As you’ve probably heard, there’s a new Lauryn Hill song. It sounds… well, it sounds like it was recorded in a hurry to pay off a tax bill, which is apparently exactly the case (unfortunately, the quickie release didn’t save Hill from a three-month jail sentence). The vocals and lyrics are decent enough, but the beat sounds like it was slapped together in GarageBand with deadlines in mind. Of course, Hill’s not exactly the first artist to have to make a record under duress; here’s a selection of records made for weird reasons over the years, some hilarious, some sadly rather less so.
Willie Nelson — The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?
This album bears the title The IRS Tapes because it was made after the IRS seized all of Nelson’s assets in 1990, having worked out that he hadn’t been paying his taxes for years. Oh, Willie. Couldn’t you have just sold some weed or something? (OK, so it would have had to have been a shitload of weed to pay off $12.6 million of back taxes.)
Nas — Life Is Good
Nas may not have made this specifically to pay off his IRS bills, but he must be glad it did so well (or then again, perhaps he isn’t). Either way, he’s not seeing a whole lot of the money from this record in his bank account, and won’t be doing so until his epic tax bill is paid off.
UB40 — All the Best
An even more depressing story here: long-standing UK reggae group UB40 have sold something like 70 million records over their 35-year career, but that didn’t prevent them from being declared flat broke in 2012. To help settle their debts, they sold the rights to their back catalog to UK label EMI — who promptly cashed in with this otherwise superfluous best-of compilation. Don’t buy it.
Van Morrison — Contract Breaking Sessions
It’s not just the IRS that musicians are in thrall to, however. As we noted a while back, the contractual obligation album is, for better or worse, a recurring theme in rock ‘n’ roll history. This is the most hilarious example of the phenomenon: a collection of deliberately ridiculous songs made to extricate Morrison from an unwanted contract. The highlight? “Big Royalty Check,” clearly.
SSV-NSMABAAOTWMODAACOTIATW — Go Figure
Another one in the time-honored tradition of middle fingers raised at record companies, this was delivered to Warner Bros subsidiary East West Records by Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy in response to a demand for a new album. The acronym that makes up the “band” name stands for “Screw Shareholder Value – Not So Much a Band as Another Opportunity to Waste Money on Drugs and Ammunition Courtesy of the Idiots at Time Warner.” SNAP.
Pete Best — Best of the Beatles
Still, it’s not all bad — sometimes records made under duress end up being hilarious. Like this one, for instance: a record made specifically to annoy Pete Best’s famous former bandmates. As anyone vaguely versed in Beatles history knows, Best used to be the band’s drummer, and was none too pleased when they sacked him in 1962. As such, calling this 1965 solo record Best of the Beatles was an amusing way of getting his revenge, and all the funnier because it wasn’t entirely deceptive — he was Best, after all, and he had been in the Beatles. This argument probably wasn’t a great deal of consolation to people who bought the record expecting a Beatles best-of, but caveat emptor, and all that.
Ben Folds — ”One Down”
Even if you’re not a big Ben Folds fan, this is pretty great — a song about the drudgery of writing songs to order, courtesy of a deal he signed to do exactly that early in his career. The best part is the fact that the deal apparently at one part involved him writing .6 of a song, a requirement whose inherent absurdity provides rich comedy potential.
Faust — The Faust Tapes
It seems almost too outlandish to be true, but this album by German avant-garde lunatics Faust sold 100,000 copies in the UK, mainly because Richard Branson — to whose Virgin Records the band was signed, a fact that also seems too hilarious to be true — used it to prove a point: he slapped it together from a series of home recordings and unreleased tracks and sold it for 49p, the price of a single. It would have made Faust perhaps the unlikeliest chartbusters in history, except for the fact that its low price precluded it from chart consideration.
Happy Mondays — Yes Please!
The story behind Yes Please! has become part of Madchester folklore: the idea of sending Happy Mondays to record in Barbados, getting them off heroin in the process, probably sounded great… until in became clear that the island was basically swimming in crack cocaine. The resultant sessions were epically disastrous, and in the end, Shaun Ryder ransomed the master tapes for crack, making this perhaps the only album ever released to fund drug purcha… actually, no, that’s not true at all, is it?
Marvin Gaye — Here, My Dear
And finally, the greatest made-under-duress album of them all: Here, My Dear, an album made to chronicle the disintegration of Gaye’s marriage to Anna Gordy (the sister of his record company boss), who would collect half the royalties from this record. Gaye set out to make something “lazy [and] bad,” but his muse got the better of him, and what he ended up with was one of the best albums he ever made.