The Who guitarist Pete Townshend has said in a new interview that The Who Sell Out was not inspired by The Beatles’ record Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, instead asserting that “The Beatles copied us!” in making a more conceptual record.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Townshend was asked if the release of Sgt Pepper in May 1967 inspired the more conceptual approach heard on The Who Sell Out, which was released in December of the same year. It features a through-line with fake advertisements and interstitials as if it were being broadcast on a Pirate Radio Station.
Townshend replied: “No, no. Come on. The Beatles copied us! Paul McCartney came up to me at the Bag O’Nails [venue], which we mention in the album artwork. He was always very, very sweet to me. I should say that first. But he said to me that he really loved our mini-opera, which was called A Quick One, While He’s Away. That was on the album that preceded The Who Sell Out. And he told me they were thinking about doing similar things.”
These similar things can certainly be heard, with character-driven whimsy present in both A Quick One, While He’s Away and Sgt Pepper.
However, Townshend clarified that he doesn’t mean to accuse The Beatles of any wrongdoing, it seems, saying: “I think anybody that was even a little bit art school back then, a little bit adventurous – and, of course, The Beatles were encouraged to experiment to the max in the studio – would have thought about doing something which was a concept.”
Townshend then noted that The Who Sell Out wasn’t initially intended to be as concrete of a ‘concept album’ until the day of the photoshoot for its cover: “It wasn’t a concept until the day that we walked in to get photographed in tubs of baked beans. It was only at that photo session that we learned that the name of the album was going to be The Who Sell Out, which is a brilliant title, of course.”