Growing Up 90’s: Reel Big Fish- “Sell Out”


“Well, I know you can’t work in fast food all your life

But don’t sign that paper tonight

She said, but it’s too late”

A handful of songs by Reel Big Fish (along with No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, perhaps) was about as close as I ever got to getting into the ska-punk scene. While I’ve always thought bands that featured a horn section were unique and fun, the sight of badly-dressed kids “skanking,” which was typically a stupid circular dance that required aimless flailing as if your skeletal system had been removed from your body, at the ska concerts at which I found myself was vomit-inducing. 

That aside, Reel Big Fish was an entertaining band that cranked out a bunch of memorable hits throughout the 1990’s. The song in question today is “Sell Out,” which appeared on their 1996 release Turn The Radio Off. Just a glance down the track listing of the band’s albums will tell you that they were the anti-authoritarian types (shocker), but what punk band wasn’t?

“And I don’t remember what I read

Don’t remember what they said

I guess it doesn’t matter

I guess it doesn’t matter anymore”

“Sell Out” was a song with a message, loaded and pointed at the scenesters who would get pissed and jump ship on their fandom if one of their favorite bands decided to rise above playing the dive bar circuit and get a record deal, get their songs on the radio or start playing to a wider audience. The thing is, you see, that people who wish to make a living by playing music need to take steps towards that end by taking some advantage of their talent and resulting popularity.

“You’re gonna go to the record store

You’re gonna give ’em all your money

Radio plays what they want you to hear

They tell me it’s cool, but I just don’t believe it”

The song deals with the initial skepticism when it comes to inking a deal with a record company, and the reality that popular programming is very purposely rigged to entertain the easily entertained and to line the pockets of record executives. However, if that’s all fine and dandy to you, you sign on the dotted line, because that situation will still likely be better than flipping burgers and having to split a hundred bucks with your bandmates at your sparse gigs.

“Sell out, with me, oh yeah, sell out with me tonight

The record company’s gonna give me lots of money

And everything’s gonna be alright”

“Sell Out” is insanely catchy, rife with blindingly fast guitar playing and rousing trumpet blasts, and the unmistakably 90’s ska-punk tone of lead singer Aaron Barrett. Despite his own hesitations, and discouragement from whoever “she” was, he signed and ended up being a rock star, in a long-running band. Barrett ultimately became the only original remaining member of Reel Big Fish, which formed in 1992.

“No more flipping burgers, putting on my silly hat

You know I don’t want that no more

And I didn’t ask when we get paid

I quit my day job anyway”

Check out this catchy hit from Reel Big Fish, and watch the music video I have posted below! It’ll be stuck in your head for a good, long time. Flashback to the 90’s with me each week with rundowns on handpicked songs that I grew up listening to! “Growing Up 90’s” airs every Tuesday here at The No Seatbelt Blog!

“‘Baby, don’t you sign that paper tonight,’ she said

But I can’t work in fast food all my life”

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