If you were a lucky kid in 1967, you could have new records by The Beatles, the Stones, and the Who under your Christmas tree. (This is assuming you didn’t run out and get them on the day of release, which of course you would have if you had the means.) And I bet you would have loved them, though all three, truth be told, are kind of a mess — whether because of the general psychedelic chaos of the time, or because they were rushed to completion to be ready for the holidays, I’m not sure.

Today’s release was The Who Sell Out, Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon’s third LP. Generally considered their answer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandSell Out is a concept album, but you have to be careful when throwing that term around. It does not necessarily mean an album where the songs all work together to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end — when the Who made one of these in 1969, they would call it a “rock opera,” and bona fide examples of the type are few and far between. (Neither The Beatles nor the Stones ever made it that far.)

In the context of 1967, a “concept album” meant one that was conceived as a complete experience, rather than a bunch of random pieces thrown together. In addition to the music, it was important to pay attention to packaging and presentation; thus The Who Sell Out included elaborately silly artwork (see above), a locked groove at the end, and a “Free Psychedelic Poster Inside.”

The album itself carries through the product-placement theme, its songs interspersed with faux commercial jingles, though the line between the two is not always clear (is “Odorono” a jingle in the form of a rock song, or vice-versa)? Other than that, the songs don’t appear to have much to do with each other, and the quality varies wildly, from all-time classic (“I Can See for Miles”) to cringeworthy (“Silas Stingy”).

Sell Out concludes with the ambitious “Rael,” which sounds like a warmup for the aforementioned rock opera — Tommy, which would be the Who’s next album. But it’s a long way from here to there.


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