From Richard Barnes’ 1995 release notes: "Part way through the recording a rough mix of ‘Tommy’ played to influential rock journalist Nik Cohn got a lukewarm reception. They desperately needed his favorable review, so, on impulse, Townshend, knowing Cohn was a pinball fan, decided that Tommy might play some sort of sport like football or perhaps even…’pinball.’ ‘It’ll be a masterpiece,’ was Cohn’s immediate response. It was meant to be ‘teenage-like and slightly sleazy’ according to Townshend. ‘Something a school teacher would disapprove of.’"
In an early song list, this song preceded the above two songs. The original beginning of the lyrics was "Since I was sixteen I’ve been attracted by silver balls. Used to go to the fairgrounds straight to the slot machine halls."
It was recorded at Morgan Studios, London on February 7th, 1969 and was released as a single ahead of the opera on March 7th, 1969 in the U.K. and March 22nd in the U.S. On the U.S. picture sleeve it was described as being from the rock opera "Tommy (1914-1984)." It reached #4 in the U.K. and #19 in the U.S. It was also a Top Twenty international hit for The New Seekers in March 1973 and a #7 for Elton John in the U.K. in March 1976.
From the Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy liner notes by Brian Cady:
Produced by Kit Lambert. Completed and mixed at Morgan Studios, London on February 7, 1969.
"’Pinball Wizard’ is, quite simply, quite pimply, from Tommy. It’s my favorite song on the album and was actually written as a ploy to get Nik Cohn, who is an avid pinball player to be a little more receptive to my plans for a Rock Opera. Nik writes on and off for the New York Times. I know which side my Aronowitz is buttered, mate!"
Released as a single ahead of the release of Tommy. In the U.K. it was Track 604027 and was released on March 7, 1969 reaching #4 on the charts.
The U.S. issue, Decca 732465, came out March 22, 1969 and got to # 19 in Billboard, #15 in Cash Box.
It was The Who’s first single issued in stereo. In both countries, the B-side was "Dogs Part II."
Track #11 on My Generation – The Very Best Of The Who.