Contract and Expel

Famous parting shots from artists formerly "under exclusive arrangement" with their labels

Had relations been warmer between him and Warner Bros., we might still be on a first-name basis with the Artist Formerly Known As Prince. He's made no secret of his disdain for the terms of his recording contract, to the point of shaving his facial hair so it spelled out "SLAVE" on his right cheek. You can tell The Purple One's heart wasn't into his latest dud Chaos and Disorder (see the review on page 104); the cover's graphics include a human heart being flushed down the toilet! And in case you miss the point, there's this caustic disclaimer:

"Originally intended 4 private use only, this compilation serves as the last original material recorded by (symbol) 4 Warner Brothers Records. may U live 2 see the dawn."

In other words, a big F U 2 WB!
We wondered how many other disgruntled recording acts have risked artistic suicide and alienating their public just to beat out an unbearable contract. The highlights from our findings, in chronological order:

1964 File under: Papa's Got a Lotta Nerve! When James Brown gets into one of his periodic funks with longtime label King Records, he simply spins on his heels and starts recording illegally for another company! Once Brown's Smash Records debut, "Out of Sight," starts climbing the charts, King goes out of its mind and gets a court order prohibiting Smash from issuing any more records bearing the Godfather of Soul's vocals. Which explains such misleadingly titled instrumental albums from Smash like James Brown Plays the Real Thing, credited to "James Brown and His Orchestra."

1970 After eight years of being constantly undermined and censored by their label, the Rolling Stones owe Decca Records just one last 45. The lads rise to the occasion, submitting a ditty that poses timeless musical questions like "Who do I have to pay to get my ass fucked?" Snatches of the thoroughly unreleasable "Cocksucker Blues" can be heard in the extremely limited-release documentary of the same name, a film even the Bad Boys of Rock prudishly tried to suppress.

1971 When minor league Wilkes-Barre rockers the Buoys get wind that Scepter Records is going to drop them after releasing only one 45, they tap songwriter Rupert Holmes to write the most offensive tune he can muster (besides "The Pina Colada Song"). Holmes comes up with "Timothy," the only song about cannibalism ever to grace the Top 40 (unless you count "The Purple People Eater"). The song tells the tenderhearted story of three hungry miners trapped underground who decide that dinner is on the littlest guy. When Scepter gets wind of the ensuing controversy, it circulates a bogus story that Timothy is a mule. Mule, my ass!

1972 Billy Joel is trapped on the crummy Family Productions label, run by veteran music-biz rip-off artist Artie Ripp. So anxious is Joel to be rid of his Ripp ties that he changes his name to Billy Martin, hides out at a cocktail bar for two years and tickles the ivories for tips. As if Billy's deal with Ripp wasn't humiliating enough, the company accidentally masters his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, at a faster speed, giving the Piano Man a decidedly Smurfian sound.

1975 Riding out his United Artist Records contract after the implosion of his group Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe infuriates the corporate wussies with ridiculous Bay City Rollers tribute singles like "(Going to See the) Roller Show," not to mention his snide inside joke "I Love My Label." Wotta kidder!

1977 Never mind the advance money--where's the kill fee? Compare the paltry $100,000 the Sex Pistols snag for signing with EMI to the princely $125,000 the punks get to leave EMI ASAP. As the group's song "EMI" tells us, the Pistols find no better home at Herb Alpert's A&M label, although they do get $200,000 to vamoose without releasing a note of music. Plus, the band keeps the $400,000 signing fee from the very week before. There's no business like the lazy-sod business.

1978 Rather than deliver his next studio album, Squeezing Out Sparks, to Mercury Records, Graham Parker tosses his lame-duck label a double-lame live album in the hopes that he'll get dropped twice as fast. And it works! While the cover of The Parkerilla features an unattractive shot of the snarling singer as a teenage werewolf, the musical contents are even more grotesque. Coupled with tepid live performances of his early classics is a new studio recording: an incomprehensibly awful disco version of "Hey, Lord, Don't Ask Me Questions." God to Parker: You're going straight to disco inferno, putz!

1980 Cheesy Liverpool New Wave group The Yachts is all geared up to sail away from its label, Radar Records, also home to Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Jokers that these lads are, they title their second LP Yachts Without Radar. In keeping with its title, the record goes nowhere.

1980 Arista probably wishes it never asked for Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Record, the comedy troupe's least amusing album. Besides containing the "Rock Notes" skit that gave Toad the Wet Sprocket its name, Contractual Obligation Record sports "Farewell to John Denver," a six-second cut which finds Eric Idle portraying the four-eyed folkie being strangled. Although Idle only gargles six seconds of "Annie's Song," Denver successfully sues for a copyright violation.

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