When artists throw wobblies via their songs about the music industry, it’s hard to know if they’re putting their (Cuban) boots into their record companies or at radio stations.
“You got to yield to the little kings,” snarled Australian ‘70s jazz-rock fusion outfit Ayers Rock while Melbourne band MEO 245 in their pointedly titled ‘White Lies’ sing about an exec who down-dresses like a poor man “but has the heart of a rich man’s son” before the chorus “Why can’t they leave our dreams alone?”
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson were aghast when told by a radio executive their first record company was spreading the story they were in a lesbian relationship as a publicity stunt.
Amanda Palmer, ‘Please Drop Me’
The message to Roadrunner Records couldn’t be clearer: ”I don’t fit on your roster/ I’m tired of this pointless shit/ Please drop me/ What do I have to do/ I’m tired of sucking corporate dick.”
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When the Wu-Tang Clan co-founder got butthurt about the behaviour of record companies, he didn’t just have a go at a couple. No less than 40 were name-shamed including Bad Boy, Virgin, Mercury, Capitol and Atlantic.
Cold Chisel,’You Got Nothing I Want’
Cold Chisel were so pissed at how a record exec treated them on their first US tour that Jimmy Barnes wrote a damnation of his type, so aggro it was chosen first single from Circus Animals.
The Rolling Stones, ‘The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man’
When Mick and the boys went to America, Decca Records put one of their promo guys George Sherlock on the road with them. They found him self-important so out came lines like “Yeah, I’m real real sharp, yes I am/ I got a Corvette and a seersucker suit, yes I have.”
Kasey Chambers, ‘Not Pretty Enough’
Musing on the entertainment industry at the time, Kacey Chambers once told an interviewer: “man, I don’t fit into this superficial industry, I’m not pretty enough.”
Ironically, it was her commercial breakthrough after becoming the most added track on commercial radio in 2002.
Pink, ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’
The Pinkster gave a death glare to her label boss LA Reid: “LA told me, ‘You’ll be a pop star/ All you have to change is everything you are’/ Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears/ She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me.”
Beans On Toast, ‘Wave Goodbye to EMI’
British folk singer Beans On Toast (aka Jay McAllister) emerged in 2005, and released a new record each year on Dec 1, his birthday.
Lemmy Kilmister’s inability to suffer fools gladly included flooding a radio studio with a firehose because the DJ kept him waiting. This one was about a record company which crossed him. Maybe the one which refused to release an album considering it rubbish, and then rushing it out with bells and whistles when Motorhead had huge success elsewhere.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘Working For MCA’
The song recounted how MCA Records signed the southern boogie band for $9,000. Working for MCA had its perks. In his memoirs, their A&R guy Al Kooper recalled when they were recording their Second Helping, the company paid for the wood-panelling to be replace by tie-dye and bedrooms and jacuzzis installed with hot and cold running groupies and dealers.
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, ‘Believe It Just Like Me’
“I’ve worked for years and years to get my music played,” goes the first line on a song which hit out at Australian commercial radio’s preference for playing overseas acts. Thorpe at the time was a monster live drawcard and just had a #1 with “Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy”.
Sex Pistols, ‘EMI’
EMI aroused the wrath of Johnny Rotten after it dropped the Sex Pistols like a hot turd after the infamous December 1976 swearing incident on Britain’s prime time TV’s Bill Grundy Show. EMI insisted they go on after Queen pulled out when Freddie Mercury had to go to the dentist.
The song – “Blind acceptance is a sign/Of stupid fools who stand in line/ Like EMI” – wasn’t just about the label. It was about every label. “I can’t stand those useless fools,” Rotten sniffed.
John Fogerty, ‘Mr Greed’ & ‘Zanz Kant Danz’
Saul Zaentz was the head of Fantasy, which signed John Fogerty’s early band Creedence Clearwater Revival. It made investments on CCR’s behalf which lost them millions of dollars.
Still brooding Fogerty recorded the two songs for his 1985 solo album Centerfield, which resulted in defamation lawsuits (for “Zanz can’t dance but he’ll steal your money”) and a copyright infringement case where Zaentz claimed the Fogerty solo “The Old Man Down the Road” ripped off CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” which Fogerty wrote but Fantasy had rights to, and caused the singer $1.35 million legal costs.
When Zaentz died in 2014, Fogerty posted the video for “Vanz Kant Danz” on social media as celebration.
The Smiths, ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’
On The Smiths’ final album, 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come, they penned an ode to record company greed. To wit, “Reissue, repackage, re-evaluate the songs / Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge” instead of waiting until the artist fell off the mortal coil. At last count there were five dozen Smiths reissues.
Rose Tattoo, ‘The Radio Said Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Dead’
Angry Anderson waxed lyrically about the joy of playing live the thunderous noise emanating from the Tatts’ wall of amps “Twelve bar blues in four bar time/ Beautiful words that just fell in rhyme/ Radio said rock ‘n’ roll is dead/They’re going insane they must be out of their head/ Radio said rock ‘n’ roll is dead/ But I don’t care what the radio said.”
The Clash, ‘Complete Control’
One of the great punk tirades against corporate culture, “Complete Control” was about the time CBS released “Remote Control” as a single without consulting the band. “They said we’d be artistically free when we signed that bit of paper,” snarled Strummer on the track.
In 1980 when Chuck Berry was asked by Jet Lag fanzine to review some modern tracks, Berry said “The rhythm and chording work well together. Did this guy have a sore throat when he sang the vocals?”
The song was also about the loss of punk ideals, of punk managers like The Clash’s Bernie Rhodes and the Pistols’ Malcolm McLaren took control of their acts. The title came from what Rhodes demanded at a Clash meeting.
Strummer remembered: “I came out of the (meeting) with Paul collapsing on the pavement in hysterics over those words.
Pink Floyd, ‘Have A Cigar’
Today, the music industry is pushing for record companies to take responsibility of the mental issues its artists have and pay for their treatment. But Pink Floyd were voicing concerns back in 1975 on Wish You Were Here, with “Have A Cigar” and “Welcome To The Machine”.
Roger Waters wrote it about how executives seemed to have little concern for co-founder Syd Barrett’s decline in mental health, and seemed to have minimum interest in the artists who were making them a lot of money. “Well, I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely/ The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think/ Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?”
R.A. The Rugged Man, ‘Every Record Label Sucks Dick’
Quite self explanatory: “And the executives at labels, they about equal to McDonald’s workers/
They all down to jerk us, trying to keep us poor on purpose/They expect that respect that they don’t give, so don’t think that it’s negative/ If you don’t want to let a record executive live.”
Jeffrey Lewis, ‘Don’t Let The Record Company Take You Out For Lunch’
New York singer songwriter and comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis had advice for young artists in 2003: “Don’t let the record label take you out to lunch/ You’re the one that’s got to pay at the end of the day/ And try not to want people to like you too much/ You’ll just need more and more flattery to recharge your batteries.”
Gang Starr, ‘Rite Where U Stand’
Jadakiss joined US hip hop duo Gang Starr in a general badass slam on the world but Interscope got the bing pow works with “You wanna know why I invest all my money into haze and into dope/ Cuz right now, I’m currently a slave for Interscope/ Respect first, then money – basic shit/ If you got niggas under pressure, you could take their shit.”
Graham Parker And The Rumour, ‘Mercury Poisoning’
Graham Parker And The Rumour were a great live act but their label Mercury Records failed to break them into the mainstream despite the hype. Parker’s manager was convinced his boys could have been as big as Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band if Mercury had kicked ass. Sang Parker: “Their promotion’s so lame/ They could never ever take it to the real ball game / Maybe they think I’m a pet.” Parker went on to sign to Arista which couldn’t break him either.