Regardless of your age, it’s almost impossible never to have heard at least one song from The Who. Some of their more radio hits include “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Who Are You”. Their 1967 release “The Who Sell Out” may also stand out to some because of its bizarre cover, which literally depicts the four members of the group “selling themselves”.
The cover art shows guitarist and lead songwriter Pete Townshend applying deodorant to his armpits. Next to him is lead singer Roger Daltrey, who soaks in an ice-cold tub of Heinz Baked Beans. On the reverse side, the rhythm section consisting of bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon is also pictured doing things for the big dollar. Moon jokingly demonstrates how to use acne ointment, and Entwistle is very close to a woman in a bikini.
Now it’s time for music. This album is filled with some of the most melodic songs found in the 1960s. There are also some fake jingles that follow the concept of the album. Townshend compiled nine of the 13 songs on this record while Entwistle wrote three memorable ones. The opening track “Armenia City In the Sky” was written by special guest Speedy Keen, who was a friend of the band.
On the vinyl version, the first side features a range of short but sensational tracks. Townshend’s lyrical ability to tell compelling stories in under three minutes is evident throughout the first half. He also writes many songs in the form of fictitious commercials. “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” is an example of a subtle songwriter with its references to risky subjects. Townshend also put similar themes in the first single “Pictures of Lily”. After “Mary Anne” there is “Odorono”, another interesting story. In a fictional advertisement for a deodorant, Townshend tells the listener about a musician talking to a man backstage. Things are going well until the man realizes that there is a foul smell in the room. That’s when Townshend drops the bomb that she forgot to use Odorono. The song ends and continues on “Tattoo”. This is another great track that follows two brothers who want to get a tattoo. “Our Love Was” is another contagious song that ends with Townshend doing his best Jimi Hendrix impression on the ax.
“I Can See for Miles” is the song which, to this day, considers Townshend one of his best hours as a songwriter, even calling it the “ultimate Who album”. It was the highest ranked song The Who has ever released, going all the way up to No. 9 on the Billboards. This is also the reason why Paul McCartney wrote “Helter Skelter” on “The White Album” by The Beatles the following year. In one review, “I Can See For Miles” was considered the “heaviest” song on record, so McCartney wanted to establish an even heavier display.
Side 2 is very clean with more abstract themes. Entwistle’s aria “Silas Stingy” is a humorous attempt that follows a frugal man. It’s easy to see that the Who were heavily influenced by “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ”by The Beatles a few months earlier.
Overall, the dynamic qualities that would dominate future albums like “Tommy”, “Quadrophenia” and “Who’s Next” are foreshadowed in this album. Moon’s drumming has always been brilliant, and the song “I Can See For Miles” features one of his best performances of all time. Daltrey’s voice is an indicator of things to come; eventually becoming a god of rock in the early 1970s. Although Entwistle was supposed to provide basslines for other members to work, he created his own riffs that came out on top. Townshend was the backbone of the band, and together they created the magnificent “The Who Sell Out”.
Image of WHO via YouTube