The Who Sell Out is the third studio album by the British rock band The Who, released on 15 December 1967 by Track Records in the UK and Decca Records in the US. It is a concept album, formatted as a collection of unrelated songs interspersed with faux commercials and public service announcements. The album purports to be a broadcast by pirate radio station Radio London. Part of the intended irony of the title was that The Who were making commercials during that period of their career, some of which are included as bonus tracks on the remastered CD.
The album's release was reportedly followed by lawsuits due to the mention of real-world commercial interests in the faux commercials and on the album covers, and by the makers of the real jingles (Radio London jingles), who claimed the Who used them without permission. (The jingles were produced by PAMS Productions of Dallas, Texas, which created thousands of station ID jingles in the 1960s and 1970s). It was the deodorant company, Odorono, who took offense that Chris Stamp made a request for endorsement dollars. "I Can See for Miles" was released as a single and peaked at #10 in the UK and #9 in the US.
The Who Sell Out received widespread acclaim from critics, some of whom viewed it as The Who's best record and one of the greatest albums of all time.
In his book Maximum R & B, Who confidant Richard Barnes claims to have come up with the idea of the band recording commercial jingles after their cover of the Batman theme appeared on the Ready Steady Who EP. Barnes posited the idea to Roger Daltrey, whose similar suggestions to Pete Townshend were allegedly met with derision.
Initially, the band's follow-up to A Quick One was to be titled Who's Lily after their recent single "Pictures of Lily." Early cuts such as a cover of "Summertime Blues," the Coke jingles, and the instrumental "Sodding About," showed the influence of Track Records label-mate Jimi Hendrix on Townshend's guitar playing.
Even before the group had formed, the members of The Who had been profoundly influenced by rock n roll appearing on the radio. The BBC did not broadcast much music at the time, which was left to stations like Radio Luxembourg and then pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline. By the end of 1966, The Who had achieved commercial success owing to the mod movement that made up a significant section of the group's early audience. However, the movement was fading, and the TV show Ready, Steady, Go that had boosted the group to fame, had been cancelled. The group started touring the US the following year, and started to achieve success with their live act. In summer 1967, the group's managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp suggested the band could create a concept album based on pirate radio and structure it in the same manner as that, or a typical US AM radio station. As pirate radio had been influential to mods, it was felt particularly appropriate to pay tribute to it. As well as the music, the inter-song announcements and jingles were a key component of radio, so it was decided to include a selection of humorous asides on the album. The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act came into effect at midnight on 14 August 1967, outlawing all pirate stations and strengthening the album's effect as a tribute. The aspect separated The Who from their contemporaries in the developing underground rock scene, both musically and stylistically.
The first song to be written specifically for the concept was "Jaguar", paying tribute to the car, which was quickly followed by an instrumental the group had recorded for Coca-Cola. "Armenia City in the Sky", was written by a friend of the band, John "Speedy" Keen. According to music critic Richie Unterberger, The Who Sell Out featured "jubilant" psychedelic pop music that veers between "melodic mod pop and powerful instrumentation", while Edna Gundersen from USA Today said the album's style was power pop.
Having finished touring the US, including an appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the group returned to the UK on 16 September to start recording. They made progress on the album for the next three weeks; the first song to be completed was the single, "I Can See For Miles", released the following month. By October, the group had also completed "Armenia (City In The Sky)", "Early Morning Cold Taxi" and "Girl's Eyes". "Heinz Baked Beans", "Odorono" and "Top Gear" had been completed mid-month, along with a series of linking adverts and jingles mostly recorded by Entwistle and Moon. "Tattoo", "Odorono" and "Rael" were completed by 20 October, Most of the remainder of the album was recorded in between live shows at the end of the month. "Sunrise", a solo Townshend piece, was the last piece to be recorded on 2 November. The album was mixed by Lambert and Damon Lyon-Shaw intermittently throughout November, coming up with a finished master on the 20th.
The cover is divided into panels featuring a photograph by David Montgomery of each of the band members, two on the front and two on the back. On the front is Pete Townshend applying Odorono brand deodorant from an oversized stick, and Roger Daltrey sitting in a bathtub full of Heinz baked beans (holding an oversized tin can of the same). Daltrey claims to have caught pneumonia after sitting for a prolonged period in the bathtub, as the beans had been frozen. On the back is Keith Moon applying Medac (a fictitious acne ointment) from an oversized tube, and John Entwistle in a leopard-skin Tarzan suit, squeezing a blonde woman in a leopard-skin bikini with one arm and a teddy bear with the other (an ad for the Charles Atlas course mentioned in one of the album's faux commercials).
Original vinyl copies of Sell Out end with an audio oddity that repeats into a locked groove (In response to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). The music in the locked groove is an instrumental version of what was originally intended to be a vocal jingle for the Who's UK label Track Records.
When the LP was released on Track Records in the UK in 1967 (Track 612 002 Mono & Track 613 002 Stereo), a poster was included inside the first 1000 copies (500 stereo and 500 mono). They came with sticker on the front cover stating 'Free Psychedelic Poster Inside'. Because of their rarity, first pressings with poster and sticker have sold for more than £600, and have been known to sell for much more. Included in the inner sleeve of the 1995 MCA CD reissue; the poster art of a butterfly initially intended as the LP cover was scrapped, and turned into the free poster.
The album was released in the UK on 15 December 1967. It reached #13 in the charts. The original release date of 17 November had been pushed back due to arguments about the running order. It was released in the US on 6 January 1968, reaching #48. The concept of the album hampered its commercial performance despite positive reviews, as its irony sat awkwardly with the serious ambitions of the underground music scene, and it was too specific to the mod scene's background for many younger pop fans.
In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner called The Who Sell Out "fantastic" and praised its "exquisite" sense of humor and the Who's "consummate" musicianship, which includes "wholly original" instrumentation and cleverly placed electronic sounds. Robert Christgau, writing in Esquire, said the album establishes the band as "the third best not just in Britain but the world", while citing "Tattoo" as the best song Townshend has "ever written, worth the price of the album". In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Richie Unterberger said that, "on strictly musical merits, it's a terrific set of songs that ultimately stands as one of the group's greatest achievements." Sociomusicologist Simon Frith referred to it as a "Pop art pop masterpiece".
In 1995, The Who Sell Out was reissued by MCA Records with numerous outtakes and rejected jingles added to the end of the original album. In the liner notes for the reissue, Dave Marsh called it "the greatest rock and roll album of its era" and "the Who's consummate masterpiece, the work that holds together most tightly as concept and realization". Marsh believed the album's essence is "most tightly linked to the glorious pop insanity that psychedelia and its aftermath destroyed forever." Reviewing the reissue in The Village Voice, Christgau called it the Who's "only great album", feeling they had yet to "take their pretensions seriously", with nothing but good songs throughout, including the faux-ads and bonus tracks. It was also deemed the band's best work by Todd Hutlock from Stylus Magazine, while Melody Maker said the record was a masterpiece because of its "glorious celebration of pop as useless commodity and a commercially corrupted art form" without degrading itself. Rolling Stone called it "the most successful concept album ever" in a 1999 review.
According to Acclaimed Music, The Who Sell Out is the 234th most ranked record on critics' all-time lists. In 2003, it was placed at number 113 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Mark Kemp, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), called it Townshend's first and best concept album and said that he "successfully does what he would overdo" in Tommy and Quadrophenia: "There's no fixed narrative to take away from the music. And the music is sensational". In 2007, Rolling Stone included it on their list of the 40 essential albums of 1967 and stated, "the Who's finest album exemplifies how pop this famously psychedelic year was." The album was reissued in 2009 as a two-disc deluxe edition, which Danny Kelly of Uncut magazine said was the "definitive" release of the Who's most "entertaining" and "endearing" album. In his review for eMusic, Lenny Kaye said that The Who Sell Out is a "classic of prophetic pop art" because of "the concept of branding that has taken the place of record label patronage these days".
The Who attempted to include a few cuts from the album in their live repertoire, including "Relax" for a brief period, but only "Tattoo" was retained in their regular set, being performed live regularly up until 1975. Dropped early on from their set, "I Can See For Miles" would not regularly be played by the band until their 1989 reunion tour.
All songs written by Pete Townshend, except where noted. The between song jingles apparently have no official titles and are not listed anywhere on the original album packaging (although they are listed in the inner booklet of the 1995 remaster).
Executive Producer: Chris Stamp1995 reissue
2009 Deluxe Edition
The 2009 Deluxe edition contains the original album in stereo mix on disc one, and the mono mix on disc two.
Adapted from the liner notes of the 1995 reissue.
The WhoRoger Daltrey - lead and backing vocals, percussion
Pete Townshend - electric and 12 string acoustic guitar, backing and lead vocals, keyboards, pennywhistle, banjo, sonovox on "Armenia City In The Sky"
John Entwistle - bass guitar, backing and lead vocals, horns, sound effects
Keith Moon - drums, backing vocals, percussion, sound effects, lead vocals on "Jaguar" and "Girl's Eyes"
Additional musiciansAl Kooper - keyboards, organ
Speedy Keen - co-lead vocals on "Amenia City in the Sky"
PersonnelKit Lambert - producer, engineer
Damon Lyon-Shaw - engineer
Jon Astley and Andy Macpherson - engineers (1995 remaster)
David Montgomery - cover photography
David King and Roger Law - sleeve design
Adrian George - psychedelic poster design
Richard Evans - design and art direction