More Angry Songs about Record Labels

The undiscovered young talent gets their big break and a record deal, and soon realizes they were swindled by corrupt management and a major label.

It’s an old story, and a common theme that pops up in rock songs, often from well-established bands. (Though it seems especially common the ’70s.)

After writing about Macklemore’s “Jimmy Iovine” for my Indiepocalypse post yesterday, I stumbled on several more great angry songs about record labels. They didn’t fit into the post, but I still wanted to share them.

Graham Parker and the Rumour – Mercury Poisoning (1979)

I got a dinosaur for a representative,
It’s got a small brain and refuses to learn
Their promotion’s so lame,

They could never ever take me to the real ball game
Listen, I ain’t a pet, I ain’t a token hipster in your Monopoly set.
I’ve got Mercury poisoning.
It’s fatal and it don’t get better!

The Clash – Complete Control (1977)

They said we’d be artistically free when we signed that bit of paper
They meant let’s make a lotsa money and worry about it later
I’ll never understand
Complete control, lemme see your other hand
I don’t trust you, so why should you trust me?

Nick Lowe – I Love My Label (1977)

Deeply sarcastic, Lowe tossed off this track to get out of his major label deal with United Artists.

Oh I’m so proud of them up here, we’re one big happy family
I guess you could say I’m the poor relation of the parent company
They always ask for lots of songs,
but no more than 2:50 long so I write ’em some
They never talk behind my back,
and they’re always playing my new tracks when I come along

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Workin’ For MCA (1974)

MCA signed the young band for a seven year deal for $9,000.

Oh, nine thousand dollars just to sow to the wind.
Come to smile at the yankee slicker with a big old southern grin.
They’re gonna take me out to California, gonna make me a superstar.
Just pay me all my money, maybe you won’t get a scar.
Want you to sign the contract,
want you to sign the date.
Gonna give you lots of money
Workin’ for MCA.

Sex Pistols – E.M.I. (1977)

In October 1978, EMI signed the Sex Pistols to a two-year contract, but dropped them only three months later. They were quickly picked up by A&M, and dropped less than a week later. Virgin finally released their debut in May 1977, their third label in six months.

Don’t judge a book just by the cover
Unless you cover just another
And blind acceptance is a sign
Of stupid fools who stand in line
Like E.M.I.

The Smiths – Paint A Vulgar Picture (1987)

World tour, media whore,
please the press in Belgium.
This was your life.
And when it fails to recoup?
Well, maybe you just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

In one sense, this is the ultimate first-world problem — successful musicians complaining about bad business deals. Then again, for decades, signing with a major label was the only game in town if you wanted to find success in the music industry, and the labels exploited that monopoly.

But overall, I tend to agree with Trent Reznor, who said, “I don’t set out to write songs about record labels. Nothing could be more boring—with the possible exception of writing about tour buses.”


    Cherchez La Femme by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Ban: “Tommy Mottola…he’s on the road.”

    Tribe Called Quest, Check the Rhime: “Industry rule #4080, record company people are shady…”

    Don’t forget Indy 500 by Binary Star:



    The whole song is about the record industry (tryin’ to win the Indy 500) but this bit is especially great:

    You put food on your table playin the game wrong

    While you dialing that fast food, they eat filet mignon

    They applied the pressure, so you gave ’em a song

    And if that shit don’t hit, the next day you’re gone

    My copyrights are exclusive, for my uses

    They make you a public nuisance, every unit you get two cents!?

    I got influence, the underground, the X factor

    Record deals’ slavery, so when you sign say, “Yes master”

    Let’s not forget Cracker’s gem, “It Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself”

    Hey Roy, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Ah Virgin Records, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    And one time for the ladies, It ain’t gonna lick itself

    Ah Virgin Records, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Baby, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Everyone at Virgin Records, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    One for the ladies, it ain’t gonna lick itself

    What ‘chew waitin’ for, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Mr. Lott, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Everyone on Foothill Road, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Just so we’re not totally sexist, it ain’t gonna lick itself

    Virgin Records, it ain’t gonna suck itself

    Against Me!’s song “Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners”:

    We’ll coordinate the marketing, label, publicity, touring

    Consult the timing, presentation

    Go ahead, put this in context

    It’s three points on production

    15% to management

    10% to the agent

    5% to legal representation

    We’ve got an insurance plan

    To stretch the inevitable as far as you can

    Gotta make your money while you got the chance

    Do whatever it takes to sell it

    An interesting one comes from Jadakiss’s verse on Gang Starr’s “Rite Where U Stand”, in which J claims his bad contract has forced him to resort to drug dealing:

    “You wanna know why I invest all my money into haze and into dope / Cause right now, I’m currently a slave for Interscope”

    I think you forgot the best angry song against the music industry: Dinosaurs will die – NOFX

    Parasitic music industry as it destroys itself

    We’ll show them how it’s supposed to be

    Music written from devotion not ambition, not for fame

    Zero people are exploited there are no tricks up our sleeve

    Were gonna fight against the mass appeal

    Were gonna kill the seven record deal

    Make records that have more then one good song

    The dinosaurs will slowly die and I do believe no one will cry

    Buy Me A Pony – Spiderbait.

    But don’t be scared

    Of what we said

    ‘Coz there’s no end

    To being your friend

    But wait out in the hall

    We’ve just received a call

    We’ll have to dump you all

    But don’t you try

    To pass us by

    ‘Coz we own you

    Until we’re through

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