Perfect Sound Forever

Please Release Me
Mangled and Disappearing Music

by Jason Gross (December 1996)

As Fishbone pointed out, music is just a modern industry with corporate interests not unlike any insurance company or manufacturer. They survive with profits and many times this means taking the low road for lowest-common denominator music and trying to shove artists into this mold. Many times this constitutes "creative input" as if they know what's best for their roster. These intrusions in artists' freedoms frequently wind up as embarassments and flops but they never learn their lesson, thinking that by acting in their best interests, they also have the artists' best interests in mind. This makes no sense and only feeds the overstuffed ego's of misguided executives.

By the way, there are plenty more legal battles that went on between artists and their record companies. I've just picked some of the best known ones. I have no doubt that this kind of thing goes on daily and not just at major labels either.

Bob Dylan The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Columbia)

Dylan His first album wasn't a big seller but with this release, he really got a reputation for himself. Unfortunately, Commie-baiting was still popular during the Cold War so his record company (and Ed Sullivan) balked on his John Birch song and reissued the album without it. For some reason, they took a couple of other non-political tracks off as well. Maybe because it was so early in his career, Dylan didn't have the clout to stop this (or maybe he thought it was good publicity). Nevertheless, he was a steady employee for Columbia for a good ten years after this and kept bootleggers real busy.

The Clash Vs. CBS Records

Clash Most of their existance was spent fighting CBS. The company actually released the wrong single on them once: for more details, listen to "Complete Control." If this wasn't bad enough, they also decided that their first album (one of my favorite record ever) didn't sound good enough to be released in the U.S. so they stalled it until 1979- even then, they reprogrammed it with singles. By that time, the band owed the company about four more albums. They released a double and triple album thinking that this would cover it but CBS said it wasn't good enough. By the time they had fulfilled their obligations, the band had fallen apart in more ways than one. Epic and CBS then dutifully released and rereleased their material more times than Elektra did with the Doors. Necrophilia with live corpses.

Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Soup (Alan Douglas/Reprise)

Hendrix Once again Alan Douglas couldn't resist overdubbing new parts on (this time with the Knack's drummer), trying to "improve" on what a goddamn certified genius had already done better than that wet-noodle could ever dream of in his pathetic life. He actually laid off this practice in the '80's with Hendrix's material. Still, Douglas has left a considerable trail of slime behind him for Midnight Lightning and Crash Landing. Voodoo Soup was such a fucking hodgepodge that most bootlegs of the same material were much better than this shit- First Rays of the New Rising Sun was more respectful and closer to what Jimi would have probably released if only because Douglas had zero to do with it. If Hendrix knew what would become of his work, he might have never picked up a Fender.

Prince Black Album

Prince For a while people believed that Warner brothers pulled the plug on this project (which kept bootleggers busy for years until it was officially released). Prince actually signed a contract with them where he had complete artistic control over his material. He admitted that the album wasn't the image he wanted to project even though rumors flied for years that he was under pressure from his label. Just goes to show you, censorship happens at home too. As a nice side note, the purple one once noted "It's easy to renogiate a contract- just tell them you're going to make a comedy album."

Frank Zappa Lather (Warner Brothers)

Zappa Kind of surprising that someone who was as independent minded as Zappa (he'd already set up Bizarre Records with Barking Pumpkin soon to follow) would have his work chopped into bits and pieces. Lather (to be released around the late 70's) got screwed by the record company royally- guess they didn't think that he deserved a big box set. This happened to many English acts in the '60s who had tracks left off their American LPs only to be pasted together into whole new albums but this was even worse.

A four-LP set was pretty much unheard of in the days before multi-CD box sets. Deciding that Zappa didn't deserve this luxury and probably that the public wouldn't shell out for it, they cut it up into Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan, Orchestral Favorites and elsewhere. Zappa got so pissed that he actually played the whole thing during a radio interview, after which Warners sued him for doing that. Since all the rest of Zappa's catalog has been reissued (with Zappa's approval), I wonder why they only reissued these knock-offs and waited 20 years to finally issue the Lather set this year.

The Rolling Stones "Cocksucker Blues" (London)

Mick and Keith London Records had decided that they didn't dig the Stones' ideas for albums covers. Could You Walk on the Water? (the Stones couldn't) looked too sacrilegious so they had to redo it as Aftermath. The Beggars' Banquet cover with its bathroom graffiti was too dirty so they turned it into an RSVP invitation instead. Having Mick spread-eagle nude on a centerfold was a little too progressive so that idea was (perhaps thankfully) scrapped for Their Satanic Majesty's Request. The riot cover of Street Fighting Man didn't sit well with them in 1968 so that was scrapped also. God, these guys had a real knack for visuals. This isn't even mentioning their drag outfit for Have You Seen Your Mother? (which London did allow).

Just as the Stones were about to set up their own label with Atlantic Records, London told them that they still owed one more single. The Stones gave them Cocksucker Blues. The travails of a young man growing up the hard way (so to speak) wasn't what London had in mind so it wasn't released. Sadly, the Stones themselves didn't think of it as much more than a middle-finger to London so they didn't put it out on their own label either.

The Beatles (Michael Jackson, CEO)

Butcher cover Since taking over their catalog, Jackson managed to stop Das Damen's "Song For Michael Jackson To $ell" (Magical Mystery Tour) and the Beastie Boys "I'm Down" (and who knows how many others). Still, the guy has no compulsion about Nike making "Revolution" into a sneaker commercial. This isn't even mentioning his suit against John Oswald for Plunderphonics (maybe Jackson didn't want people to see how he really dresses). This isn't saying that the Four Lads got much better treatment from Capitol, who mangaed to turn 5 UK albums into 9 American ones. And to think they were worried about a cover with butchers? Irony...

Negativland "U2" Vs. Island and SST

Negativland This has been pretty well documented by the band but I'll go over it in case you haven't heard. They sample part of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on this single- a deadpan geek recites the lyrics a la Steve Allen with some extra commentary over various radio/TV/CB interference. Island (U2's record company) didn't like this so they sued Negativland and their record company (SST).

Let me just point out two things. First, U2 was given songwriter credits so Island Records' beef had to be over the cover having the word "U2" in large letters thus "confusing consumers." Second, if the Irish brats were really such humanitarians, they could have stopped Island from destroying Negativland and SST. Oddly, Casey Kasim was lambasted much worse here but it took him years to drag this to court. To make matters worse, the band was actually sued for putting out a short book about the whole affair and was also screwed by SST for legal bills. This brings up SST's relationships with its artists and their tardy royalty payments but that's another story...

Neil Young Vs. Geffen

Neil At Shoreline After more than ten years with Reprise (Sinatra's label), Neil decided it was time to jump ship for, what he thought was, greener pastures around 1980. To say that this proved to be a mistake some understatement. Besides his personal problems with raising his son, Neil decided to take some sharp turns in his music. One LP would be heavy metal, another would be computer music, another would be rockabilly, another would be country, another would be blues. The only thing he didn't try out was rap (which may still happen). As he took all of these detours, his record company wasn't amused.

Some of the worst of it came when he was making his country record Old Ways. Geffen didn't want to put it out so Neil said he would go back and make more of it. He kept sending it to Geffen and they kept rejecting it. Eventually, they gave up and released it just to get it over with. They would still stop Young from releasing an EP to benefit the Farm Aid charity though. Even before this, they complained that his music didn't have enough rock to it so he took this literally and made a rockabilly record. It sold poorly and was skimpy on new material.

Geffen became so disgusted that they took the unprecedented move of suing him for purposefully sabatoging his career with uncommercial "unrepresentative" records in 1984. Those guys had no sense of humor. Luckily, everyone got what they wanted- Geffen got rid of Neil and Neil got back to Reprise in 1987. Miracously, as soon as he left Geffen, he put out material like Freedom and Ragged Glory, work that they would have certainly found "representative" of Young. Perverse doesn't even begin to describe a guy who would willfully sabatoge his own career just to show a record company he means business. Fortunately, Young is such a strong-willed performer that he was able to come out the whole ordeal with a large fan base ready to embrace him again.