband and Entwistle’s elderly mother-in-law are all expert caricatures asking impatiently what’s for tea before receiving the indevitable group chorus of ‘Heinz Baked Beans’ in a spot-on parody of staid 1960s advertisements (which were in many ways the last thing to change through the great 1960s cultural and social revolution and which seemed oddly 1950s in style and affrontery right up until the 1970s). The result is a catchy song which sounds all the prettier for being played ‘properly’ this time without the mania of The Who learning brass instruments on studio time, too good for a jingle – which is I think exactly John’s point. How very pop-art to celebrate the commercial ‘low-brow’ in this way on an album that in ‘rael’ particularly also tackles high art. 

After this quick comedy moment and more jingles than Christmas bells comes [54a] Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand, Pete’s rather less successful re-write of The Who’s latest hit [65] Pictures of Lily. This is, I think, another Who piss-take (three in a row?) The song sounds like pure Merseybeat pop, a catchy song so designed to stick in your head jingle-like that many parents (including mine) have been fooled into thinking is a sweet song full of sunny goodness and delight. After all, The Who sing it in their version of three-part angelic harmony and their usual power is softened round the edges thanks to some sha-a-a-a-a-aky tremolo effects. What people miss, though, is that this song couldn’t possibly be played on the radio in 1967. It is even more balatantly about masturbation than ‘Lily’ was and what’s more it’s about female masturbation, which for some odd reason known only to the people who think too long and hard about censorship somehow more taboo than male masturbation. In The Who’s world girls aren’t pure and nice, even when they are virgins. While structured to be like [45] ‘I’m A Boy’ with a similar round of sweet sounding girls who all sound like dolls (Linda, Jean and Cindy) Mary-Anne is a real woman. The hint, which is as blatant a hint as The Who can have back in 1967, is that she uses her well practised masturbation technique on the narrator and this is far moe valuable to him than the ability to cook, sew and dance – all the things their previous generation took for granted in finding the ‘right girl’. By treating this song as the sort of thing every pop hit maker was straining for in the 1950s but which now seems passe by 1967, The Who are drawing their generational divide ever more sharply. With all that going on though, sadly, they’ve rather forgotten to write themselves a song. The last two worked as songs in their own right if you didn’t get the ‘joke’ or somehow missed the baked beans references – this one sounds like a re-write of ‘Lily’ without the same impact or danger.  The Who just about get away with it t, thanks to the delicious knowingness in their vocals, but for once on this album it does feel like this song isn’t quite as clever as everyone in the band seems to think it is. The Who really seemed to think it was brilliant by the way, recording more versions of this track than any other of their songs (discounting live performances): ‘The Who Sell Out’ version is the prettiest and best, an alternate version with an abandoned electric guitar overdub slipped out in America as the B-side of ‘I Can See For Miles’ and was later added to the CD re-issue of outtakes album ‘Odds and Sods’, a fully acoustic version was picked out for the box set ‘Thirty Years Of Maximum R and B’ in 1994 and a fourth ‘work in progress’ version ended up on the ‘Who Sell Out’ CD re-issue in 1995 with Al Kooper guesting on organ. Sadly the deluxe version of the album didn’t stick all four versions together for comparisons sake, which was something of a lost opportunity. Maybe the set compilers got shaky hands?

After a quick plug for Premier Drums - one of the few businesses featured on this album who were pleased enough with their free advert to actually send Keith Moon a new set as hoped - [55] Odorono is a very solemn sounding teenage confessional philosophical song about how we’re all doomed and, um, deodorant. In other words, a fourth piss-take song in a row but this time aimed squarely at Pete’s traditional audience and especially himself. As ewith [42] ‘A Quick One’ it is another tale of a damsel in distress without a voice as Pete gets more deeply into feminisim. Once again the girl is too powerless to even have a name, though her predator (‘Mr Davidson’) does and he’s a record producer. She turns up to sing but is aware that she is being udged for her looks more than for her voice and even the thought that this producer ‘really looked quite handsome’ can’t get rid of the feeling that if only she’d looked prettier he might have remembered her in the audition. Suddenly it seems to have all turned round: with a cry of ‘triumphant’ the girl is welcomed to the producer’s office days later and she seems certain that she’s going to be a star – only to see his change of expression as he leans in for an inevitable kiss and smells her body odour while he ‘claims a late appointment and she quickly turns to hide her disappointment’. ‘Her deodorant had let her down’ sings Pete straight faced ‘she should have used Odorono’. This spot-on comedy exploits in turn the advertisement companies who exploit teenage insecurities and doubts, laughing at the way jingle writers try and make you think you can only be a success if you use their products. The joke, if you like, is that the girl gets punished for not falling for a commercial product everyone is told they should have but don’t necessarily need while the inasensitive producer gets off from karma scot-free. I mean, with his riches he can’t afford to buy her a stick of deodorant nad make her a star anyway? Once again The Who are the most authentic part of an artificial world as they so often are on this album. The ‘trick’ this time though is that this bit is stapled on, almost as if Pete was writing this song ‘straight’ and then got cold feet at the last moment. Indeed, The Who had two goes at writing this ending and I would say the unused extended version – as heard on the various CD re-issues – makes the joke a tiny bit clearer (‘Odorono could have saved her day, could have helped her to get the part, Odorono – and he would have stayed, helped her to save her heart!’) All Pete has said about this song is that ‘without getting too deep, the disappointment in it – that’s life’, putting this song at one with his other hapless narrators who can’t get whast they want but without rthe final coming together at the end of the story where faith makes it all come right (as it does for Tommy and the characters in Lifehouse, with Jimmy in ‘Quadrophenia’ ambiguous). The first of Pete’s record five lead vocals on this album, it’s musically the most serious song on the album, with its stately tempo and tricky verse-chorus-bridge-extras structure even though the tale might have been a darkly comic story in someone else’s hands (Entwistle, for instance). Stop press: I’ve just learnt that ‘Odorono’ is a genuine product in America who must presumably have okayed it for use on this album (unlike Jaguar and John Mason’s Cars); did they not get the joke?   

One quick link from the suddenly-defunct Radio London pirate radio ship and in comes much more traditional Who fare in [56] Tattoo.  Most noisy soulless rock bands who record tracks with titles like this just want to bang you over the head with a guitar lick for hours and show off how tough they are, but unlike other heavy rock groups The Who always laced their powerhouse rock songs with subtlety and attention to detail. Tattoo is actually a rather quaint song, full of clever intricate wordplay from Townshend at his best, telling us the story of two brothers who get their arms tattooed in the hope that it will make them seen grown up even though they are clearly still young and naive. It is, however, a rite of passage: the brothers aren’t hell-raisers either (the one narrating even gets a tattoo honouring his mother) but simply fed up of being treated like children and desperate to feel like an adult. In yet another piss-take, albeit a gentler one, it is clearly going to take more than getting their arms tattooed for these voiceless victims to be a ‘man’, to the poibnt where they can stand up to the dad who beats him and the mother who beats his brother (‘because his tattoo was of a lady in the nude and she thought that was extremnely rude!’) The song is highlighted by one of Pete’s cleverest deftest lyric touches (‘Now I am older I am tattooed all over, my wife is tattoed too’) and a first real sense of poetry and character akin to a drama on what is basically a song about two teenage hoodlums getting their skin inked. This is aided and abetted by a quite brilliant performance full of more subtlety than normal with a predominantly acoustic performance and some genuinely lovely angelic harmonies that float without the usual Who bite of old. It is as if Pete, always encouraged to reflect his audience, is feeling apart from the mod hoodlums in the audience and instead remembering what rebellion tasted like when he was young and innocent and ever more powerless, remembering it as being cute more than anything. The story behind the song is rather sweet too: when he was little, Pete noticed how every adult around him seemed to have tattoos and assumed it was something everybody had done when they were an adult – it wasn’t until he was older that he realised that they were a matter of personal choice. Originally Pete planned to sing this song himself in his little-boy-lost voice but he found to his surprise that Roger was really entyhusiastic about it, telling him how much he identifired with the lyric and the need to be a ‘man’ when you didn’t feel quite ready for it yet. This conversation will have huge repercussions in the Who story as Pete began to see Roger more and more as an ally than a competitor, someone who could express the insecurity he felt but in a much tougher way and indeed Roger is great again here, with just the right touch of mischief and longing. Oddly, perhaps, none of The Who have ever had a tattoo – you would expect Keith Moon alone to have some pretty wild ones! Even if Townshend later runs out of inspiration for the song’s end and simply writes ‘a root-te-toot-ti-toot’ to get him out of a difficult rhyme, that can’t stop this song being one of his most spot-on, remembered in turn with affection by lots of fans who have never been near a tattooist parlour in their lives and one of Pete’s own personal favourites amongst his songs. 

A quick spiritual link (radio is ‘the church of your choice’ apparently; ‘den of inequity’ might be closer given the state of radio one these days) and in hurries [57] Our Love Was, almost tripping over itself in its restless urge to break in and tell us that its over between us – or is it re-born? This song really is the sort of pop song you do hear on radios all the time and may well have been a failed attempt at writing a hit single, losing out to I Can See For Miles. However, even if it is a love-lorn ballad of the sort The Who didn’t normally do, this also feels perfectly compatible with Pete’s other songs. His marriage to first wife Karen was stormy. People think by that word it means incompatible, but no – theirs was an unpredictable relationship that went through bouts of closeness and distance. Pete will, in time, distance himself from writing about his personal life and speaking through characters but he hasn’t quite learnt that art yet (or perhaps felt he was hiding behind this album’s concept). ‘Our Love Was’ is, in many ways, the most personal song he ever wrote in which he turns all his frustrations into song. It isn’t that he doesn’t feel loved, more that he doesn’t know what’s coming next and though this track starts off as a cute simple pop tune it ends up going through more shifts in tone than even ‘rael’. One minute we’re in loved-up ectasy ‘shinging like a summer morning’, the next the tunefeels like it is being forced uphill only to collapse again in a plunge that knocks us off our feet, the next the song rights itself only for Pete’s guitar to squeal in out of nowhere, the very sound of someone looking for a fight and finding it. The two different sections of this song shouldn’t belong together and yet they do, Pete confusing us as he withdrawls with a snarl (‘it was only an imitation of what love should have been’) before launching into a blissful chorus chant of ‘love love love long’. The song then comes to a full stop – and another – and another, before finally fading away on a busked note, as if pete hasn’t got a clue what the future holds, togetherness or division. In the end Pete and Karen’s marriage in 1968 in the wake of ‘Who Sell Out’will last even longer than The Who, ending in 2009 (although the pair were living apart from 1994). This song sounds as if Pete already knew that the couple were going to be together a long time yet ultimately doomed to split apart. Hdereafter we won’t get any clue to his lovelife until as late as the affair recounted in [206] ‘Athena’ (and only then if you’re paying really close attention). Perhaps he scared himself off with what came tumbling out here – his frustration and woes – but actually ‘Our Love was’ is a really impressive piece of work, a mature reflection on how marriages aren’t all fairytales and that just because you have differences doesn’t mean you’re not destined to be together. A charming, overlooked song, it’s a shame in many ways that pete didn’t write more songs like this one – and significant too in that he kept this song back to imself, even though it would seem on paper to suit Roger’s harsher tones more. 

A long list of jingles follow – a genuine pirate advert (you’re qa pussycat you’re where it’s at’) and two Who-made up ones for their favourite drinking club The Speakeasy and a fictional batch of guitar accessories called  ‘Rotasound Strings’ that ‘hold your group together’. Priceless! The Who should have gone into writing jingles professionally in this period, they’d have soon cleared up their other huge debts!

Anyway, next comes the genuine pop single [58] I Can See For Miles, a quite staggering song that belies its late 1965 authorship (Pete kept it to one side so he could have an ‘ace’ up his sleeve in case the group’s sales began to dry up – which by 1967 they were) and is one of the greatest psychedelic experiences you can still have without building a time-machine. Swirling guitar, Entwistle’s bass is at its fretwork-smoking best, an otherworldly Daltrey vocal, Townshend’s guitar switching from rumbling thunder to pouncing lightning throughout and there are no less than two lots of Keith Moon drums attacking you at once in the left and right speakers (this is the ultimate Moon drum track as he competes for your attention not only with the rest of the band but himself!) In terms of pure noise, it is one of the best Who recordings out there, each seemingly improvised guitar, bass, drum or vocal part perfectly set out to catch our attention and keep the momentum going. While Pete hasn’t really been going for that long he does tend to write to templates too, with the choruses of his songs generally softening the bow of his verses ([24] ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and [41] ‘So Sad About Us are two good examples of this). However this time the chorus only ratchets up the tension further – suddenly instead of ordered chaos we get absolute mayhem as everyone pushes to the extreme of their instrument, reigning it in over a throbbing solo before doing the same trick all the way over again. As a performance ‘Miles’ rocks like never before and you can see why Townshend was so heartbroken that what he considered the ‘ultimate Who song’ flopped so badly in the charts (at least in Britain: it was the band’s breakthrough hit in America, peaking at #9). It’s as a song that ‘Miles’ doesn’t quite have the same impact as earlier, admittedly utterly brilliant, Who singles. This is the first Who-sanctioned single (i.e not Shel Talmy’s picks) that isn’t about identity or awakening in some way. The idea that this song is about something as mundane as jealousy takes away from the track somehow: The Who are best when tempering their dark side and anger with something light and there’s nothing on this track but shadows. This is, after all, a Stones narrator not a Who one: he has power, at least to tell his girl he’s seen through her lies and isn’t taking it anymore. On past Who songs she would be the one doing this to him when he was innocent. Even the fact that this is just a cover and this is really The Who’s ‘drug song’ (even though only their drummer really did drugs) doesn’t help as much as it ought to – this would be a drug trip by music alone never mind the lyrics about suddenly enhanced vision (Pete was asked once if this song was really about drugs and, fearing another ban,m deadpanned that it was ‘just a song about a guy with exceptional eyesight’ – however this is clearly a song about more than just eating carrots). The result, then, is the best possible performance of a song that tries to come on with the sneer of [23] ‘My generation’ but has nothing quite as important to say. The best description of this song is ‘organised chaos’ with instruments seguing and bouncing off each other with a sort of natural rhythm – its not actually the ‘wild, aggressive, unhinged sound’ critics described at the time (Paul McCartney read this very description of I Can See For Miles in a review of the time and allegedly thought something along the lines of ‘aww, shucks, I wanted to make the heaviest, dirtiest rock song ever, I just haven’t got round to it yet’. However, after hearing the song he was relieved to find that Miles is actually very tightly structured and its chaoticness derives from its studio effects and multi-tracking rather than any specific rawness – so he quickly set about writing the White Album’s Helter Skelter to fit that description before anybody else beat him to it). The performance alone, however, makes this song still utterly brilliant: the held ‘miles and miles and miles and…’ at the end that just won’t let go and resolve itself onto the song’s root note is one of the most stunning sections of music The Who ever recorded, plain and simple, so physical that it actually hurts as you wait for the tension to resolve itself. This track should have become a live favourite – regrettably The Wgho didn’t perform it livge until their 1989 reunion tour due to the two drum tracks and two guitar parts. You sense the ‘Leeds’ era Who would have found a way round that and any other problems though – the result is a lion that sometimes feels as if it is being treated as a domestic house cat.

All that and so far we’ve only covered side one. I need a lie down – and some baked beans on toast! After all that energy side two starts deceptively quietlty, with a curiously undeveloped  throwaway link advertising a body building course (which Entwistle helpfully models for us on the cover). ‘The Charles Atlas Course’ was a regular joke (see various Monkees TV episodes) that promised to make weedy people muscly. You sense ‘The Ox’ doesn’t really need to take the course somehow…Next comes Pete’s gentle pop epic [59] I Can’t Reach You. On the one hand this is the single most Who-like song ever: Pete has been writing about a struggle with communication since [4] ‘I Can’t Explain’ and yet the song quite eloquently points out just how bewitched, bothered and bewildered Pete is by his life and a relationship in it he can’t quite put a feeling on. This is basically an entire lyric saying ‘I think it’s love but I can’t explain!’However at the same time, everything is different. While Nicky Hopkins’ piano was a valuable extra to the debut album sessions, this is the first track driven by piano not guitar (and a Townshend part at that). Roger is once again nowhere to be seen and unlike some of his other vocals on the album Pete doesn’t even seem to be trying to replicate the powerful voice of his colleague. Though the fire and manic energy of the rloudest rhythm section in rock is here, this is really at heart a love lorn ballad that sounds more middle of the road than thew ditch-loving Who would ever normally go complete with a riff best described as ‘cute’ (ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, wooh!’) Even lyrically this is frustration described in a very different way than normal, with Pete recapturing the ever-changing nature of his lover from [29] ‘Disguises’ but in a way that seems to affect him much more. Pete even makes a mention of ‘your unguarded, untouched heart’, the first real time he’s acknowledged that other people might feel as hopeless as him. While it would be easy to see this as another track about Pete’s complex first marriage, I have to wonder too if this isn’t some kind of comment on Pete’s relationship with Roger, who significantly isn’t here at all: it is, after all, a largely unique one in any working environment. How many people have to work as an adult with an older kid who bullied them at school – and how many rend up effectively getting a ‘promotion’ over them? Pete could be crowing about it, but he’s a more generous human being than that: instead he wonders why, now that he’s seen the ‘real’ Roger (shades of [148] ‘The Real Me’ maybe?) why the singer didn’t always show off that sweet vulnerable side more. Pete seems to be spending this song wondering why he can’t be friends with someone he admires and now identified with – only to realise that they are just two entirely different people after all. When Pete, casting himself as the philosopher again on this track, cranes his nexk to see his pal he’s running off in the opposite direction; similarly when one of them reaches out for something they find will suit the band the green grass ‘turns to hay’. Pete acknowledges he’s ‘a million ages past you, a million years behind you too’, acknowledging that Roger is his superior in some ways and inferior in others and that they need what the other has. Note too the mention that ‘your hair is gold and mine is grey’ – Pete’s hair turned grey quicker than most while Roger was famous for his blonde top-note; both of them meanwhile had the ‘blue eyes’ mentioned in the lyric (and again in [124] ‘Behind Blue Eyes’). It also seems likely to a world-weary Pete that the biggest difference between his weary prematurely old self and the singer was his ability to feel ‘still alive while I’m nearly dead’. Spending endless hours on tour will make or break bands – it seemed to do both to The Who at different times before they learnt quickly that their best way of surviving the gigs was to keep as far apart as possible between tours. This song might be Pete realising this, that while Roger was tied to him as the best possible single interpretor he could ever have for his songs (bullish but subtle) he would never be his best buddy seeing eye to eye and nattering the night away the way he did with his art college buddies (roger was probably out jogging anyway,, unable to keep still). This is only speculation, but if I’m true what could be the signifigance of the middle eight (‘Our fingertips touched as one and my mind tore us apart’) – did Pete suddenly have a jealousy fit or a band dispute or something? Was it his idea to put Roger in the baked beans? A most fascinating song.

 [60] Medac is alas a rare poor jingle, a silly Entwistle song about spot cream that sounds like it was done in a bit of a rush (the melody-line is so poorly thought through it can’t even last to the end of this short song and has to find a second tune, even more basic than the first). Poor Henry Pond gets no real story to go with his spots which, given that he’s the only Who character actually bullied in a school setting, should be more significant than it is. We don’t know why the bullies call him ‘old yeller’ (except that John needed a rhyme for ‘feller’) and unlike [222] ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ there is no comeback here when the boy looks in the mirror: medac really does banish his pimples and make him feel atrtractive again; how better if he had earned that confidence himself so he didn’t need the cream? And who names an acne cream ‘Medac’ anyway, it sounds like a hemarrhoid kit!

No such qualms about [61]  Relax though, a classic acid rock song with a languid tempo that builds to a giant crescendo of un-comfortableness before the gloriously sweet ‘yours and mine’ refrain comes in to fire up the song into a full throttle charge. This is, ironically, the sort of thing every other band was doing in 1966 when The Who were off doing novelty songs and refusing to do it – only now that rock and roll has got washier and sleepier do they come back with their full-on guitar attack in a psychedelic attack. The resulting sound suits the band so well though you wish they’d got their act together and done this earlier: they sound utterly brilliant here, with John at last using his bass the rigid prop of the rest of the band rather than a guitar playing deeper notes, Moon slows his drums up but hits them twice as hard, there’s an organ note that tethers the song down to earth and multiple glorious Townshend freakout guitars that overlap and criss-cross each other.  The irony is that while The Who are as as exciting as they will ever be in the 1960s the lyrics are busy trying to mellow us out. I’ve often wondered if this song is Pete’s first response to Meher Baba, even though most books claim that Pete didn’t discover his ‘guru’ until the following year. This is, in many ways, a meditiation class and two years before ‘Tommy’ is about the amazing things we can learn if only we shut up and listen and stop filling the world with noise. Till now all Who narrators have been aimless and restless, however well behaved (or not!), but this is the first one to actually have faith that we go through things for a reason and that all will work out with the stillness of time. ‘I know you from inside!’ roar Roger, Pete and John on a rare case of all three singign together in lovely harmony, ‘relax and let your mind roll on, over all your problems!’ This sort of spiritual Odorono is a roll-on of the mind not body that counteracts the rest of this sarcastically commercialised LP by showing how the real key to having a better life is by going inside ourselves. Pete alone tells us that we’ve got a long time before judgement day and ought to be happy in the here and now (a very baba image) and in the single most hippie Who line of them all that ‘everything is yours and mine’The band really do wonders on the recording of this song, Daltrey and Townshend’s vocals have never sounded better together than they do on this recording – half-cute and half-creepy so that you’re in two minds about whether to trust their instructions about lying back and ‘opening your mind’ or not - and Entwistle’s bone-rattling bass sounds terrific working against the more languid snooze-inducing playing of his band-mates. An understated and quietly moody song for the most part, all hell seems to break loose in the solo which is one of Townshend’s greatest guitar triumphs, lulling us into a false sense of security before our doubts come pouring into our head and he bats them away with his growlinjg guitar one by one, getting inceasingly het-up until those heavenly Who harmonies make him rest all over again. This isn’t as ‘wrong’ as it sounds, especially with a first calling for band and fans to [133] ‘Join Together’ – Pete offers to send us the first part of this inner journey ourselves, inviting us to lie down and ‘listen to the sound of the band, hold my hand’ (mind you as this is still The Who the spell gets broken by an advert for Rotosound Strings!) ‘Relax’ is a real album highlight and a definite triumph – what a shame the band never tried it again, especially as the band’s 1968 tour performances of this song suggest it was turning into a real highlight (till it got the boot in favour of ‘Tommy’).

Anyway, it’s a lot better than Entwistle’s rather tuneless song about a miser, [62] Silas Stingy, which drags around on two chords and has none of the charm of John’s other early songs like [34] Boris The Spider or [36] ‘Whiskey Man’. What’s interesting is that Entwistle’s unusual relationship with money seems to stretch back here, before The Who really had any (asked in his interview what surprised him most about his life, John jokes that ‘I was famous so quickly – and yet I got rich a lot longer after that than I wever would have thought’). When Pete and Keith were smashing their instruments John protected his instrumewnts, building up a vast collection of them to put in the mansion he bought long before he could actually afford it. John was a big believer in money but jot a believer in banks, preferring to put his money into belongings – which was fine until the time when he had to sell one and found he couldn’t, instead going into debt to pay for his next meal. This will have huge repercussions across the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as Pete and Roger flock to bail him out time and time again and caused endless frustrations within the band (not least with Pete who, as the band’s chief writer, was on a higher salary, even with John’s B-sides to sustain him financially, as it was a quirk of 1960s singles that B-side writers always got an equal split of the payments from sales). However even in his irresponsibility John hated misers and people who didn’t share their money, turning Silas Stingy into perhaps the most naturally evil of all his characters, even above [81] ‘Mr Hyde’ or [95] ‘Cousin Kevin’. The way the song is written though he only actually hurts himself: why should anyone else care if he doesn’t eat and never washes, as it’s not as if he shares his life with another. There’s an odd switch of pace at the end though as the miser runs out of money and collapses as he realises ‘he hasn’t any more’. Pete performs a lovely cameo as a shouting child, the sort of role he will provide on many Townshend songs, but otherwise this song drags. With an irritating chorus of ‘moneybags’ repeated for nearly a full minute in one case, a one-note tune and a pretty sparse performance Silas Stingy ends up being as miserly as its subject matter, a curiously out-of-place bare song on such a wonderfully rich record. 

Instead we were waiting for [63] Sunrise, with no jingles to disrupt the flow across the last two tracks on the album. This song is even more sparse than the last track but a hundred times more gorgeous, perhaps the most delicate song of The Who’s complete canon featuring a very breathy hardly-there vocal from Pete, some delicately plucked acoustic guitars and, well, not a lot else really. Pete first demoed this track alongside his first batch in 1965 but, probably sensibly, decided that it really didn’t suit The Who’s fire and passion and kept it for himself. It is another track that he wouldn’t have been ‘allowed’ to have recorded before this, without the ‘pirate radio jumble’ idea giving the album such a varied flavour. The subject matter is quite unlike anything we ever get from Pete again (‘I used to find my spirituality from sunrises but now I get a greater feeling when I look at you’) and had it come at a later date I would say this too is surely a Meher Baba song, of the ‘brightness’ of life if we are content to follow the way it shapes us. Instead I wonder if this is Pete figuring that he ought to give his fiancé some sort of a love song on his last Who LP as a bachelor and remembering that he’d already written the perfect one back when he was in the first flushes of love, having juist plucked up the courage to ask Karen out. After all, this would be hard to beat, Pete recounting lovingly how the sight of her makes everything else drab, even God’s creations ‘put to shame’.It doesn’t seem as if the universe held this against Pete either, what with the spot-on sunrise cue during the Woodstock performance of ‘Tommy’ and all! As with ‘Our Love Was’ it feels like the real Pete peeking through his songs, the sort of things his Who characters would never be brave enough to say out loud. Compared to The Who’s very best not a lot happens in this song: this isn’t daredevil exciting, the song largely srtays on one chord and you know where this song is going from first note to last. However, for all that, this is a very pretty song and future Who albums would have been better still with more pure nuggets of Townshend vulnerability like this deeply under-rated track. 

Things then close with Pete’s third pop-opera [64a] Rael, which is a sort of Tommy mark #1, with the first appearance of The Who’s classic [92] Amazing Journey > Sparks riff in there too. Of all of Pete’s mega concepts though this one is surely unique. Of the others only ‘Quads’ was set in a parallel future (‘Tommy’ and [42] ‘A Quick One’ are clearly ‘now’, while ‘Quadrophenia’ is in the past and ‘Lifehouse’ exists in a timeless bubble) and this is most definitely the only one driven by concepts and politics rather than personalities. The story in this song is a bit convoluted though, to say the least, with an incomprehensible plot about a Chinese invasion of Israel. Pete’s narrator is presumably Jewish as he refers to Israel as ‘the home of my religion, the centre of my Earth’. Overtaken by the Chinese (‘like a goldfish swallowed by a whale’) the narrator is one of many expelled from his homeland, but vows to return at a given signal on ‘Christmas Day’ (an oddly Christian day to do this). There’s a system: a yellow flag means failure, a red flag means victory. Following that madcap dance through a prototype ‘Sparks’ though we get the oddest resolution ever: after all that effort the inhabitants are happier where they are and ‘he’s crazy if he thinks we’re coming back again, he’s crazy…anyway!’ A further cut verse, pre-announced when ‘The Who Sell Out’ came out on CD in 1995, convinced fans we were about to get some answers, but nope: [64b] ‘Rael 2’ is just Pete, Nostrodamus style, telling us how he’s seen these visions in his dreams and knows them to be true, thanking whichever God it was who ‘made Rael’ despite the doom and disaster he sees befalling it. This may be the only time in this entire book tbhat I would rather the ‘extra’ bit had stayed back in a drawer, as it rather dilutes the promise of the song heard directly after it as a bitty coda that only muddies the waters further.

What are we to make of all this? Is Pete’s ideas of fate leading mankind to where it needs to go on the other songs on ‘Who Sell Out’ ‘wrong’ and rael was always doomed to fall to somebody? Does Rael belong to the narrator more thasn it does to the Chinese? Why do they even want it? (China is a long way away on a map). There are no clues in this song and unlike every other Townshend mini-opera (although, alas, we don’t know about ‘Quads’) there is no great bnig ending to put it all right and make sense of it all. Given that almost every Townshend song till now has seen the powerless winning despite the odds I would like to think that the narrator and his family return to the land of their birth and learn something from their eviction in the whole piece; however what we have here isn’t so much a full-stop as a pause. What’s interesting is how much this song seems to matter to The Who, a band who didn’t take pretentiousness lightly. Roger sounds as happy singing this track as any of the others and there doesn’t seme to have been any band arguments about ‘this song makes no sense – put an ending on, quick!’ You wonder too why Pete didbn’t simply leave this song till he had the space to develop it, especially as he had at least a dozen other useable tracks to pick from as part of this album’s sessions. You also have to say, too, that this is the one track that blows the ‘pirate radio’ theme out of the water: there is no way a song this political, even scatterbrained, would ever get played on a radio playlist. Things are further muddied by the problems The Who had taping this song which results in one of the most obvious AAA edits of all time at the 0:24 mark. One of the downsides of The Who’s new freedom and Kit Lambert being in charge of the new sessions was that occasionally mistakes were made. Recorded on the hop at a studio the band didn’t often use, the group worked on the song for so many hours straight that they had to leave suddenly for their nearby gig, in their haste disappearing without putting the master tape spool away for safe-keeping. The studio cleaner then came along that night and, noticing the mess, preceded to put everything in the bin, with the rubbish and cigarette ends placed on top of this recording reel. After reclaiming it the next morning, the horrified band thought they’d lost the whole of their night’s work, but in fact only the opening verse couldn’t be rescued and the Who were able to re-record this at a later date (hence the major dip in sound quality). Frankly you wonder why they worked so hard repairting a song that obviously wasn’t fitting with everything else they had. The result is not a bad song: ‘rael’ definitely earns points for ambition and the oriental flavour of the backing track, the Sparks energy rush and the sudden violent switches between time signatures (Daltrey’s voice the only thing keeping the song going across them all) is exquisitely done. The slow section (‘If a yellow flag is fluttering’) particularly is really beautiful and deserved to be a whole song in its own right, not a twenty second addition to an epic. However the song is less interesting than Pete’s five other operas and desperatelty deserved to be less ‘mini’. It just involves too much work, from band and fans, ‘Rael’ changing tack seemingly every other line, with melody, tempo and often instrumentation different to every line before it. Townshend can’t juggle this trick as well as, say, Brian Wilson can and the whole piece comes off sounding bitty and odd instead of overwhelmingly brilliantly fascinatingly odd as it should. Even heavily flawed, however, Rael is a brave attempt at something new that points the direction to future glories, being one of the most unfairly forgotten and unloved of Pete’s early epics.

Acidic acid rock, beautiful ballads, tuneful tunes, poppy pop songs, psychedelic psychological essays, out of tune tunes, The Who Sell Out really has it all, with some jingles thrown in for free. This is in many ways the most daring concept out there, as The Who out-do Sgt peppers by playing the role of not just one entirely different band but multiple ones, all gathered together on album as if you really listening in to a general music station. This last minute decision to tie together an album that wasn’t really working is so devastatingly clever though and so Who like, in the way it mocks said radio stations, music in general in the decidedly un-Who like hippie era, crass commercialism selling art and even The Who themselves. Ultimately, though, The Who are the heroes, the one band that truly hasn’t sold out and which stay as true to their true authentic selves as any four people who failed to die before they got old ever could. A great cross-section of what sounds were being made for and heard on any rock radio station in 1967, this album still manages to be fascinatingly original for the most part andis an album olike no other, a serious treatise about the state of the world in 1967 treated as if it’s all a big joke. At last, at the third time of asking, The Who really know what they are doing now and have something to offer the world beasides energy, anarchiscism and quirks. Using this album as a launching pad, they can literally go anywhere from here now – though few people surely would have guessed what album really is coming up for them next. What’s for tea, mum?

Other Who reviews, news and music hanging around this site before the commercial break:

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

'Lifehouse' (As It Might Have Been) (1971)

'Who's Next' ('Lifehouse' As It Became) (1971)

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:


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