Music News

Contract and Expel

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.

1985 The entire early Eighties output of Neil Young is received as a personal affront by his new record label, Geffen. When ol' Neil treats his audience to a Devo-esque electronic album with automated vocals, a rockabilly album with songs about dancing with Nancy and Ron Reagan in the White House, and a bluegrass album accompanied by some old geezers called the International Harvesters, Geffen launches a $3 million lawsuit against Young for not sounding enough like Neil Young! Making "unrepresentative music" is how Geffen puts it, and a baffled Neil Young must work up a passable Rich Little impersonation of himself for his two remaining Geffen offerings. Probably should've just called J Mascis!

1986 After eight years of waiting for Tom Scholz to get around to making a third Boston album, Epic Records takes offense and starts withholding Scholz's royalties on the first two. Scholz's countercomplaint is that Epic rushed him into making Boston's second album, Don't Look Back, a mere two years after the band's multiplatinum debut. Sometimes, tedium can't be rushed!

1987 Desperate to get off Fantasy Records, John Fogerty gives the label all his Creedence Clearwater Revival publishing in 1973. By the time he releases his Centerfield album some 13 years later, he's still seething. The album concludes with "Zanz Kant Danz," a bitter paean to Fantasy prez Saul Zaentz. Offended by the song's suggestion that he can't cut a rug, and by the accompanying Claymation video that depicts him as a dancing, slobbering pig who steals everyone's money, Zaentz sues the panz off Fogerty. Not long after Fogerty is forced to rename the track "Vanz Kant Danz," Zaentz cites that the riff from Fogerty's latest hit "The Old Man Down the Road" sounds suspiciously like CCR's 1970 Fantasy hit "Run Through the Jungle"--and sets a legal precedent by suing John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself!

1993 George Michael refuses to be an indentured servant to CBS/Sony Records. After the label underpromotes his Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, George Michael relegates his vocal duties exclusively to his answering machine, which informs callers "I'm never gonna SING again" to the tune of "Careless Whisper.