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Music / The Who Sell Out

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Wonderful radio... London.

The Who Sell Out is the third studio album by The Who, released in 1967. A Concept Album, it is formatted as a collection of unrelated songs with fake commercials and public service announcements in between them. Part of the intended irony of the title was that The Who were making real commercials around this time.

Lawsuits followed the album's release due to the mention of real-world commercial interests in the faux commercials and on the album covers, and by the makers of the actual Radio London jingles, who claimed the Who used them without permission.

The album is best remembered for "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" and "I Can See for Miles", the latter which indirectly inspired The Beatles song "Helter Skelter" on The White Album. Paul McCartney had read that The Who had written the "heaviest rock song ever" and, without having heard the actual song, felt that they should top that. And they pretty much did.


Side One

  1. "Armenia City In The Sky" (3:48)
  2. "Heinz Baked Beans" (1:00)
  3. "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand" (2:28)
  4. "Odorono" (2:34)
  5. "Tattoo" (2:51)
  6. "Our Love Was" (3:23)
  7. "I Can See For Miles" (4:44)

Side Two

  1. "I Can't Reach You" (3:03)
  2. "Medac" (0:57)
  3. "Relax" (2:41)
  4. "Silas Stingy" (3:07)
  5. "Sunrise" (3:06)
  6. "Rael (1 And 2)" (5:44)

Bonus Tracks (1995 Reissue):

  1. "Rael 2"
  2. "Glittering Girl"
  3. "Melancholia"
  4. "Someone's Coming"
  5. "Jaguar"
  6. "Early Morning Cold Taxi"
  7. "Hall Of The Mountain King"
  8. "Girl's Eyes"
  9. "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand (Alternate Version)"
  10. "Glow Girl"

Principal Members:

  • Roger Daltrey - lead vocals, percussion
  • John Entwistle - bass, backing and lead vocals, horns, sound effects
  • Keith Moon - drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals, sound effects
  • Pete Townshend - guitar, backing and lead vocals, keyboard, pennywhistle, banjo, sonovox

Her deodorant had let her down—she should have used Troperono:

  • Alliterative Title: "Glittering Girl", "Glow Girl", "Silas Stingy".
  • Almost Kiss: "Odorono"
    But his expression changed, she had seen
    As he leant to kiss her face
    It ended there
    He claimed a late appointment...
    If only she'd used Odorono...
  • Bathos: "Odorono" blends an account of a woman's emotional rollercoaster into a fake deodorant ad.
  • Break Up Song: "Melancholia"
    The sheets are gray, left since the day she went away, I lost all power
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: The album is recorded In the Style of a pirate radio broadcast. Tongue in cheek, of course.
  • But Now I Must Go: "Odorono"
    She was happier than she'd ever been
    As he praised her for her grace
    But his expression changed, she had seen
    As he leant to kiss her face
    It ended there
    He claimed a late appointment
    She quickly turned to hide her disappointment
  • Cavalry Betrayal: In "Rael", the narrator is trying to fight off the "Red Chins", who are trying invade the titular country. He tells a captain to attack if the Red Chins take over Rael. The captain thinks the narrator is insane and abandons him.
  • Concept Album: In its original LP release, the concept gets more or less abandoned by the start of side two. Later CD releases correct this error by including real-life commercials recorded by the band to pad out the concept.
  • "Days of the Week" Song: The album starts off with a distorted voice saying "Monday", "Sunday", "Tuesday", "Saturday",... This has been Sampled Up a lot too.
  • Double Entendre: "Mary-Anne With The Shaky Hands"
    Mary is so pretty
    The prettiest in the land
    Guys come from every city
    Just to shake her shaky hands
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: "Tattoo"—played with in that the owner of the tattoo doesn't find it embarrassing, but he does assume he'll regret it one day.
    Welcome to my life, tattoo
    I'm a man now, thanks to you
    I expect I'll regret you
  • End of an Era: The album as a whole evokes this for the golden age of pirate radio, which was coming to an end following a UK government crackdown. By the time the album was released, most of the pirates had gone off air, including Radio London, from which the between-tracks jingles were taken.
  • Face on the Cover: Pete Townsend applies Odorono deodorant, while Roger Daltrey sits in a bathtub full of Heinz baked beans on the front cover. The back cover depicts Keith Moon applying Medac from an oversized tube and John Entwistle in a leopard-skin suit, squeezing a blonde woman in a similar outfit with one arm and a teddy bear with the other.
  • Fading into the Next Song: All tracks fade into each other to give the feeling of a radio broadcast.
  • Fake Radio Show Album: All throughout the album fake commercials and genuine radio station jingles are heard. Several songs are also lyrically similar to a commercial.
  • Intercourse with You: "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand", who apparently is very talented with her hands
  • List Song: "Mary-Anne With The Shaky Hands"
    I danced with Linda
    I danced with Jean
    I danced with Cindy
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: "Tattoo"
    Our old man didn't like our appearance
    He said that only women wear long hair.
  • Medley: "Rael" was originally intended as one, but was never completed and until the 1990s, only the first part was commercially available.
  • Miniscule Rocking: Most tracks are rather short to mimic a radio commercial.
  • New Sound Album: Aside from all the jingles, there's quite a bit of psychedelia on this album.
  • No Ending: "Rael 1" was intended as the first part of a longer "mini-opera" in the same vein as "A Quick One, While He's Away." Only Pete Townshend didn't finish writing it, so the story ends abruptly before it really has a chance to get started.
  • Obsession Song: "I Can't Reach You"
    I can't reach you
    With arms outstretched
    I can't reach you
    I crane my neck
    I can't reach
    Tryin' to get on you
    See, feel or hear from you
  • One-Woman Song: "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand", "Glittering Girl", "Glow Girl"
  • One-Word Title: "Odorono", "Tattoo", "Medac", "Relax", "Sunrise", "Rael", "Melancholia", "Jaguar".
  • Overly Long Gag: The album ends with a looping plug for their label, Track Records.
  • Packaged as Other Medium: The album cover is designed to look like an advertisement in a magazine. The album itself is meant to sound like a radio broadcast.
  • Papa Wolf: "Someone's Coming"
    Your father doesn't like me
    Told you that you couldn't see me anymore
    That's why we meet in secret
    That's why we're hiding here
  • Parody Commercial: One of the most famous examples in rock history and presumably one of the first to have such on an album.
  • Product Placement: Real life products are shown on the album cover. The track "Armenia City In The City/Heinz Baked Beans" name-drops "Heinz". Several tracks follow a pattern of a commercial by telling a story and then naming the fake product in the last stanzas, for instance in "Odorono"
    She ripped her glittering gown
    Couldn't face another show, no
    Her deodorant had let her down
    She should have used Odorono
    • "Medac" is another song that appears to be an advert. It's about an adolescent who suffers from acne.
    Then, when just about to crack
    He found another cream - Medac
    When Henry in the mirror peered
    His pimples all had disappeared
    Henry laughed and yelled "I got 'em!
    Me face is like a baby's bottom"
  • Rise of Zitboy: Henry Pond, in "Medac".
    Henry Pond had no fun
    Had a face like a currant bun
  • The Scrooge: "Silas Stingy", about an old miser.
  • Self-Plagiarism: In Tommy they used an instrumental tune from "Rael 1" as a leitmotif.
    • The song "Glow Girl", recorded during the The Who Sell Out sessions but unreleased for a number of years, ends with a short song fragment ("it's a girl, Mrs. Walker, it's a girl") that is recycled almost verbatim as the second track of Tommy.
  • Self-Titled Album: The band is mentioned in the title.
  • Sell-Out: This album is a massive lampshade of the group's numerous commercial endeavours during the late 1960s, including recording radio promos for Coca-Cola, Heinz Baked Beans, a car dealer, a maker of guitar strings, the United States Air Force, and anyone else they felt would reimburse them for their trouble. The original plan was to entice the companies mentioned on the album to pay for the references. No one was interested, but the band was blatant enough about it that many listeners took the album as intentional satire.
  • Shout-Out
    • Near the end of "I Can See For Miles" the Charles Atlas body-building course commercials are referenced.
    • Petra Haden did an A Cappella version of this album in 2005, where every single instrument was covered with her voice.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: All the songs on the album are connected this way, in order to mimic a radio broadcast.
  • Special Guest:
    • Al Kooper plays organ on this album.
    • John "Speedy" keen from Thunderclap Newman wrote and sings backup on "Armenia City In The Sky".
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Heinz Baked Beans" has a fanfare playing and every time the music stops someone speaks:
    What's for tea, Mum?
    What's for tea, darling?
    Darling, I said "what's for tea?"
    What's for tea, daughter?
    Heinz baked beans
  • Step Up to the Microphone/Vocal Tag Team: The album is a very collaborative work vocally, as opposed to its more Roger Daltrey-focused predecessors and successors. Listening to it, one wouldn't even necessarily assume that Daltrey was the band's designated lead singer. Pete Townshend sings lead vocals on "Odorono", "Our Love Was", "Can't Reach You" and "Sunrise". He also has co-lead vocals on "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands," "Tattoo," and "Relax". John Entwistle sings lead vocals on "Heinz Baked Beans", and "Medac", and co-leads on "Silas Stingy" with Daltrey. For the 1995 reissue, Townshend sings lead on "Rael 2" and "Glittering Girl," the latter of which contains a verse sung by Entwistle; Townshend and Entwistle also sing alternating sections of "Jaguar." Daltrey and Townshend duet on the electric version of "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands" and "Glow Girl," while Entwistle and Keith Moon sing together on "Girl's Eyes".
  • Top Ten Jingle: The album contains several original songs written as faux-jingles for Heinz Baked Beans, Jaguar automobiles, and other popular brands of the time.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "I Can See For Miles" neatly lampshades it - Daltrey mentions the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal immediately after the key change.