The Who Didn’t Sell Out; They Bought In

Rediscovering The Who’s first concept album with a massive new box set

The Who Sell Out Glitched (Art: Ron Hart)

Although often overshadowed by the albums that followed in its wake— Tommy (natch), Who’s Next (natch once again) and Quadrophenia (hardly surprising) — The Who Sell Out still stands as The Who’s first definitive concept album and the initial indication of Pete Townshend and company’s emerging brilliance.

Intended as satire and a commentary on commercialism, it interpreted its songs with clever and original jingles that touted a variety of products that supposed sponsored the band’s astute enterprise. The idea became evident at the outset through its cleverly designed cover which found each of the four members — Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle — playing poster boys for the brands — real and otherwise — that were intended to be touted.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Nevertheless, it was the songs themselves that stood out, several of which become instant essentials — “I Can See For Miles,” “Sunrise,” “I Can’t Reach You,” “Our Love Was,” “Rael,” and “Sunrise” chief among them. Although most were preformed only rarely in concert, a return visit verifies the fact that they plowed the same sonic terrain as Tommy and in fact, set the tone and template Tommy would soon follow. Clearly, the band was paving a path forward towards the later efforts that affirmed their superior stature in years to come.

Indeed, 1967 and 1968 were particularly prolific periods for the Who, and Pete Townshend in particular. Shared in this sumptuous deluxe edition of The Who Sell Out, the added sessions and outtakes accompanying this expanded version prove the point. Encompassing five CDs — the album in both stereo and mono versions with bonus tracks, a set of Townshend’s demos, an entire CD of finished tracks that never made any album, and a disc that includes more than two dozen studio sessions boasting early takes on various seminal songs — along with two 45s, a tabletop book with a plethora of rare photos, lyrics, essays and production notes, as well as other assorted memorabilia, it’s the ultimate Who box bonanza, a must for the collector and completist. While many of the offerings — “Glittering Girl,” “Girl’s  Eyes,” “Early Morning Cold Taxi,” “Glow Girl,” and “Jaguar,” among them — have been available for years both in bootleg form and as rarity offerings elsewhere, having access to them all here in one place is an extra bonus. In addition, various early versions also offers opportunity to witness the evolution of several of these songs. 

The Super Deluxe Edition of The Who Sell Out is available in stores and online now (Photo: UMe)

Along those same lines, two versions of the Who’s rare double A sided single, “The Last Time”/“Under My Thumb,” the band’s tribute to the Stones in the wake of Jagger and Richard’s drug bust, are also included. In addition, it offers early takes of several jingles, along with commercials that didn’t make the final cut.

Townshend’s demos are especially interesting. Like those compiled on the Scoop albums years back, they find him alone in his home studio, playing all the parts as a guide for his compatriots. On the other discs, Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle also shine, thanks to a bold mix which brings all their added elements to the fore. 

Given all the additives then, The Who Sell Out not only ranks as the best archival offering that’s come courtesy of the Who, but also one of the best boxes ever shared by any band overall. Granted, it will set the buyer back over $100, but by evidence of its offerings, it’s a bargain regardless. After all, if The Who say they’re selling it, it’s only natural it’s a price the rest of us are pleased to pay. 


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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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