4 Crazy Reasons Classic Albums Almost Never Got Made
Making a classic album isn't easy. I mean, I wouldn't know for sure, but it must be at least kind of difficult. If that wasn't the case, everyone would make one, right?
That's what makes the albums on this list so special. To go along with all of the other difficulties that come with putting together something great, these bands and musicians had to fight through an extra step of insanity before some of their best work could see the light of day. For example ...
Green Day's American Idiot Replaced a Completed Album That Was Stolen from the Band
Green Day, my absolute favorite band in the world to write about, were in a bit of a slump by the time 2003 rolled around. Their last proper studio album, 2000's Warning, was a commercial disappointment. Furthermore, Avril Lavigne's debut album had come out a year earlier, and there's no way the band wouldn't have felt at least partially responsible for laying the tracks that let that shit train pull into the rock station.
This has to be the worst thing to ever happen at the Viper Room.
Understandably bummed, Green Day took a break from making music. When they finally reconvened to record a follow-up to the folk-influenced Warning (a B-sides and rarities collection, Shenanigans, was released in 2002), it should come as no surprise that the band made a focused effort to return to their roots by recording an album of up-tempo punk songs reminiscent of those found on their earliest records. What is slightly more surprising, though, is what happened when they finished recording that album.
Apparently, someone just stole that shit. Like picked it up and walked out of the studio with it, never to be seen again. That's the story the band has always stuck to, at least. The album would have been called Cigarettes and Valentines and, if I'm guessing, it would have been kind of terrible. Evidence of that can be found in what the band decided to do after the theft, which, basically, was to take it as a sign that they should just record a different album altogether.
Wait, what? That seems like an awful lot of work, right? Were there no backup copies of this stuff? Sure there were, but it was decided that they "just weren't the same" and that the material in general wasn't "maximum Green Day" (which at the time couldn't have meant much more than "lacking booger lyrics").
"Actually, the band was already blah blah yawn whatever," said some sad Green Day fan just now.
So, instead of trying to salvage that album, the band gave it another shot with all-new material. As luck would have it, they could probably feed their high-end-eyeliner habit for the next hundred years with the money they made from that decision.
The album that resulted from those sessions was called American Idiot, and it definitively proved that "anti-war rock opera" was a hole in the market that desperately needed to be filled, eventually selling 6 million copies.
What became of that other album, though? Did it ever surface? Interestingly, there are some Green Day conspiracy theorists who claim it has ...
That's an album called Money Money 2020 (pronounced "money money two-thousand twenty") by a band called the Network. It was released on Billie Joe Armstrong's own record label and, for a variety of reasons, many people suspect that "The Network" is actually "Green Day" and "Money Money 2020" is actually "Cigarettes and Valentines." If you give it a listen, it's hard to imagine that the two voices you're hearing aren't Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt, and the band does have a long history of releasing albums under wacky side-project names, but there's never been any confirmed connection between the two albums. Whatever Money Money 2020 may be, it's definitely not the kind of thing you write a Broadway musical over.
Glee fans, rejoice!
That takes a special kind of album, and this one came one honest studio employee away from never existing. Supposedly.
The Who's Best Album Was Almost a Science Experiment
Internet users are forever indebted to the 1971 album Who's Next for providing the soundtrack to one of the most meme-tastic TV show intros of all time.
The enthusiastic scream that's served as the rim shot to so many David Caruso punchlines is from "Won't Get Fooled Again," the closing track on what could very well be the Who's finest album (and they must have recorded millions by now, I bet). To give you some more evidence of its validity to that claim, this is also the album that gave us the song that 9 out of 10 of your friends think is called "Teenage Wasteland."
That song is actually called "Baba O'Riley," and it's a great example of what the album that we know and love as Who's Next could have been. Here are a few fun facts:
- "Baba O'Riley" was originally 30 goddamn minutes long.
- At one point, it was believed that the famous backing track was made by inputting the vital statistics of a man who thought he was God into a synthesizer.
- Motherfucking what?
Yeah, and we're just getting started. See, the album that spawned some of the Who's best songs (and an infuriating Limp Bizkit cover) was originally intended to be a batshit insane experiment called Lifehouse.
No, not that Lifehouse. This experiment wasn't about writing Nirvana songs for soccer moms, any more than this article is completely about jokes 90 percent of the audience won't understand. This Lifehouse, in one of its earliest forms, was a wacky plan to create an entire album in the borderline incomprehensible manner that music lore once claimed gave birth to "Baba O'Riley," except using random audience members instead of shamans or whatever the shit. From there, the project was said to be everything from a rock opera (aren't they all?) to the soundtrack to a film before taking its final form as the impetus for Pete Townshend to fulfill his own wish to die before he got old.
It was too late like four months after he said it anyway.
That's a suicide joke, ladies and gentlemen, because the only satisfying outcome of the Lifehouse concept was that trying to turn the music of the Who into a social experiment sent Pete Townshend fleeing into the warm embrace of a nervous breakdown.
Oh, and also, Who's Next is basically the assembled wreckage of that project. After abandoning the Lifehouse concept, the Who re-entered the studio with producer Glyn Johns and turned the best material into an album. That album is a mere 13 minutes longer than "Baba O'Riley" itself was intended to be.
If you think cuts like that are ever a bad thing, you're crazier than goddamn Pete Townshend.
Prince's Sign o' the Times Was Almost Three Separate Albums (One of Them Featuring Prince as a Woman)
As is the case with a few other albums on this list, the songs that make up Prince's super wonderful 1987 album Sign 'o the Times would have been released to the public in one way or another eventually. In those other cases, though, what we ended up getting was usually a superior replacement. I'd argue that's not the case with this album, even if it's one of Prince's best.
For one thing, most of the songs present on Sign o' the Times were supposed to be on an album called Dream Factory, which would have been the last of his albums to feature the Revolution, one of the only bands in music history to feature a practicing doctor (Prince, gynecologist) and a dude dressed as a surgeon (Matt Fink, keyboard).
He's also the lead singer of the Cure.
They were also the backing band for some of Prince's most enduring hits from his 1980s heyday, even when that only meant holding an unplugged electric guitar in the video for a song you didn't know existed until that very moment. But still, Prince + the Revolution usually added up to good times in the '80s. Whatever they brought to the music of Sign o' the Times would have been nice to hear, if nothing else.
There's another argument for why the songs of Sign o' the Times should have been released as intended, though, and it can be summed up in one word: Camille. That's the name of an album Prince recorded shortly after the Revolution was put down. What differentiates it from most Prince albums is that the part where he sounds like a woman is intentional.
If you were my what now?
See, if you're familiar with the Sign o' the Times album, you know that a few songs, like the kind-of-unsettling single "If I Was Your Girlfriend," feature sped-up vocals that sound as if they're being delivered by a woman. I'd love to embed a video for reference purposes here, but this is Prince we're talking about. You will find more video evidence online to support the existence of Bigfoot than you will to support the existence of practically any Prince song.
That's beside the point, though. What I'm getting at is that there are a bunch of songs on Sign o' the Times that inexplicably sound like Prince is singing them while tucking in front of a mirror like Buffalo Bill, and that was supposed to be an entire album. It was to be called Camille, and it came close enough to being released that a date was set (January 1987) and cover art was made. It's never been released to the public but apparently features a stick figure with X's for eyes and only says "Camille" on the cover.
This is not it. Bootleggers make album covers, too.
Because Prince isn't happy if The Man overseeing him is too, just weeks before the album's release, plans for Camille were put on hold in favor of packaging the material from Dream Factory and Camille together into a huge three-disc set with a few new songs under the title Crystal Ball. This time Warner Bros. was less receptive to the plan, because three albums at once is just crazy.
In the name of compromise, Prince cut it down to two discs and probably slapped that apocalyptic title on it more as a statement on his relationship with his record label in light of their refusal to love him unconditionally more than anything else. Whatever the case, it's still a pretty great album.
Neil Young Decides Album Is Too Depressing, Replaces With Even More Depressing Album
Neil Young sometimes makes rash decisions. Case in point, he once just up and left a joint (sounds highly unlikely so far) 1974 tour with Stephen Stills that had been under way for weeks by leaving a note that read, in its entirety:
"Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil."
So no one should be shocked that he sometimes releases and withholds (for decades) entire albums with just as much thought. Take the strange story of his long-unreleased studio album Homegrown. It's never surfaced in its entirety on the bootleg market, like so many other unreleased Neil Young albums have, putting it at a strong number two on the list of things his fans would most like to own (a bong shaped like Neil Young is number one).
What's most frustrating for fans who know of Homegrown and would like to hear it is knowing just how close it came to being released. Unlike the previously mentioned Camille album, not only was the cover art for Homegrown made, but we even know what it looks like:
Yep, that's a Neil Young album.
Even more maddening, Neil Young himself seems to hold the album in pretty high regard, calling it the "missing link between Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways, and Harvest Moon." If you're not a huge Neil Young fan, just know that those are mostly all really important albums of his, although he's batshit delusional if he thinks anyone legitimately cares about Old Ways.
No, you don't understand, it's really a country album.
He was even so excited about Homegrown at the time it was completed that he hosted a listening party so friends could check it out. On the same reel of tape as Homegrown was an album he'd finished in late 1973 called Tonight's the Night. When the album everyone had come to hear finished playing, Neil kept the tape going and gave Tonight's the Night another listen. At the conclusion of the accidental experiment, he decided that Homegrown was just too personal and "down" of a record to release, and decided to put out Tonight's the Night instead.
While I fully support that decision on the grounds that Tonight's the Night has always been my favorite Neil Young album, anyone who's familiar with it should have the same question I do. Just how "down" is Homegrown, exactly? I'm only asking because, holy shit, Tonight's the Night is a pretty dark album. It's basically a drug-fueled freak out recorded to commemorate the drug-fueled freak out and eventual death of supremely talented Crazy Horse (Neil Young's backing band, not ... the other guy) guitarist Danny Whitten, a man whose tombstone should be emblazoned with the words "Rod Stewart Did Not Write This Song" above a YouTube embed of this video:
When Neil Young fired Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse over his excessive drug use, he gave him $50 and an airplane ticket back to Los Angeles. The unfortunate legend has it that Whitten used the money to buy heroin and overdosed in a motel room later that night. While that's not completely true (he died from a lethal mix of alcohol and Valium), Young still felt responsible for Whitten's death. So how did he deal with it? By getting higher and drunker than he'd ever been and making a shambles of an album that, upon first listen, will probably strike you as something that shouldn't have been released.
It's sloppy and the sound quality sucks and Neil is trashed for most of the album and, because you know it's all about the death of a friend, even the song that's just about rolling a joint becomes really depressing if you think about it too much.
That's the entire sound of this album. People trying not to think about it too much. For an extra kick in the stomach, the most upbeat song is about going downtown to score drugs, and it features Danny Whitten, the man whose drug overdose everyone on the album is mourning, handling lead vocals.
It's hands down the darkest record Neil Young has ever made, and yet after listening to Homegrown, he was like, "You know, this is kind of a bummer, let's put out that record about the guy I think I might have killed instead."