The Who – The Who Sell Out (1967)

The Who Sell Out is the third studio album by the British rock band the Who. It was released on 15 December 1967 by Track Records in the UK and Decca Records in the US.

A concept album, The Who Sell Out is structured as a collection of unrelated songs interspersed with fake commercials and public service announcements. The album purports to be a broadcast by pirate radio station Radio London. The reference to “selling out” was an intended irony, as the Who had been making real commercials during that period of their career, some of which are included as bonus tracks on the remastered CD.

The album was primarily written by guitarist Pete Townshend, though three tracks were penned by bassist John Entwistle and one by Thunderclap Newman vocalist Speedy Keen, who also sings. Townshend and Entwistle are joined by vocalist Roger Daltrey and drummer Keith Moon, and organist Al Kooper makes a guest appearance on two tracks. The album was produced by the band’s manager Kit Lambert.

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.) The deodorant company Odorono took offence that Chris Stamp made a request for endorsement dollars. “I Can See for Miles” was released as a single and peaked at number 10 in the UK and number 9 in the US.

The Who Sell Out has received widespread acclaim from critics, some of whom viewed it as the Who’s best record. It has also frequently been featured on all-time lists of the best albums, including Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

Track Listing

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).

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. “Armenia City in the Sky” Speedy Keen Daltrey and Keen 3:48
2. “Heinz Baked Beans” John Entwistle Entwistle, Moon and Townshend (spoken word) 1:00
3. “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” Daltrey and Townshend 2:28
4. “Odorono” Townshend 2:34
5. “Tattoo” Daltrey, with Townshend 2:51
6. “Our Love Was” (Original US LPs listed the title as “Our Love Was, Is”) Townshend 3:23
7. “I Can See for Miles” Daltrey 4:05
Total length: 20:09
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. “Can’t Reach You” (Retitled “I Can’t Reach You” on various reissues) Townshend 3:03
2. “Medac” (Retitled “Spotted Henry” on original US LPs) Entwistle Entwistle 0:57
3. “Relax” Daltrey and Townshend 2:41
4. “Silas Stingy” Entwistle Entwistle 3:07
5. “Sunrise” Townshend 3:06
6. “Rael (1 and 2)” (Retitled “Rael 1” on 1995 reissue) Daltrey 5:44
Total length: 18:38

AllMusic Review: Pete Townshend originally planned The Who Sell Out as a concept album of sorts that would simultaneously mock and pay tribute to pirate radio stations, complete with fake jingles and commercials linking the tracks. For reasons that remain somewhat ill defined, the concept wasn’t quite driven to completion, breaking down around the middle of side two (on the original vinyl configuration). Nonetheless, on strictly musical merits, it’s a terrific set of songs that ultimately stands as one of the group’s greatest achievements. “I Can See for Miles” (a Top Ten hit) is the Who at their most thunderous; tinges of psychedelia add a rush to “Armenia City in the Sky” and “Relax”; “I Can’t Reach You” finds Townshend beginning to stretch himself into quasi-spiritual territory; and “Tattoo” and the acoustic “Sunrise” show introspective, vulnerable sides to the singer/songwriter that had previously been hidden. “Rael” was another mini-opera, with musical motifs that reappeared in Tommy. The album is as perfect a balance between melodic mod pop and powerful instrumentation as the Who (or any other group) would achieve; psychedelic pop was never as jubilant, not to say funny (the fake commercials and jingles interspersed between the songs are a hoot). [Subsequent reissues added over half a dozen interesting outtakes from the time of the sessions, as well as unused commercials, the B-side “Someone’s Coming,” and an alternate version of “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand.”] — Richie Unterberger

Schill Score: 8/10

Listen to album below


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