If there was ever a record that deserves more than just accolades from diehards and music geeks, it is The Who's 1967 masterpiece, "The Who Sell Out." This brilliant collection of Pete Townshend tunes is barely acknowledged by the author himself and for me, someone who has unequivocally deemed this record The Who's best, that is a mystery.
Unlike the interesting but mostly misguided Stones release of the same year, "Their Satanic Majesties Request," released exactly one week prior, "The Who Sell Out" isn't just an experiment in psychedelics or a failed attempt to create the band's own "Sgt. Pepper." This album features Townshend songs that are strong and personal. It kicks your ass Who-style with "I Can See For Miles" and "Rael 1 & 2," and breaks your heart with the beautiful, adult pop of "Our Love Was" and "I Can't Reach You." Unlike so many records of the mid-sixties, this album isn't hit or miss...unless you're not in the mood for comedy bits.
I would imagine many were put off by the radio jingles interspersed throughout, which admittedly add a hokey quality. But the truth is, while these jingles might be speed bumps to some, they are actually fine bits of music with the usual stellar playing of the band.
Would "The Who Sell Out" work better without the comedy? In the age of iPods and programming, you can see for yourself with a little adjustment to your playlist. I prefer the whole experience. From the bombast of the opener, Speedy Keen's "Armenia City In The Sky," through the sweet yet sordid "Mary-Anne With The Shakey Hand," Townshend's melodies have never been stronger. And really, is there a more beautiful lyric than "Sunrise?"
"The Who Sell Out" may not have the hiwatt sounds and R&B roots of the band's earlier singles and it certainly isn't a precursor of what was to follow. "The Who Sell Out" is a singular achievement. Is it a better record than "Pet Sounds" or "Sgt. Pepper?" Maybe. Maybe, not. This is not about that as much as it's about what I enjoy more. And I enjoy "The Who Sell Out" more than both of those classic releases.