If there's one thing that drives rock musicians to write music, more than any other subject, it's drugs (and lots of 'em). Shortly behind that, is sex, life on the road, different kinds of drugs, their own balls and how California is, like, totally fake and stuff. Before you get to the end of the list, though, you find good old fashioned revenge and mindfuckery, as was the case with some of these great (and not so great) rock albums.
Elvis was a live-rocking legend. To this day, people pay good money to see Elvis impersonators. A concert tour has been arranged this very year in which old videos of the King will be projected on to a live stage while musicians play behind him simulating a real performance. If we're willing to resurrect him as a hologram just to get a small taste of what it was like to see Elvis live on stage, it stands to reason that an Elvis live album would be pretty awesome, right? Did you really answer "yes" to that question? Would we even bring it up if the answer was "yes"? Look alive for fuck's sake.
With Elvis, anything can happen.
In 1974, Elvis was smack in the middle of his most prolific touring years, while simultaneously touring the middle years of the prescription pill addiction that ultimately led to his death. It was during this time that his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was looking for something to sell to the crowds at his sold-out shows beyond the usual trinkets (fake sideburns, those big gold sunglasses, XXXXL sequined jumpsuits, the usual). He finally settled on putting together a live Elvis album. The problem with this plan was that Presley's record company, RCA records, owned the rights to all of the songs in his catalog. Releasing them would require paying royalties out the ass.
This is Colonel Tom Parker. He doesn't like to fuck around.
Fortunately for The Colonel's ass, Elvis was a touring machine, and there was enough recorded material to fill out an album without having to pay royalties. Unfortunately for everyone else's ass, this required the printing and distributing and an album without any actual music on it.
No music for you and Mr. Buttons, little Suzie!
For 37 agonizing minutes, purchasers of the album were forced to listen to the between-song prattle of an aging, drug-addled rocker; stammering stories, jokes with no context and aimless humming with not one single note of a real-live Elvis song anywhere to be heard. It was named the worst rock 'n roll record of all time in a book devoted to the subject, despite containing (and forgive us if we seem to be harping on about this) no actual music. Even Elvis himself came down from his pill-induced stupor long enough to be embarrassed by the very existence of this hunk of vinyl.
It also rose to #9 on the country music charts at the time. If the fact that Toby Keith has a career hasn't convinced you that country music fans will literally buy anything, that last sentence should.
If our math is correct, the 60s had just barely ended by the time 1970 rolled around. Bob Dylan was pleasantly in the middle of his "get high out of my mind and write awesome music" phase, the famous Woodstock festival was still ingrained in recent memory and disco had not been invented yet. In short, it was a great time to be the voice of a nation, and, ostensibly, a particularly great time to have a fan base consisting entirely of hippies.
Unfortunately, there are some hidden downsides to being the voice of a generation that doesn't just listen to music, but, like, lives it man. They have no money for buying albums, and, according to Bob Dylan, they hang around your house all the time, presumably looking for any narcotic dander that shakes free as you tear by them on your motorcycle. Also, they smell like dirty hippies. Just like any other thinking person who finds their property inundated with lice infested flower children, Bob Dylan wanted them gone. To make that happen, he, of course, recorded an album.
This is what vengeance looks like.
At first, Dylan claimed to be shocked and appalled by the negative response to the double album, predominantly filled with cover songs that sounded more like outright parodies. However, in a 1985 Rolling Stone interview with Kurt Loder, he finally owned up to why he really wrote it: so that all those damned flower children would move on and find someone else to put on a pedestal. When Loder asked why he felt the need to make it "a double-album joke," Dylan pointed out that "if you're gonna put a lot of crap on it, you might as well load it up!"
We know that game.
The album, as planned, was widely panned by anyone who even walked past a record store that happened to be selling it. Dylan got exactly what he wanted: A pile of shit he could point to when people tried to call him the voice of a generation. If only Kurt Cobain had those kind of problem solving skills.
A few years after founding member Syd Barrett lost his shit and left the group, Pink Floyd broke into the mainstream with a little LP called The Dark Side Of The Moon, the unofficial soundtrack for drug fueled viewings of The Wizard of Oz the world over. Because labels tend to think of recording artists as musical gumball machines, EMI did what record labels do best, pressuring Floyd to follow up their landmark achievement by making the exact same album. Eventually, the pressure became too intense. The band caved and recorded Wish You Were Here.
While the title track and its epic centerpiece, the two-part, 27-minute "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," celebrated the life and fall of Barrett, the rest of the album is a shit hot barb fired directly at the heart of greedy music industry executives. In an effort to drive this point home, the band recorded a video for "Welcome to the Machine" which depicts the artist-studio relationship with a delicate grace usually reserved for brutal genocide (you know, as opposed to the non-brutal kind):
Then there's the enigmatic line in "Have a Cigar," a tongue-in-cheek song told from the perspective of a greedy label manager who at one point says: "By the way, which one's Pink?" According to the band, this was a question actually asked of the group by saccharine managers who didn't understand that "Floyd, Pink" was not a person.
Topping off the album is the cover, picturing two businessmen shaking hands. One is calm and composed, looking confident that the deal being made is to his benefit; the other looking submissively downwards, almost groveling. Also, he's on fire. Subtle!