Last week, we listed the best songs about records. This got us to thinking about another genre of songwriting-- songs not about the medium of delivery, but about the record industry itself. For every ode like Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" and Devo's "Be Stiff," there are two more lampooning the industry for its greed and clueless execs.
Of course, you have to get to a certain level before you can start writing about the burdens of fame and the vicissitudes of the industry. This type of song can be controversial, as it risks alienating fans who may feel the artist is no longer in touch with what's "real." But it's so fun to hear the dirt straight from the musicians about what's going on in those backroom deals and closed-door meetings. Let's dive right in, shall we?
10. The Murder City Devils: "Another Round on You"
Remember when multiple execs vied to sign a band and booze flowed freely as market lubrication? Me neither.
9. The Drive-By Truckers: "Carl Perkins' Cadillac"Not so much a takedown as a chronicle of one of the greats of the industry, Sam Phillips of Sun Records. But the story takes on another dimension when you learn that it's rumored Phillips took the money for the Cadillac in question (awarded to the first Sun artist to record a hit song, given to Carl Perkins for "Blue Suede Shoes") from his artists' royalties.
8. Spoon: "The Agony of Laffitte" and "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now"Quoth Wikipedia: "Spoon signed to Elektra Records in 1998. Through this major label the band released A Series of Sneaks in May 1998. The album did not sell as well as the label had hoped; merely four months after the release of Sneaks, Spoon's Elektra A&R man Ron Laffitte quit his job, and that week the band was dropped from the label. Angry with Laffitte, who had promised to stick with the band, Spoon recorded a vindictive yet humorously titled two-song concept single entitled 'The Agony of Laffitte.'"
7. Jeffrey Lewis: "Don't Let the Record Label Take You Out to Lunch""Don't let the record label take you out to lunch-- you're the one who's gotta pay at the end of the day." Sage advice.
6. The Melvins: "Laughing With Lucifer at Satan's Sideshow"Practically a Mad Lib of statements record executives must have said to the band. "Any other major label would've dropped you by now... He's in a meeting, can he call you right back?" Ouch.
5. Tom Petty: "The Last DJ"Petty's 2002 album of the same name features several industry takedowns. "The Last DJ" tells the story of an old-school radio DJ whose freedom is increasingly restricted by the rise of commercial radio. Many Clear Channel stations refused to play this track because of its "anti-radio" stance. But as Petty explained to Mojo Magazine, "Radio was just a metaphor. 'The Last DJ' was really about losing our moral compass, our moral center."
4. Elliott Smith: "Angeles"Though many listeners tend to assume any less-than-crystal-clear reference in an Elliott Smith song is about drugs, a popular interpretation of this song is that it is about Los Angeles and the glossy world of the major-label music industry. The lyrics "Go on, lose the gamble, that's the history of the trade" are seen as a jab at an industry that profits while artists remain broke.
3. The Smiths: "Frankly, Mr. Shankly"While "Paint a Vulgar Picture" is probably the band's most famous song dealing with the record industry, we prefer "Frankly, Mr. Shankly," the resignation letter from the famously wordy Morrissey to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis. The last line, the caustic "Give us money," was left off the lyrics sheet. And after this album, the Smiths signed with EMI.
2. The Sex Pistols: "EMI" EMI signed the Pistols to a two-year contract, but dropped the group within months after finding out what they were really like (swearing on daytime television and spitting and puking on flights). This song taunts the label for getting in over their heads and hoping to make a quick buck on a hyped artist.
1. Pink Floyd: "Have a Cigar"The ultimate slimy record executive song, the granddaddy of them all, written before most listeners considered major labels a malevolent force.
Can you think of a song that takes a swipe at the music industry? Add it in the comments!