Most musicians have to put up with record company executives being interfering dicks. It's part of the job, just like wearing sunglasses indoors and objectifying women.
Not all bands let them get away with it, though. Every now and then, through luck, opportunism or having balls of brass, some get to fight back.
#6. The Rolling Stones Release a Profane Single to Get Out of a Contract
Once upon a time, before Mick Jagger started to look like a South American transsexual, the Rolling Stones were the biggest outlaws on the planet (provided you put rapists, murderers and any other actual criminals or badasses in a category other than "outlaws").
"We're like John Dillinger, but with disappointing Super Bowl performances instead of bank robberies."
So it should come as no surprise that when the future ex-rebels were told they actually had to fulfill their contract with Decca Records before leaving for greener pastures, they weren't happy. Legal technicalities are for squares, baby. The Rolling Stones would not be held down by the man and his nitpicky adherence to the stipulations of binding contracts.
Fortunately for them, all they had to do was record one more single and they would be free to dominate the rest of the 1960s and most of the '70s before taking a now three decades long nosedive starting in the '80s. Fortunately for the premise of this article, they decided to make that single one of their most commercially unfriendly pieces of work of all time.
This was back before Mick Jagger was allowed to dress himself.
The song was called "Schoolboy Blues," though it would be forever known as "Cocksucker Blues." The title of the song was taken from its risque chorus, where Jagger pondered:
Oh where can I get my cock sucked?/Where can I get my ass fucked?/I may have no money/But I know where to put it every time.
Those lyrics work a lot better if you picture this face while reading them.
Predictably, the label wasn't too pleased and let the single gather dust for some time. The track did actually find its way to record store (remember those?) shelves some 13 years later, when Decca tagged it onto a Germany-only box set called The Rest of the Best. Before you rightfully turn that into a joke about Germany, understand that it was most likely an accident. The album was rereleased with the offending song deleted a mere four weeks later. It's never seen the light of day since, unless you count the scores of shady torrent sites that you can totally download it on for free. Or you could just check it out on YouTube. Don't even act like you don't want to.
#5. Trent Reznor Tells Fans to Steal His Album
Never let it be said that Trent Reznor doesn't care about you, Australia. When the legendarily cranky musician found out in 2007 that Universal Records was selling his latest album, Year Zero, for a whopping $35 in Australia, he had some questions. Namely, why was his album so expensive when the far less rocking but (at the time) far more popular Avril Lavigne was selling her album for a mere $21.99? If record prices were set based on the quality of the music, this disparity would possibly make sense. But that's not how it works.
If it were, Kiss would owe you $10 for every album purchased.
The brutally honest answer he received did nothing to improve his already gloomy demeanor. Here's a quote:
"It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out -- you know, true fans. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy."
"If you just sucked a little more often, we'd be able to cut your album prices."
That's definitely not music to the ears of a man who was actively campaigning to have CD prices reduced at the time. Rather than continuing the album-price argument with his label, Trent Reznor just straight up told his fans to steal the album from file-sharing sites online. And in case they couldn't find it (which, by 2007, everyone could), he did half the job for them and actually uploaded it himself.
Trent Reznor, seen here deciding who to throw his new Oscar at.
Unsurprisingly, this incident would mark the official end of Trent Reznor's involvement with Universal Records. So, hey, the label totally showed him! Where are you going to sell your music now, Angst Boy?
Reznor's answer to that question that we just made up was to release his next album, Ghosts I-IV, on his own label and give fans the option of downloading it for free or paying for it. And because there isn't a single person on the planet who doesn't want to screw over a record company executive in some way, Reznor's fans responded by making it one of the biggest moneymakers of the year anyway, raking in $1.6 million in sales for Reznor's newly formed Null Corporation label in a single week.
Reznor used the money that would have gone to his old label to fund further research into appearing coolly detached.
#4. The Clash Screw Their Label
When English punk rock legends the Clash hit the studio to record the follow up to their second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, the band didn't just want to make another boring single album, they wanted to make it a double. Unfortunately, having that kind of creative control in the '70s meant you either had a cowbell player and keyboardist in your band or you were Michael Jackson.
When your fans look like this, labels are hesitant to approve any ideas that
don't involve spraying the recording studio down with Lysol.
When they approached their record label, CBS, with the idea, the label flat-out refused.
The band attempted to negotiate and got pretty much nowhere, other than a minor concession that allowed them to record a free single to give away with the finished album.
This was just another one in a series of scraps with CBS, which the Clash had been arguing with since pretty much the day they signed their deal. The label had previously refused to release their debut album in the U.S., released singles the Clash didn't want released, asked them to clean up their sound and generally went around being dickish record company executives.
"We love your band! We just hate everything about your personality, style and musical tastes."
Still, Joe Strummer and company had no choice. They agreed to the deal and went into the studio to record their free single, presumably while CBS executives smugly muttered to themselves, "That's right. Do what you're told."
Only when the free single was returned to CBS, it arrived with a whole lot of B-sides. The band had added a load of extra tracks in the studio -- coincidentally, about an album's worth -- all paid for at the record label's expense. The Clash was a band that just kept giving.
Case in point: They invented the hover-guitar.
When London Calling was released, not only did it turn out to be a double album with a bonus hidden track, but -- due to the deal struck for the "single" to be free -- it was also sold for the price of a regular album. In other words, everybody won, except the record label. Just as it should be.