The Who, The Who Sell Out
A classic of prophetic pop art
Much has been made of the "hope I die before I get old" line in "My Generation" within the supposed irony of half the Who half-timing the Super Bowl (I always see it as the "never-get-old" of guitar playing), but the concept of branding that has taken the place of record label patronage these days elevates The Who Sell Out to a classic of prophetic pop art, possibly even more so than their towering achievements to come. The "selling" of commercials between tracks beamed out of a pirate radio station, as much tribute to a golden age of English broadcasting as satire, is more true than we might like to think, though with the exception of "Odorono," there is little in the actual Who tracks that reflect the album's theme. The group had done legitimate commercials, an ad for Coca-Cola as well as a controversial spot in America recruiting for the Air Force, and the saving grace of their sense of humor enhanced the jingles and imaginary blurbs for Rotosound strings and English tea. All of this framing would be beside the point were it not for Sell Out's musical realizations of the band's songcraft. There is a sense of ascension throughout, in the aerial guitar figure that spin-cycles "I Can See For Miles" amidst its power chords and cymbal crashes, the backwards swooshes of "Armenia City In The Sky" (written by Speedy Keane, later of Thunderclap Newman), and the sweetly touching and somewhat lascivious "Mary Ann With The Shaky Hands." "Tattoo" is a grand coming-of-age story; and the episodic "Rael" is as much influenced by the Beach Boys as it is another step toward Townsend's approaching meisterwork, even to the teaser inclusion of a chordal riff that would provide a motif for "Underture" on their next album.