Monday, June 03, 2013

The Who Sell Out by John Dougan

As a kid in rural America in the 1960s, listening to rock music from distant radio stations at night, I knew next to nothing about the songs and little about the performers. The top 40 disc jockeys might say whether a group was British or American, but not much more. So I never knew that the Who's Pete Townshend was serious about pop art and that there was meaning as well as humor behind the strange cover for The Who Sell Out (1967). Being just a seventh grader when I saw it, I thought the cover very strange, not something I want to have. I did not know it parodied commercialism. I doubt I even knew the word parody.

I also knew nothing about pirate radio stationed off the coast of Great Britain, playing music not offered by the selectors of BBC Radio. The musicians' union contract allowing only a limited number of "needle hours" on BBC Radio (to stop recorded music from replacing live music) and British bureaucrats wanting to keep radio refined kept a savvy BBC minority from responding effectively to the growing demand for youth oriented music. It was in this context that the Who recorded their third album. The story is deftly recounted in the compact music history The Who Sell Out by John Dougan. 

Who fans will, of course, enjoy this quick-reading book, which profiles the members of the band, recounts the recording of the album, and explains the reactions in Britain and America. The Who Sell Out would be fun to borrow from a library with a Who CD and a DVD of Pirate Radio.

By the way, the beans were refrigerated and Roger Daltrey developed a slight case of pneumonia.

Dougan, John. The Who Sell Out. Continuum, 2006. 131p. ISBN 9780826417435.

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