Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Listening To Who - Episode 1 : The Who Sell Out

hey everyone

well, as hinted at a few posts ago, having taken delivery of 8 (eight!) CDs by The Who in the last week means that i am going to be doing some serious Who listening for a while. my intention, as the title suggests, is to give a rundown and comments on them for those who have any interest. if nothing else, they shall be written for my own amusement i guess!

i am selecting the discs on a random basis, and thus first up was the third studio album by the band, The Who Sell Out.

1967 was an interesting year for The Who. in appearance, you would have to say it was also a successful year. the year before the band had had, according to Melody Maker if no one else, their first ever number one single with I'm A Boy and chart success continued in early 67 with the top five single Pictures Of Lily. the latter was of course famous for being one of the first "pop" singles to be banned by radio stations, but more on that a bit later. 1967 also saw The Who release the first and last set of covers of songs by The Rolling Stones. The band felt that the imprisonment of some of The Stones for drug related charges was unfair, and vowed to cover a song a week by them to show support. it got as far as one recording, Under My Thumb, before the wayward Stones were set free. whereas the single didn't sell that well, it did get The Who some publicity and attention.

and speaking of attention, 1967 really saw America embrace The Who. perhaps not with the sound and the fury that welcomed The Beatles, nor the instant adoption which The Stones got, but accepted all the same. the most notable visual reference to this was the memorable - indeed, explosive - appearance by the band on the popular Smothers Brothers show.

behind the scenes, however, it was possibly as close as it had ever been to the end of The Who. Roger Daltrey, considered at this stage to be "the weak link" in the band as he only brought a voice to three of the most gifted musicians of the era, tried punching above his weight in terms of say and influence in the band. punching is quite apt, as it was Daltrey's proclivity for violence to resolve matters which saw him temporarily kicked out of the band.

if the above was mostly a power struggle between Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey then the knock on effect was to very nearly see Keith Moon and John Entwistle just get up and walk out. and how close this came to being! at a chance meeting in a pub at the time, a respected guitarist who was looking to form a band on his own listened to Moon and Entwistle complain about Daltrey and Townshend, taking the chance to offer them the job in his new band. both ultimately declined, but the guitarist, Jimmy Page, took away with him from that meeting the name, for Keith Moon - rock folklore states - suggested that Page's idea for a band would "go down like a Lead Zeppelin".

if band disharmony was not enough to be getting on with, there was the not exactly small matter of the finances of the band. they were spending money far faster than they were bringing it in. The Who's spectacular destruction of instruments and stages during gigs, and Keith Moon's ongoing fascination with destroying everything in general and hotel rooms in particular, were all very impressive, but they cost a good deal of money.

all things considered, then, it was something of a suprise, fluke, miracle or just plain "meant to be act of nature" that the four of them ever got into a recording studio, never mind actually did anything. perhaps less surprising, as it turns out, is that The Who Sell Out is not exactly a spectacular or brilliant album. it does. however, have many merits.

the best way to describe the album is perhaps as "a concept album with no actual concept and no awareness of being a concept album". is that confusing? good, then i have it descibed in the best way possible. the album is effectively just a collection of songs (mostly half decent ones) joined together by "fake" adverts and jingles for the presumably imaginary Radio London radio station. the idea, i believe, was to create the experience of listening to a radio station whilst you were actually listening to a Who album. i have no doubt at all that this all made sense to Townshend and his Pop Art sensibilities. that's not to say there's something wrong with it, far from it really. Townshend of course went on to expand and create "concept albums" of great significance after this. beyond that, though, i think it was only Sigue Sigue Sputnink with Flaunt It that took up the idea of putting adverts between songs on an album.

exactly how "fake" the adverts were intended to be is something i find debatable. some of them, in particular the ones for Jaguar and Coca Cola, are far too polished and complimentary, really. Entwistle's jingle for Radio One, borrowing heavily from his beloved Boris The Spider, falls into this category too. i very much get the sense that the jingles for the real products were done in the hope, or the off chance, that the actual companies who produced them might be tempted to stump up and purchase the songs from Townshend, to be honest. well, the album is called Sell Out, after all, and any (much needed) income generated if he had sold them could have been dismissed as "irony" i suppose.

moving on to the actual songs, and there are a number of things notable about the vocals. i believe i am right in saying that this is the Who album which features the least amount of Daltrey on and, when he is allowed to sing, for the most part it's in a somewhat unrecognizable falsetto style. it's only really on the one single off the album, the brilliant I Can See For Miles, that Daltrey truly sounds like Daltrey.

the general consensus is that this is very deliberate and relates to victory for Pete in the Daltrey vs Townshend "fight" commented on above. being forced to sing out of style and being removed entire from some songs are interpreted as Townshend "putting Daltrey in his place", as it were. giving substance to this would be the celebrated album cover artwork, pictured in this post. it was, after all, only Roger Daltrey who was forced to sit in a bath full of ice cold baked beans for the sake of 'art'.

listening to the actual songs themselves, and they are a mixed bag really. they are not bad, but far from memorable to be honest. some of them had far reaching influence, but bear with me, we shall get to that.

other than I Can See For Miles, a song of great interest is certainly Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand. this is generally seen as an allusion to masturbation; as indeed was the banned by certain stations as a consequence Pictures Of Lily. that's two songs on the same "interesting" subject in one year, then, Pete. you have to imagine that Jonathan Ross sees Townshend as some sort of king, really.

Armenia City In The Sky, written for the band by John Keene, is the album opener and clearly had some influence on certain young record buyers at the time. the youngsters i have in mind include Brian Connolly, Ian Hunter, Dave Hill, Marc Bolan, Mick Ronson, David Bowie and quite possibly the songwriting brains behind Gary Glitter. why? because the song, in the midst of the psychedelic era, sounds like pure glam. give it a listen, paying particular attention to the guitar and indeed the mix of John Entwistle's celebrated horn playing.

another song of influence is one credited to Keith Moon called Girl's Eyes, which i believe only appears on the one disc "expanded" edition i have. the song itself is nothing special, but it ends with a piece i believe they call Odorono. it is a piano piece, and it is practically note by note exactly how I Don't Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats starts, some ten years before Saint Bob and company recorded it.

it was not only other artists who borrowed from The Who Sell Out, mind. Townshend himself notably pilfered it. if you listen to the tracks Rael 1 and Rael 2 then one hears the tune that became Underture on the Tommy album, and indeed what one could interpret as a first go at the lyrics to the "listening to you" refrain from the rock opera. and the origins of Tommy in this album do not end there - a song called Glow Girl features the lyric "it's a girl, Mrs Walker, it's a girl". one gender change later and, well, you know the rest.

and that's a nice point to end a look at the album on. after two plays through, the only real conclusion i reach is that this album was a handy exercise in getting Pete Townshend to produce a full blown conceptual album, with that one of course being Tommy. beyond that, The Who Sell Out is pretty much a patch up job, which perhaps isn't all that much of a surprise since the band were busy patching themselves up as it was made. quite how Rolling Stone in 2003 decided this was the 113th greatest album of all time is a bit beyond me; i shudder to think what sits above and below it on their list.

on the basis of the price it is currently going for (no more than four of your English pounds) it is worth picking up and giving a few plays to. the essays inside the booklet are worth that cost alone, as indeed is the run through the band give to The Hall Of The Mountain King. the only two places i know of that sell it and ship worldwide (at a reasonable fee) are HMV and amazon, so clicking on either of their names will take you away to where you can order it.

phew, we are finished with that one then! i have no idea which Who album i shall dabble with next, or if the comments will be quite as time consuming as this one, but we should find out together in the next few days!

thanks for reading.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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