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Victims of the Music Business

nellie This week Jim and Greg stick it to the man, or more specifically — record companies. They discuss the phenomenon of major labels pulling the plug on established artists. The most recent victim is Nellie McKay, whose album Pretty Little Head was denied release by Sony Music. McKay wanted to release one version, Sony wanted to release another, and after the“pretty little”singer told her label to take it or leave it, they left it. Of course, upon hearing the advance copy, our hosts can't necessarily blame them.

Whether you enjoy the music or not, McKay's situation does pose an interesting question of how much creative control an artist has while under major label contract. As Jim states:“As long as there have been major labels, there have been executives deciding that they know better than the artist.”What are some of the other lost albums that fell prey to the big bad record company? Jim and Greg list off some of their favorites, including:

The Butthole Surfers

During the early '90s when "alternative" music was achieving commercial success, The Butthole Surfers were signed to Capitol. When the alternative fad waned, their label no longer appreciated the band's weird aesthetic and refused to release their album After The Astronaut. The Buttholes sued Capitol and demanded early release from their contract. The record, however, remained under Capitol ownership. Fans needn't fret though; most of the material was re-recorded and released by Hollywood Records.

Wilco

The hometown favorite's album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was delayed release by its label because it was more conceptual than it was pop. Conceptual, of course, is hard to sell, so Reprise Records asked Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates to go back into the studio and find a hit. Wilco decided to stand by its album, and bid farewell to Reprise. Normally it would take a lot of time and money to recover tapes made under a label's contract, but in this case, Reprise let Wilco take their music, rather than face a public relations nightmare. The album was eventually released in 2002 by a different Warner Music subsidiary and ended up being the biggest selling of their career. The story played out very nicely in life, in film, and most importantly, in print.

Fiona Apple

This singer's label woes were perhaps the most highly publicized of the bunch, but according to our experts, the often difficult artist needs to take some of the blame. Apple decided to work with producer Jon Brion for a third time, but felt she needed more time on this effort. Epic Records, not pleased with what they‘d been hearing all along, told Apple that they’d need to approve a track at a time. Or at least that's what she thought she heard. In a dramatic move, Apple stopped recording, leaving the album unfinished. Neither Epic nor Apple wanted to release the music, however some of the songs leaked, and the response was so overwhelming that Apple was inspired to start working again. This time, she joined up with producers Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew, and Extraordinary Machine can be heard in not one, but two forms.

Go to episode 117
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Music News

Hard rock gods Led Zeppelin announced its surviving members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones will perform live for one night only at England's 02 arena. The missing John Bonham drum slot will be filled by his son Jason Bonham. This event is all for charity. It's in honor of the late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegün. All proceeds will go towards the Ahmet Ertegün Education Fund. Robert Plant's altruism and high regard for Mr. Ertegün must be quite substantial considering he had this harsh thing to say back in 2002 about the band reuniting. Jim points out that nowadays no band ever stays broken up and predicts that once the band finishes this gig, they'll launch a world tour. Zep heads everywhere are crossing their fingers.

"Amateur" singer-songwriter Marié Digby rose to pop success this summer from her“DIY”video of her covering Rihanna's "Umbrella" on acoustic guitar. The video has been viewed 2.3 million times and launched her into US radio and iTunes success. It turns out her entire“amateur”marketing campaign was orchestrated by the not-so-amateur Hollywood Records. The Disney owned Hollywood Records signed Digby back in 2005 — well before she/the machine posted her YouTube video. The fact the she was on a major label was kept hidden until only very recently. Greg points out how this shows you how much a sham the major labels have become when Digby herself states she didn't think people would like her if they knew she was on a major label. Greg feels now that the artifice is exposed, her 15 minutes are over.

Pioneering jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul died recently at the age of 75. Zawinul was one of the founding members of the 1970s jazz fusion band The Weather Report. According to Jim and Greg, the band was the pinnacle of the jazz fusion sound, a melding of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. Zawinul introduced the synthesizer and electronic instrumentation to jazz. He helped pioneer the jazz fusion genre with Miles Davis on Davis's In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Jim and Greg also ask listeners not to blame Zawinul and Davis for where the jazz/rock fusion led to. As a tribute to Joe Zawinul, Jim and Greg play The Weather Report's most iconic song, "Birdland."

Go to episode 94