A Brief History of Contractual Obligation Albums, Good and Bad

A couple of weeks back, our redoubtable resident film expert Jason Bailey took a look at the most shameless paycheck performances in cinema history. They’re united by being pretty dreadful, and they got us thinking about similar situations in the world of music — specifically, albums that have been made to fulfill contractual obligations or other legal necessities. Curiously enough, while there have certainly been some terrible records made for such reasons over the years — either disinterested, lackluster or deliberately bad — there have also been some great ones, where legal wrangles and contract-related adversity somehow catalysed artistic inspiration. We’ve rummaged through our record crate and came up with some examples of each — let us know if you’ve got any more to add on either front.

Marvin Gaye — Here, My Dear

The circumstances around the release of this album have become part of musical legend — Gaye’s wife Anna, who also happened to be the sister of his record company boss, had filed for divorce, and Gaye’s epic cocaine habit meant that he couldn’t afford to pay the alimony. As a result, a deal was struck — Anna would get half the royalties from his next album. In an attempt at a spiteful kiss-off, Gaye set out to make an album that was “lazy and bad”. What he ended up making was a masterpiece, an album that catalogued the disintegration of his relationship with forlorn candour and genuine anguish. One thing did work out as Gaye planned, though — on its release, Here, My Dear was met with bewilderment from his fans, and sold very, very badly.

The verdict: Good. Great, even.