The Who’s third album was released in late 1967 in England and January of 1968 in The United States. The Who Sell Out would find them moving in a new musical direction and producing a sophisticated, and in some ways whimsical, album. It would stand with some of their best work.
The Who Sell Out is a concept album. It was put together as emanating from a pirate radio station and even went as far as presenting fake commercials and public service announcements to connect the tracks. Even the cover and reverse of the jacket mirrored the mood of the music. Each group member is pictured hawking products. My favorites are Roger Daltrey bathing in baked beans and John Entwistle as a Tarzan character who gets the girl, which is a lot better than baked beans.
Pete Townshend would continue his development as a songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire. What was unusual about this release was Roger Daltrey only singing lead on three of the tracks. Entwistle and Townshend would equally share the vocal duties for the only time on a Who album.
“I Can See For Miles” is a quintessential Who song. It would feature crashing guitars and an aggressive song structure. The complex vocals would be over dubbed and the instruments pieced together. The Who would rarely perform this sophisticated song in concert due to its studio effects. It would also be their highest charting single release. Despite its success Townshend was disappointed and would turn away from creating short single type songs with unexpected results.
The songs may not have the raw power of their first two albums but they were consistently excellent and interesting. It found the group creating a number of very different type tracks. “I Can Reach You” and “Our Love Was/Is” just flow smoothly along. “Tattoo” is about youthful rebellion and coming of age and would remain a concert staple for years. “Mary Anne and The Shaky Hand” feature some fine acoustic guitar and wonderful harmonies. An electric version would appear on the CD as a bonus track.
“Rael 1” would be another mini rock opera and show the direction that Pete Townshend was moving. It would be sophisticated and prove to be a door to his and the groups future.
The Who Sell Out is a far different work than any other in their catalogue. It presents the The Who maturing rapidly and having some fun along the way.