Hahahahahahahahaha! As IF!1! I did all this work ... somebody's gotta suffer for it, because it sure ain't gonna be me. Or at least not just me. And I'm not merely copying-and-pasting my script here each time — I'm also editing it, which in my case usually means adding to it2, so you're getting the longer, thicker, ribbed-for-her-pleasure director's cut3.
Hahahahahahaha! I don't blame you if you feel you stumbled into some Blogospheric Inner Circle of Hell! Bwa-hahahahahaha! Your precious Jebus can't save you now4!
But my Who posts are always clearly labeled as such, so it's easy enough to ignore them if you so choose. So, if you ain't into Teh Who, start ignorin'!
[A lot of this first part, below, was covered in an earlier post, a month ago, on the Who song "Little Billy". This should explain any deja vu feeling you might get. And you ought to get a nice deja vu buzz because I totally plagiarized that post here.]
The Who Sell Out was The Who’s first full-fledged “concept album” – the idea behind the album being to reproduce the experience of listening to "pirate radio", which Pete loved and that the British government had just legislated out of existence. Pirate stations were actual ships that broadcasted good, current rock 'n' roll music into Britain from just outside British waters, i.e., in technically international waters. This was necessary because BBC radio — the only "legal" alternative in England at the time — restricted the broadcasting of rock music to an hour a week or something absurd like that. (There was a movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Boat That Rocked, aka Pirate Radio — which no one saw — that told the fictionalized story of one pirate radio station, Radio London.)
In any case, The Who Sell Out is an album of "pirate" music (from a pirate station that features only Who songs, naturally) that includes commercials recorded by The Who for actual products like Heinz Baked Beans and the Charles Atlas Muscle-Building Course; it also includes station promo jingles and other miscellaneous stuff. "Odorono" is a song that is a "commercial" for a product that I just found out recently really did exist; the protagonist in the song misses her chance at becoming a Big Time Singer when her unfortunate body odor offends an important impresario who has come to hear her and is impressed by her voice, if not her scent.
On the album, “Odorono” and “Tattoo” are connected by a Radio London jingle [I couldn't find a vid on youtube that included the two songs with the jingle connector]; this gives you a flavor of how the whole album sounds. “Odorono” is a weird hybrid in that it’s an actual song, and a pretty good, albeit comic, one; but it’s also a rather crass commercial for a deodorant product. Here we are introduced to a girl who wants to be judged by her talent, her inner essence, her ability to sing, and is instead doomed by that less essential, though more overpowering, outer characteristic: her body stank. The last lines kinda comes out of nowhere; you almost get the feeling that they should be followed by a comedian’s rimshot: Ba-dump-dump-CHEEE! (Thus, the theme of Inside/Outside ("5:15") is touched on in a comic way.)
“Odorono” is directly connected to the next song, “Tattoo”, by the Radio London jingle. “Tattoo” tackles some of Pete’s usual obsessions, but again, in a comic way. It literally asks, “What makes a man a man? Brains? Brawn? Astrological sign?” What makes you what you essentially are? The identity issue.
The two brothers in the song decide that tattoos will sufficiently assert their masculine identity – and each ends up getting beaten by a parent for different reasons based on their new outer appearance:
My dad beat me cos mine said 'mother'(Again, inside/outside. Also, the whole child abuse issue that seems to crop up everywhere in Pete's songs.)
But my mother nat'rally liked it and beat my brother
Cos his tattoo was of a lady in the nude
And my mother thought that was extremely rude.
The final verse of this song is really weird, indicating that the narrator’s fate is kinda sealed by this first tattoo and now both he and his wife “are tattooed all over”; and it ends – and this is a direct quote – “A rooty-toot-toot, rooty-tooty-toot-toot/ Rooty-toot-toot tattoo too/To you”.
Then, on the album, a reminder from the pirate radio station to “go to the church of your choice.”
Weird. But interesting. And entertaining. And pretty much what pirate radio was like.
Sell Out also includes what many, including Pete, thought was the ultimate Who song: “I Can See For Miles”. Pete had this song in his back pocket for quite a while and was saving it because he was sure it would be their big breakthrough song. The Who first started working on it in London in May of 1967, again in New York in August, and then again in LA in September. It was finally released as a single in mid-October of 1967 – unquestionably one of the most elaborately-produced Who songs ever, with numerous overdubs and effects added.
Play “I Can See For Miles”
Note the themes of Identity and Deception in the song: “You can’t fool me because I have these magical eyes that can see past all your deceptions to the real truth that lies underneath.” Note also that the guitar solo on this most musically elaborate Who song – hours of studio time was lavished on this song over the course of months – consists of all of one note, a middle E, played over and over (starting at 2:11 into this video). It’s said Pete was intimidated by all these other great guitarists who were showing up on the mid-60s London music scene, particularly Jimi Hendrix, and rather than try to out-do them, he kind of capitulated to them by getting about as minimalist as you can get. It really doesn’t get much more minimalist than one note. Yet because of the varied rhythms and picking patterns Pete plays on this one note, it seems to be more than it is. He gets a lot of different tones out of that one note.
Yet in every other way, "ICSfM" is probably one of the most extravagantly maximalist songs The Who ever recorded; to the point that they never performed it live while Keith Moon was alive because he couldn't reproduce the difficult, layered drumming live. Oddly, they did do it a couple of times after Kenney Jones joined the band.
Since "ICSfM" was released in 1967, it is perhaps inevitable that, given its theme, it would be seen as a drug song. Pete denied this: "The words, which aging senators have called 'drug oriented,' are about a jealous man with exceptionally good eyesight. Honest."
This could be seen as disingenuous on Pete's part – I supposed it's possible to read "ICSfM" as mainly a drug song – but I think the lyrics to the song pretty much support Pete's contention: The song pretty concretely lays out a scenario in which a jealous lover accuses his girl of running around behind his back. Other than the narrator's claim to possession of extraordinary eyesight, there's nothing really trippy going on in this song: No Girls With Kaleidoscope Eyes or Elementary Penguins Singing Hare Krishna; no Dormouse Telling You to Feed Your Head. In comparison with other songs of the era, the lyrics to "ICSfM" are pretty concrete.
Of course, there is still that pretty trippy claim of being able to see the Eiffel Tower and The Taj Mahal from quite a distance, so if you, Dear Reader, want to see a drug influence here, I will not fight you. In fact, I encourage you to toke it and smoke it as much as you care to before listening to this song.
Pete was giving a lot of interviews at about the time “I Can See For Miles” was to be released because he was so sure it would be The Who's First Gargantuan Blockbuster Hit. He touted it heavily, saying things like [I'm paraphrasing here] It’s the heaviest song ever; the Beatles never did anything this heavy, etc. Paul McCartney wrote “Helter Skelter” in response to reading this quote, to show PT that the Beatles could out-do anyone. ("ICSfM" is still a better song than "HS", though.) So “ICSfM” inspired “Helter Skelter”, which in turn inspired Charles Manson and his followers to commit the Tate/ LaBianca murders. So The Who, not The Beatles, were truly the inspiration for Charles Manson.
Incidentally, “I Can See For Miles” topped out in the UK charts at #10 and #9 in the US. Pete was bitterly disappointed by its performance on the charts and reacted by saying: "To me it was the ultimate Who record, yet it didn't sell. I spat on the British record buyer." In fact, it did sell, just not as well as Pete had anticipated. He was so dejected by this, he told people the next Who album was going to be a compilation of their singles and he was going to title it The Who's Greatest Flops.
This remains The Who’s highest-charting single in the US.
Reproduced below is a chart of how late 1967 singles charted in the UK. Take a look at some of the songs that charted better than "I Can See For Miles" – Tom Jones' "I'm Coming Home"? Dave Dee ...etc.'s "Zabadak!"?
No wonder Pete wanted to hork a loogie on the British Record-Buying Public.
1 Yeah, I know there are more than seven of you who read this shit, but I said my faithful readers, which is not the same as saying all my readers.
Because the rest of you are perfidious whoo-wers!1!
Yeah, you know who you are.
2 Yeah, go figger. Bet you never saw that coming.
3 "Cut" because, yes, this Who research has been circumcised. Mazel tov!
4 Idle threat null and void where considered blasphemous. Threat is always good in Texas, because Jebus ain't saving any Texans, now that Molly Ivins is gone. The last good Texan. O, wait. And Jim Hightower.