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I have to begin this with a few immediate disclaimers:

The Who Sell Out is my second favorite album of all-time (after Revolver)

– However, it is THE most important/significant album in my consciousness. This is not hyperbole; this is fact – The Who Sell Out changed my life forever. It set me on the trajectory I took for the next 40+ years and for that I am grateful. I wouldn’t be here, now, writing THIS without The Who Sell Out‘s impact on me.

– Not only did it change everything about the way I heard/experienced/understood music, it was the key component to me buying and learning how to play guitar and accepting that I needed to be a musician.

– Equal to that, it showed me the way forward – along with the Happy Jack (A Quick One) album – to being a songwriter.

– I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve listened to The Who Sell Out since I first bought it at the age of 14.

– It’s an album that should be mandatory listening/education for all burgeoning rock & roll fans (or “students”).

Driven by the single that preceded the album’s release, Townshend’s shining moment, “I Can See For Miles” (which became The Who’s calling card in the United States and one of the most perfect songs ever issued), the new album was to be a more experimentally-oriented and far greater textured band than had been heard to date.  So when it was released in December, after the band’s triumphant U.S. tour (which, of course, saw them open the eyes of the “love crowd” at the Monterey Pop Festival), once again, heads were turned.  The cover was a ingenious spoof of real-life products – Heinz baked beans, Odorono deodorant, etc. – and the songs, along with the specifically-written-for-the-album ads were equal to the task.  Once the needle drops, you feel like you’re listening to a British pirate radio station – in this case, Radio London (if you don’t know what “pirate radio” is/was, please look it up – it’s a fascinating story) and the band was able to use the station’s own jingles to truly bring the concept to fruition. And according to Townshend, by the time of the album’s release, pirate radio had been outlawed, so this album became the band’s tribute to them.

Opening with the haunting and exciting drone of John “Speedy” Keen’s psychedelically-staggering “Armenia City In The Sky” (the only original song to ever appear on a Who album not written by the band – this doesn’t count for cover songs and, personally speaking, is my all-time favorite Who track), you immediately know that this isn’t so much of an album as it is an aural AND sensory experience.  Backwards guitar loops, thundering bass and sweetly double-tracked vocals of Daltrey and Keen (there’s another story here, but I don’t want to keep digressing) propel this album forward into the hilariously corny “Heinz Baked Beans” ad and then to the beautiful acoustic rendition of “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands” (two other “band” versions had been recorded, one of which made it on to the B-side of “I Can See For Miles” in the U.S.).  The next ad, “Odonoro” is, for all intents and purposes, a fully-realized Townshend track, which Pete sings; “Tattoo” is a humorous generation gap question and “Our Love Was, Is” is one of the prettiest things The Who ever committed to vinyl; another Townshend showcase.  A quick succession of commercials, including the now-legendary “hold your group together with Roto Sound Strings” and “I Can See For Miles” closes side one.

As Townshend once said, “the concept really doesn’t hold up once you have to turn the record over”, so there are only two commercials on the second side.  The “Charles Atlas” body building ad is another laugher which segues into “I Can’t Reach You” and then into “Medac” (or “Spotted Henry” as the American Decca label release reads).  “Relax”, powered by an organ riff, is one of the heaviest and rocking-est numbers, followed by another of Entwistle’s “character” songs, “Silas Stingy”.  The elegant, jazz-infused “Sunrise”, sung by Townshend precedes the closing track, “Rael”, which is a “micro-opera”, with a definitive storyline and later parts (that weren’t heard until the 1995 CD re-issue with the bonus tracks and extra commercials that had been recorded but not used).  It should be noted that “Rael” contains the musical progression that makes up the later Tommy “Underture”.).

A great many of these bonus tracks (especially the ones tacked on to discs one and two) have been previously aired, but I’d like to give them their due. The singles that were issued prior, during and after the Sell Out sessions have long been favorites of mine and hearing the subtle nuances of the different mixes do hold interest. For me, my probable favorite of these is John Entwistle’s “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” – 3 different mixes – the original U.S. Decca 45 mix (found on the B-side of “Call Me Lightning” and on the 1968 Magic Bus album), the original U.K. Track single mix (on the B-side of “Magic Bus” and a fuller mix with little details, previously unheard. With this box, the 1968 U.S. mix is on the flipside of the bonus “Magic Bus” 45 – although this is a replica of the British single, Universal used an old American Decca label for this, which is a nice touch. The mono mixes of many tracks have a far greater power/sound to them – for me, “Armenia City In The Sky” sounds amazing in either mix – the “cleaner” sound of the single tracks (many found on Disc 4) are welcome. Oh – and for the record: “Armenia City In The Sky”, the way we all hear it on the album, was actually recorded as a demo for Speedy Keen. But The Who liked the way it came out, so they chose to use it for their album instead. Hence, the reason for him singing on it – The Who were simply his backing band!

Boxsets are always a nice thing, especially when it’s not just a “dry” package – this is a great looking package: hardcover book, with “windows” for each disc, a hardshell slip case and a folder filled with reproductions of posters, promo bills, membership cards and 2 45’s in picture sleeves: “I Can See For Miles” b/w “Someone’s Coming”, with an old U.K. Track Records label and “Magic Bus” b/w “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” with the (as stated earlier) U.S. Decca label – and they were even nice enough to throw in 2 45 hole-adapters (!).

For me, this was a no-brainer. Is it overkill? I don’t think so. It only enhances an incredibly important piece of recorded work and gives a greater insight into where this band was going – this was their proverbial last piece of work as a “pop group” before they ascended to full-blown “rock stardom” and massive influence that would come next. And like I’ve said so many times: simply put, without The Who Sell Out, I wouldn’t be here today. Certainly, not in the musical sense. If you don’t want to invest in the boxset, there are special vinyl editions available and a few CD permutations, but regardless, this is an album everyone must own. Like Revolver and #1 Record, it’s required listening.

ESSENTIAL LISTENING

The Who Sell Out (Super Deluxe Edition) is currently available

https://www.thewho.com/

CD ONE: THE ORIGINAL MONO ALBUM

1  Armenia City in The Sky 3:47
2  Heinz Baked Beans 0:58
3  Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand 2:34
4  Odorono 2:30
5  Tattoo 2:48
6  Our Love Was 3:23
7  I Can See for Miles 4:06
8  I Can’t Reach You 3:27
9  Medac 0:56
10  Relax 2:38
11  Silas Stingy 3:03
12  Sunrise 3:04
13  Rael / Track Records run-off groove 5:54

BONUS TRACKS – MONO

14  Pictures of Lily (original UK Track single mix) 2:46
15  Doctor, Doctor (original UK Track single mix) 3:01
16  The Last Time (original UK Track single mix) 2:51
17  Under My Thumb (original UK Track single mix) 2:37
18  I Can See for Miles (original US Decca single mix) 4:03
19  Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand (original US Decca single mix) 3:19
20  Someone’s Coming (original US Decca single mix) 2:28
21  Unused Radio London ad / Early Morning… (original 1967 mono mix) 3:04
22  Unused Radio London bulletin link /Jaguar (original 1967 mono mix) 2:50
23  Unused Radio London ad /Tattoo (early alternate mono mix) 3:05
24  Rael (Talentmasters Studio, New York early rough mix) 5:58
25  Sunn Amps promo spots  2:42
26  Great Shakes ad 1:07

Tracks 21, 24 & 25 previously unreleased

CD TWO: THE ORIGINAL STEREO ALBUM

1  Armenia City in The Sky 3:50
2  Heinz Baked Beans 1:01
3  Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand 2:34
4  Odorono 2:35
5  Tattoo 2:54
6  Our Love Was 3:25
7  I Can See for Miles 4:10
8  I Can’t Reach You 3:31
9  Medac 0:57
10  Relax 2:41
11.  Silas Stingy 3:08
12  Sunrise 3:05
13  Rael 5:38

BONUS TRACKS – STEREO

14  Rael Naïve (complete with organ coda ending) 1:38
15  Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand (US single version) 3:27
16  Someone’s Coming 2:33
17  Summertime Blues 2:38
18  Glittering Girl 3:05
19  Early Morning Cold Taxi 2:59
20  Girl’s Eyes 2:52
21  Coke After Coke 1:09
22  Sodding About 2:51
23  Things Go Better with Coke 0:32
24  In The Hall of The Mountain King 4:27
25  Jaguar 2:58
26  Rael (remake; IBC version) / Track Records outro 6:26

Track 14 previously unreleased

CD THREE: THE WHO STUDIO SESSIONS 1967 / 68

1  Glittering Girl (Take 4) (2018 remix) 3:29
2  Girl’s Eyes (Take 2) (2018 remix) 3:58
3  The Last Time (Take 8) 3:51
4  Under My Thumb (Take 3) (2018 remix with full ending) 3:13
5  Our Love Was (Take 2) 3:21
6  Relax (4-track to 4-track mix with Pete vocal) 3:22
7  Relax (Takes 1 and 2) 1:58
8  Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand (Takes 1 & 9) 3:43
9  Relax (Remake Take 4) 2:37
10  I Can See for Miles (full version) 4:54
11  Medac (Take 11) 1:13
12  Odorono (Take 3) (2018 remix) 2:47
13  Heinz Baked Beans (Takes 1 & 3) (2018 remix) 2:16
14  Top Gear (Takes 1, 2 & 5) (2018 remix) 3:03
15  Premier Drums (Takes 1 & 4) (2018 remix) 2:17
16  Charles Atlas (Take 1) 0:33
17  Rotosound Strings (Take 1) (2018 remix) 0:15
18  Track Records (2018 remix) 0:34
19  John Mason Cars (Takes 1 – 3) / Speakeasy / Rotosound Strings / Bag O’ Nails (2018 remixes) 1:02
20  It’s A Girl (aka ‘Glow Girl’) (Takes 2, 3 & 4) 3:21
21  Mr Hyde (1st stage mix Take 1) 2:39
22  Little Billy (Takes 1 & 3) 4:14
23  Mrs Walker (aka ‘Glow Girl’) (4-track to 4-track mix, take 7) 2:31
24  Call Me Lightning (Take 1 backing track, Take 8 stereo mix & jam) 6:12
25  Dogs (Take 2) 3:14
26  Melancholia (Take 1) 3:50
27 Shakin’ All Over (Take 3) 1:35
28  Magic Bus (Take 6) 3:00

Most tracks on CD 3 include studio chat, all tracks previously unreleased in this form.

CD FOUR: THE ROAD TO TOMMY 1968

1 Glow Girl 2:27
2 Faith in Something Bigger 3:09
3 Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde 2:38
4 Call Me Lightning 2:23
5 Little Billy’s Doing Fine 2:19
6 Dogs 3:10
7 Melancholia 3:21
8 Fortune Teller 2:22
9 Facts Of Life (aka ‘Birds And Bees’, backing track) 3:22
10 Magic Bus (single version)3:20
11 Call Me Lightning (US/UK mono single mix) 2:24
12 Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (UK mono single mix) 2:39
13 Dogs (UK mono single mix) 3:07
14 Magic Bus (mono, longer version) 4:35

Track 9 previously unreleased

CD FIVE: PETE TOWNSHEND’S DEMOS

1  Kids? Do You Want Kids 1:43
2  Relax  3:44
3  Glow Girl 3:26
4  Glow Girl (Version 2) 3:00
5   Inside Outside USA 3:06
6  Jaguar 2:59
7  Little Billy 2:11
8  Odorono 3:09
9  Pictures of Lily 3:31
10  Relax (Version 2) 2:26
11  Melancholia (2018 remix)  3:21
12  Thinking of You All the While (‘Sunrise’ Version 2) 3:15
13  Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand  3:15
14  I Can See for Miles 4:15

All previously unreleased and exclusive to the Super Deluxe Edition.

BONUS 7” DISCS:

Track UK 45: ‘I Can See for Miles’ (early mono mix with single-tracked vocal)
b/w ‘Someone’s Coming’ (original UK Track single mix with single-tracked vocal)

Decca USA 45: ‘Magic Bus’ (US/UK mono)
b/w ‘Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde’ (original US Decca single mix)

By Rob Ross

Rob Ross has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years - as guitarist/singer/songwriter with The Punch Line, freelance journalist, producer, manager and working for independent and major record labels. He resides in Staten Island, New York with his wife and cats; he works out a lot, reads voraciously, loves Big Star, traveling down South and his orange Gretsch. He's pretty groovy!

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