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
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.”