Monday, 1 July 2013
Classic Albums No.6: The Who Sell Out
For years, the Who album to name check was “Tommy”. It ticked all the ‘Classic Album’ boxes - it was a double LP, a concept album, and it sold worldwide by the bucket load. The band later claimed that had it not been a hit, they would have split up because they were skint. During the tour that followed, dates included an appearance at Woodstock and a show at Leeds University later immortalised in the greatest live album of all time, “Live At Leeds”. It got turned into a film, and a stage show, and when the band reformed in 1989, it coincided with it’s 20th anniversary, so they played it in full at every gig that year.
But “Tommy” then became too showbiz, too much a part of mainstream culture. So it then became more hip to name check it’s 1971 follow up, “Who’s Next”. This one had started life as a concept album written by Townshend called “Lifehouse” that was so confusing, even the other band members couldn’t work out what it was about. So selected highlights were taken for use in a standard “rock” album, and what came out of it was a stunning powerhouse of an LP - it replicated the beefy sound the band hitherto had only really achieved on stage, but featured enough brilliant song writing and weird noises (the synths on “Baba O Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) to elevate it above a lot of other albums of the time.
And then it became cool to name check 1973’s “Quadrophenia”. In my view, a brilliant but near-overblown and noisy bugger, which was so full of tape effects, synths, guitar solos and crashing drums, that it seemed the polar opposite of the Mod scene it was celebrating, which was all about a certain tailored look and a love of 3-minute long Northern Soul 45’s, as opposed to the prog-style over the top nature of the (double) LP. But the film version made at the end of the 70’s launched the careers of Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, and The Bloke Out Of The Bill, and seemed to give the album a second lease of life. Even today, you will hear some Who fans still claiming this as the band’s defining masterpiece.
But for me, the band’s greatest album is none of these. It predates them all. For me, 1967’s “The Who Sell Out” is the best Who album of all time. It is as close to “Pop Art” as you can get. I have never heard another album quite like it, and over 45 years on, it still sounds more intelligent and articulate than anything being made today. It may well be number 6 in my Classic Albums list, but I do wonder if maybe, it should officially be higher. I would even be prepared to stick my neck out and say, after “Ziggy”, it’s the second best album of all time. Better even than “Live At Leeds”. Which would therefore make it the greatest album by a group, not a solo artist, ever. And I would be prepared to back up such a claim.
I have read a few things about the album, and how it came to exist in the first place. Different sources seem to have slightly different suggestions, but this is how, I think, the story took place.
By the summer of 1967, The Who had not released a new album for nearly a year. There had been long players in 1965 (“My Generation”) and 66 (“A Quick One”) but nothing more. In those days, there was a fear that if you removed yourself from the pop world for too long, fans would be fickle enough to forget who you were. With the vaults full of unreleased Who material, one of the band’s managers, Chris Stamp, was concerned about this and was thus toying with the idea of sticking together an album of outtakes for their third album. Pete Townshend managed to stop this from happening, but did seem intrigued by the concept of putting together a series of seemingly random songs, and how you could try to turn them into a cohesive whole.
Inspired in part by a song he had written called “Jaguar”, about the car manufacturer of the same name, he and Stamp began wondering if you could produce an album which had a commercial element. Some TV stations had advert breaks in their programmes, there were a number of US radio stations that played commercials to increase income, why couldn’t you do the same with a record? They eventually came up with the concept of having an album of - mostly - unconnected songs, but with a plan to sell advertising space between each song. A number of jingles and mini songs about existing products like Coca Cola, Odorono deodorant, Heinz Baked Beans and Rotosound Strings were duly recorded by the band, but in the end, with projected sales of a new Who album pitched at the lowly 50000 mark, most advertisers who were approached declined to buy any such advertising space, although the jingles the band had made for Coca Cola did actually get used as radio commercials at a later date.
Despite the commerce side of the album coming to nothing, Stamp and Townshend went ahead with the basic concept of the record, and decided to use many of the jingles and “mini songs“ on the forthcoming LP. There was not a thought about possible “copyright theft”. It was designed to sound like a commercial radio station, albeit one that played nothing other than Who records. And it was the “radio station” sound that was the other big influence here - mainly the death of the 1960’s Pirate radio stations.
Let’s rewind a bit. In 1965, there was no BBC Radio 1. There was certainly no 6Music. Instead, there was the “BBC Light Programme”. It was a curious mix of modern pop “hits” and old style orchestras. The reason for this was that the BBC had to conform to what was known as “Needle Time” - the Musicians Union had argued in favour of live music being broadcast on the BBC, and for them to not play so much pre-recorded single or album tracks, for fear that by playing too much of the latter, it would result in the unemployment of “real musicians”. This also goes some way to explaining why so many bands entered the BBC to record sessions for shows like “Top Gear”, as the only way to increase the amount of “pop” being played was to top up the Needle Time material with these live sessions (although a number of sessions actually consisted of the bands dubbing new vocals or guitar lines over existing studio material).
The upshot of this was that the BBC did not have an all day radio equivalent of “Top Of The Pops” or “Ready Steady Go”. But then you had the Pirates. So named because they were run from ships parked up outside the UK boundary, the Pirate Stations played pop music all day every day. Their location meant that legally they were outside of the implications of “Needle Time”, meaning that they could dedicate their entire broadcasting output to pre-recorded pop music, something that the Light Programme couldn’t do. As such, many teenagers (and adults) latched onto the Pirates, and people wanting to hear The Beatles or The Stones would have more chance of hearing them on the likes of Radio Caroline than on the Beeb.
Despite the fact that the Pirates did not pay royalties to the artists whose music they were playing, many of these acts were actually supportive of the stations, as it was more than likely that their sales and chart positions were being helped by the airplay they were getting on these stations. Furthermore, some (perhaps surprisingly) Conservative MP’s had links to some of them, mainly as they saw them as a business venture, despite the party having something of a “stuffy“, almost anti-pop image.
In 1966, the UK General Election resulted in a win for the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson. Whilst you might have thought that a left wing leaning party would have been perfect allies to the Pirates, the opposite was true. Wilson seemed opposed to the concept of a radio station using commercials to increase it’s profits, it was sort of anti-socialism, and so he actually instigated a Bill to try and get the stations closed down. There were other issues, which were actually portrayed as the “official” reason for the Bill, such as the belief that the stations could be a danger to shipping traffic, or that the radio wave signals could affect the emergency services in the UK. This did not sit well with the hip and happening Youth Of The Day, many of whom vented their anger in early 67 when these traditional Labour voters voted instead for the Conservatives in the Greater London Elections, believing that the Tories could save the Pirates. The Tories did extremely well, and won a number of seats from Labour in the event. But it didn’t help the fate of the Pirates. Despite having support from MPs, bands and singers of the time, the 1967 Marine Broadcasting Offences Act duly became law, and most of the Pirates were forced to shut down that summer.
At this point, Townshend “acquired” a number of authentic jingles from the now-defunct Radio London, and decided to use them on the new LP. What he now had was a fictitious Radio London broadcast, real jingles complete with Who-designed commercials for real-life products, and Who music throughout. Those connected to Radio London did try and lodge legal action against the group, whilst several of the companies whose products were being name checked on the adverts also considered getting the material removed from the album, before Stamp and Townshend reminded them they were getting free publicity, as the band were not charging any of the companies for the use of these “adverts”. All ultimately agreed.
The Act had become law in July 1967, but as work had already started on the album in May, it remains quite possible that some of the songs first recorded were done so without a real view as to where they were destined, or at least, how they were to fit within the context of the third album. Aside from a number of “normal” rock songs, several of the jingles were quite lengthy, sometimes the length of a standard song and sounding very much like standard pop songs, with “Odorono” originally nearly three minutes in length. And although the references to the real life products were not being done for any financial reward, the band did receive some “thanks” from some companies - the “Rotosound Strings” jingle that was to be placed at the end of side 1, just before the albums’ lead 45 “I Can See For Miles”, resulted in the company providing John Entwistle with bass strings for the rest of his life.
“I Can See For Miles” was selected for single release in Autumn 67, whilst work on the album was still ongoing. For the single mix, Entwistle dubbed an additional bass part over the top, and this mix remains one of the most obscure Who recordings. Although the song has appeared on numerous compilations over the years, it has always been the basic album mix that has been used - even when a Singles Boxset was issued a few years back with a supposed “repressing” of the original 45 inside, the wrong mix was used. And even when a mid 1980’s compilation called “The Singles” was issued, it used a non single mix, the version on there being a similar sounding, bass heavy mix that had been prepared for a BBC Radio broadcast at the same time.
In the UK, the b-side was a new non-album track called “Someone’s Coming”, whilst in the USA, the flip side was an alternate version of a song lined up to appear on “Sell Out”, “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand”. Whilst the LP mix would be revealed as an acoustic, flamenco style shuffle, the “B-side” version as it came to be known was a full blown electric romp, with slightly different lyrics and in a slightly different key. This mix later surfaced on numerous releases in the UK, such as the “Rarities Vol 1” LP and on the b-side of the 1988 reissue of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The 1995 reissue of “Sell Out” claimed to include it, but actually featured an alternate take, with a more prominent organ solo in the middle eight, and indeed throughout the entire song, and later became known as the “Mirasound” mix, named after the studio in New York in which it was recorded. 1998’s expanded reissue of the 1974 rarities LP “Odds And Sods” included the original B-side mix, but newly remixed into Stereo.
“I Can See For Miles” was a storming, propulsive piece of psychedelic rock, and although it went top 10, Townshend was distraught, claiming that it was the best thing the band had ever released, and it thus should have been a chart topper. He famously claimed in a later interview after it’s “failure“, that he “spat on the british record buyer” when it 'flopped'. Indeed, this single could be seen as being pivotal in how The Who continued with the rest of their career. Gone were the club gigs in Southend On Sea, as the band later seemed to concentrate more and more on breaking America, which they did quite successfully.
Final work on the LP continued in the main until the end of October 67, although there was some work conducted in early November, despite the album having already been mastered. One of the songs that was still being finished during these final weeks was “Rael”. It’s an interesting song for a number of reasons. In it’s original incarnation, it was lining up to be a “Tommy” style rock opera, or at the very least, a mini opera in the vein of “A Quick One While He’s Away”. The version taped for “Sell Out” was a six minute song, consisting of several parts glued together, and at one point was originally was planned to climax with a Townshend sung minute long finale, driven along by an organ and drums backing. In the end, this finale was cut, failing to get a release until it was included on 1994’s “Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B” boxset, whereby the original song became known as “Rael 1”, and the finale “Rael 2”. When “Sell Out” was first issued, most - if not all - copies worldwide actually called the song “Rael (Parts 1 & 2)”, and when the album was given a deluxe edition in 2009, the finale, included as a bonus track, became “Rael Naïve”! Confused yet?
“Rael” was notable for including, during the lengthy instrumental break in it’s second half, a section that more or less pre-dated the “Sparks” and “Underture” instrumentals that appeared on “Tommy” - the riffs are identical, but it is unlikely to have been planned at the time - but what it did do was provide a link between the two albums. How many other albums can be seen to have had a preview of the next one? (I can only think of “Seven Seas Of Rhye” which appears on the first two Queen records.)
Work on the original song was started during the earliest sessions for the LP, with vocals added months later during a US session. After the song was completed, a near disaster occurred when the master tape was left lying around in the studio, and a cleaner assumed it was rubbish and threw it in a bin outside. The following day, the realisation that the tape had gone AWOL resulted in a frantic search, and the tape was eventually located. The only problem was that the opening 25 or so seconds of the tape was damaged beyond repair.
The band decided at first to simply re-record the song (minus the finale, I believe). But it was felt that the new version simply lacked the kick of the original. Thankfully, engineer Chris Huston had happened to have made a mono copy of the original version the night before the master got damaged. He decided to splice the opening line from the copy onto the original master - in an attempt to try and “hide” the join, the decision was taken to effectively remove the second line (“the country of my fathers, a proud land of old order, like a goldfish being swallowed by a whale”) so that the join occurred at the point where the song changed direction, where there was a key change and time signature change during the third line (“Rael the home of my religion”). In other words, it was supposed to sound like two different things glued together. For some reason, the mono mix of the track on the LP seemed to feature a more prominent “changeover”, you could really spot the “join” - you would have thought the stereo mix would have suffered more from having an opening section in mono, yet it sounded a bit better!
The idea of chopping out a perfectly good second line was later seen as being a bad thing, and the version of “Rael 1” that made the 1994 box featured the restored second line, by going back to the original (damaged) master, and moving the ‘join’ so it now appeared after the second line, thus making the 1994 mix of the track about ten seconds longer than the 1967 one. The 1995 expanded reissue of the album used the longer version again, albeit now in completely remixed form.
“The Who Sell Out” was issued at the tail end of 1967. As was common at the time, it was issued in both mono and stereo, with - at times - noticeably different mixes between the two. The most radical difference was on “Our Love Was”, which featured a completely different Townshend solo during the final section of the song. If, like me, you have lived with the stereo mix for a large part of your life, when you then hear the mono mix for the first time, it’s the equivalent of marrying a flirty brunette, who then goes away on a two month round the world cruise, comes back, hair dyed blond, now determined to devote her life to saving the planet via the power of hypnosis. You are not sure if you prefer the new model, but it’s certainly...different. The album was housed in a famous cover featuring all four members of the band, across front and back, in a series of mock adverts relating to songs and jingles featured on the LP. At least that was the plan. In Australia, Keith Moon’s giant tub of Medac cream became a giant tub of Clearasil, whilst in the US, the song “Medac” was initially renamed “Spotted Henry”.
In the UK, the first 500 mono and 500 stereo copies came with a free “psychedelic” poster, which seems totally at odds with the rather tongue in cheek Benny Hill-esque cover, but given that this LP was the closest the band ever got to making a truly psych album, it was going to have to be this one or none. Suffice to say, any copies with the poster still inside are now worth a small fortune. The album charted in the UK top 20 and sold steadily, with favourable reviews, but it wasn’t until “Tommy” arrived, that The Who became stadium rock megastars.
Nowadays, “Sell Out” is seen by many as a classic, but there are some detractors. There is, as I type this, a BBC review online that seems to view the album as a patchy mess, a handful of good songs buried amidst gimmicky jingles and weaker material. And yes, if you took “Heinz Baked Beans” and tried to stick it on “Who’s Next”, it would look ridiculous. But the album’s genius is that by operating within the concept album mode, what you need to understand when you listen to this record, is how it works as a whole. It was designed to be listened to, in order, from beginning to end - and by doing so, you can appreciate the humour of “Odorono”, the clever-clever brilliance of the “Rotosound Strings” jingle, and the incendiary roar of “Armenia City In The Sky”. It is rare that you get an album that is so much fun, so incredibly intelligent, and so utterly original.
The first half of the album works superbly, because the radio broadcast concept is carried off to perfection. As one song ends, a jingle comes in, then another jingle or another song, and so on, and so forth - the record simply doesn’t stop for breath. The opening “Days Of The Week” jingle, the first of many nabbed from Radio London, sets the tone - whilst the original Who material is forward thinking, the jingles themselves are ultra kitsch, lots of Anthony Newley style orchestral flourishes, blaring trumpets, oddball noises, all sounding like they are fully entrenched in the Swinging Sixties, whilst the band are preparing to jump headfirst into the next decade. So there is a blaring trumpet, then a robotised “Monday”, another trumpet, “Tuesday”, and as the week goes on, and fades out, “Armenia” kicks in. And it’s mind blowing. Backwards tape effects, Townshend’s guitar punching it’s way out of the speakers, whilst Roger Daltrey’s vocals sound like they’ve been transported in from outer space, bouncing around the walls of the room, and Entwistle’s growling bass keeps it on the level. And then, as the song careers to a glorious end, here’s the band’s most psychedelic moment - a strange “freak out freak out” message, sounding like an alien from another world. As the last note fades into the distance, another blaring trumpet driven jingle... ”Wonderful Radio London - whoopee!!”. Glorious stuff.
Within the context of the insanity that has already occupied the first four minutes of the LP, “Heinz Baked Beans” makes total and utter sense. The band members take it in turn to ask “what’s for tea?”, Daltrey as the croaky grandmother, “what’s for tea daughter”, Townshend as the posh business man, “darling, I said, What’s For Tea”, then an oom-pah band stomp before the answer - in unison - of “Heinz Baked Beans!”. A sudden stop, the “more music more music” jingle, and straight into the acoustic strum of “Mary Anne”. It’s so clever, and completely exhilarating.
And so it continues throughout the rest of side 1. Keith Moon’s powerhouse drumming on the “Premier Drums” jingle is better than most drummers manage in a lifetime. “Odorono”, which sounds for the most part like a normal Who pop song, ends with some brilliantly dry humour, “she ripped her glittering gown, couldn’t face another show, no, her deodorant had let her down, she should have used Odorono”. It’s delivered in such a deadpan manner, it totally catches you off guard. Absolute genius.
“Radio London reminds you, go to the Church of your choice”...and as it comes to a harmonious finish, in comes an equally harmonious Townshend with the opening line of “Our Love Was”. The Rickenbacker kicks in, and you are treated to one of the Who’s hidden gems. The vocals on this are beautiful, the melodies and harmonies are stunning, Moon’s drumming is monumental, and it simply gets better and better the longer it goes on. By the time it reaches it’s final verse, the key changes have taken the song to another level, and the sound of the vocals are like a choir, “our love was flying, our love was soaring”, Entwistle’s French horn filling the air. It’s simply incredible. The genius of the record thus far makes even “I Can See For Miles” seem a bit shabby. But listen closely, and you will realise that this is the sound of the future. It’s noisy, brash, and the closest yet that the band had recreated their stage sound on record. Yes, it should have been the band’s first number 1 single.
A lot has been made of why the radio concept, so slavishly followed on side 1, is more or less ignored on side 2. It was once said that the first side represented the old style AM radio broadcasts, and side 2 is an FM version, a nod to the future, so maybe the lack of jingles is a deliberate pointer of what was to come - when the BBC launched Radio 1 after the death of the Pirates, it was commercial free. Or maybe Townshend just run out of jingles. But the quality of the songs stays sky high. “I Can’t Reach You” may sound like a soppy love song when compared to “Substitute”, but again, Townshend’s high pitched vocals make him sound so vulnerable, even tearful. “Relax” is driven along by an insistent organ riff, and automatically sounds un-Who-like, given they never officially had a keyboard player. “Sunrise”, nothing more than Townshend and an acoustic guitar, is even more heartbreaking than “Can’t Reach You”, apparently written to prove to his family he could write a “proper” song. And after the prog rock epic that is “Rael”, you get the band repeating their then label’s name as a final advertising jingle - “Track Records, Track Records”, repeated over and over, and originally included on the LP as part of a never ending final running groove, meaning that if you had a stereo which did not have an automatic arm lift when it reached the end of the record, then the track would play ad infinitum. As I say, 40 minutes of pure “Pop Art“.
But it gets better. The 1995 reissue somehow seems to be even better than the original LP. Most “expanded” reissues are usually a bit shabby. You get the original album, then the bonus tracks come into view and they tend to turn the album into a messy, possibly overlong, trundle, the album now no longer ending the way it should (check out those ho-hum acoustic takes which take all the bite out of the expanded “It’s A Shame About Ray” by The Lemonheads). But when the Who’s back catalogue was reissued in the mid 90’s, special attention was paid to both “Live At Leeds” and “Sell Out”, to ensure that the revamped versions started and ended ’correctly‘. So for “Sell Out”, you get the original album up to and including “Relax” - everything, as per the other reissues, had been remixed (adding a bit of sparkle to certain numbers, especially “Our Love Was”), but otherwise it‘s mostly business as usual. Then the fun starts. A previously unheard alternate “Rotosound Strings” ad follows, before “Silas Stingy” and “Sunrise”. And then it’s “Rael”, but it’s the 1994 “extended” version, rather than the truncated 67 original. And as Moon’s marvellous drum roll brings the song to it’s finale, it’s followed by “Rael 2”/”Rael Naïve” (whatever you wish), and it’s then headfirst straight into the bonus tracks. There is more cross fading throughout as the album progresses, as opposed to the tracks just being presented as stand alone “extras”, so the constant flow experienced on side 1 of the record resumes, and it’s absolutely exhilarating.
The quality of the stuff on the second half of this version of the album is staggering. Apparently, there was some talk about turning “Sell Out” into a double - the relative lack of Daltrey led songs on the finished version suggests many were taped, but then left on the shelf - and the 1995 edition successfully takes a standard single LP, and somehow elevates it into something even more special. There are more jingles - the two “Coke” adverts are high energy bursts of power pop of the highest quality, with Townshend and Moon utterly on fire, indeed these mini-songs are better than most bands' normal recorded output. “Glittering Girl”, despite ’only’ having a guide vocal courtesy of Townshend, is a beautiful piece of work, with Moon’s choppy drumming cutting through everything else. “Melancholia” is a growling beast of a record, Daltrey’s vocals are snarling, menacing, the music equally primal, minor key rumbles aplenty. The period b-side “Someone’s Coming”, which like all the extra stuff here appears in remixed form, struggles to compete with the stuff supposedly deemed “not good enough” to have been included at the time, which is incredible.
“Jaguar”, which like “Melancholia” first turned up on the 1994 box set, is glorious. It reminds me of “Armenia”, in that the vocals and music both seem to feel like they are bouncing across the room. The opening line, “Grace...Space...Race”, sounds like it’s the work of a slightly warped BBC announcer, and the key to the genius of this song is Keith Moon - his vocals on this are hollered at you out of the speakers, and the cymbals crash and roar, as if the drums were recorded in the middle of a storm in the North Sea. There’s an utterly psychotic take on “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”, which sounds exactly like what you think a Who version of this would sound like, albeit with extra “Munsters”/”Addams Family” style spooky-ness, whilst the appearance of the “cut” final chorus of “Odorono”, which kicks in just before the “Mirasound” version of “Mary Anne” sounds fabulously epic, a sort of celebratory “whoops, we forgot to do this bit earlier” style moment, and helps to glue the bonus tracks to the original LP.
“Glow Girl” is, sort of, the finale. Another piece of near perfect power-pop, Townshend, Entwistle and Moon all battling for first place, it’s a totally majestic piece of music, which in a moment of complete pop-art genius, even foresees the coming of “Tommy”, ending as it does with the line “It’s a girl, Mrs Walker, it’s a girl”, later written for “It’s A Boy” at the beginning of the band’s follow up LP. And then, just in case you thought someone had forgotten...”Track Records, Track Records, Track Records...” - never have I ever heard an expanded LP which seemingly improves on the original, taking it’s original vision and concept and somehow maintaining it whilst adding “new music” for the listener’s benefit.
By contrast, and I’m not the only one who thinks this, but the 2009 “Deluxe” version seems like a damp squid by comparison. It’s spread across two discs, stereo on one, mono on the other, each bolstered by extra tracks. But the fun aspect of the 1995 one gets lost here in what seems to be a more “bog standard” style expanded reissue.
Disc 1 is the original stereo mix from 67, so no extra “Rotosound Strings”, and the “chopped” version of “Rael” again. So far, so acceptable. But the bonus tracks, despite once again being placed before the final “Track Records” jingle, are for the most part simply presented as that - bonus tracks, not enough cross fading IMO, just one rarity after another. It’s refusal to fully follow the original LP’s approach in trying to create a single theme, a single “piece” of music, which the 1995 one achieved more successfully, just makes it a slightly less fun listen than the 95 one. Even the gap between “Rael” and “Rael Naïve” is far too big, even though they are supposed to be part and parcel of the same song!
What do you actually get as bonuses? Well, first up, some are remasters of the original stereo versions, but given that the songs affected are ones that were never released in the first place back in 67, I am not quite sure what the big deal is about this, apart from exciting the collectors. Elsewhere, where the decision has been taken instead to use the revamped 1995 mixes, these often differ to the original 1995 versions, because of the abandoning (usually) of the cross fading between songs (“Rael Naïve” merged into an incendiary “Top Gear” jingle on the 95 edition, here it’s longer with a clean ending, a big booming Moon finish). Some, but not all, of the bonus tracks from the 95 edition make it (“Melancholia“ is gone), but to be fair, there are several jingles dotted throughout (previously unissued Radio London adverts, and both the Coke ones), although I still think it sounds slightly flawed in comparison to the 1995 version. You do also get some proper, new rarities, such as the re-recorded - and then abandoned - “Rael” (interesting to hear a version of this song without that clunky “join“), plus a different intro to “Girl’s Eye”, and as I said, it does end again, post-bonus tracks, with a “Track Records” jingle, which is a different mix to the original 1967 one - meaning that all three variant versions of the stereo album (1967, 1995 and this one) are thus, essential purchases from a collecting viewpoint just for that alone. And if it sounds like I am moaning too much, well, I’ll admit it’s worth buying just for the French Horn driven brilliance that it is the instrumental “Sodding About” - again, how was something this good left to rot for so long?
Disc 2 is the mono disc. This one is even more “un-fun” in terms of how it has been presented to the listener. Part of this is unavoidable. Whilst it is OK to mess around with the stereo mix (it had been available on CD before the 1995 reissue), the mono mix had been off catalogue for some 40 years, so disc 2 starts with the mono mix from start to finish with no messing, meaning “Track Records” appears immediately after “Rael” and before the extras.
The bonus tracks that follow do seem to be, not quite barrel scraping, but seem to be the sort of things that you would expect to find buried away on the second disc of an expanded reissue. Some of it is worth including, because it’s genuinely interesting material that helps tell the story of the record - the original US “B-side” version of “Mary Anne”, in mono, not remixed or tarted up, the unblemished mono mix of “Someone’s Coming”, as found on the original “See For Miles” UK 7, but you then get a load of “completists only” stuff, demos and ‘early mono’ or ’unreleased stereo’ mixes of things like “Jaguar” or “Glittering Girl“, which don’t really add to the versions on disc 1, and given that, again, these were songs never on the original “Sell Out”, are simply nothing more than alternate versions of songs that technically post-date (as opposed to pre-date) the LP, so are only going to appeal to total Who geeks. Maybe that’s the point. Bu the total lack of cross fading and Radio London jingles on this part of the package is a disappointment. You do get a slightly pointless “backing track only” version of “Armenia” as a hidden track, but also tucked away is something that possibly makes the 2009 version an essential buy - a genuine Who commercial from the period, a crackly but historic advert they taped for a US milkshake company, “Great Shakes”, which showcases how, had Stamp and Townshend got their way originally, “Sell Out” might have sounded had they managed to sell that planned advertising space.
But whatever version of “Sell Out” you buy, or if you do buy all three major variants, the facts remain that the basic album is a work of pure genius. It sparkles with an infectious energy. It’s glorious fun, and despite the frowning about it’s potential gimmickry, still includes some of the best work The Who ever recorded. It’s an amazingly original and inventive piece of work, a record which is a far more eye opening experience in terms of sheer intelligence than other, more celebrated, works from the same period. I might struggle to convince fans of John Paul George and Ringo that it’s better than “Sgt Pepper”, but I still can never quite work out why the album has never quite been taken to people’s hearts in the way that “Tommy” or “Quadrophenia” have been. It’s a brilliant record, and if you have never heard this album, all I can say is buy it - your life will never be the same again...