The Who intended their third studio album to be a satirical concept record, and a wry homage to pirate/underground radio stations. There are commercial jingles interspersed throughout the album, and little cohesion between the songs, but what The Who Sell Out lacks in continuity it makes up for in its exuberant fusion of pop and psychedelia. Perhaps more than any other album of its era, The Who Sell Out represented a bridge between the two halves of the 1960s, an appropriate paean to a decade that straddled generations.
It was also The Who’s most fun record, one that feels buoyant. The Who Sell Out is absurd, lush, humorous, playful and mocking, tinged with the right amounts of irony and whimsy. It also holds a unique place in The Who’s catalog, for it did not feature Roger Daltrey nearly exclusively as the lead vocalist. Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle all had significant vocal parts on the record. All of that collaborative energy manifested itself into a complete, lasting work.
The Who Sell Out is a document of its era. That’s not to say it sounds outdated or stale, far from it. What it provides is context. It’s a summation of sorts of the 1960s – a time of mass commercialization, experimentation, social and political tensions, tumultuous change and expression. A band in transition during a time of transition making a record that embraced its past and looked to its future.