Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published September 8th 2019
Music against music resulting in music
This column is brought to you by "biting the hand that feeds you".
This may come as a surprise, but the music industry is occasionally not particularly nice to the people under its banner. I'm not just talking about managers (like John Fogerty's manager who tried to sue him for plagiarising a song he himself wrote because said manager had managed to secure the rights) or about groupies or about a fickle record-buying public. I'm talking about the industry itself. The record companies and labels and bigwigs who tend to treat artists like commodities and not people.
No, this is not all music involves... Unfortunately.
Now, look, I'm not blind to the realities of business. Records have to sell, to make money, to do something in order for the labels to maintain interest in the people they contract. What this means for the artist is that they are often forced into situations that are not the best for them artistically, or they are forced into contractual situations that can be over-demanding mentally, emotionally and physically. Of course, today, with the DIY attitude of many artists, this is something that is becoming less and less prevalent, but there is still that advantage of being with a big-name label of having more resources to promote you and your work than an individual going it alone might be able to muster. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. (Similar things are prevalent in the publishing industry; while I would not self-publish, I do like working with independent and small publishers.)
However, some artists do not appreciate their musical overlords. And so, in order to show their dissatisfaction, they write songs about their plight. And these same music companies let them record and release them. Still, I guess these are diss tracks, and so they have a history in music.
Yeah, I don't get it either, except to say that maybe some record company executives just let anybody on their books release anything if they think they're going to make money from it.
Now, before we start, there is 'Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma,' by Melanie, which complains about the way song-writers are treated, but I find the song, like many of her songs, a little twee (though I do like 'Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)'.
'So You Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star' by The Byrds (1967)
Apparently, this song was written as a jibe against manufactured music like The Monkees. What would they say about today's Idol et al. stars? But, at its core, there is also the deeper meaning of having a go at the music industry as a whole in trying to find music everywhere and forcing everyone into little pigeon-holes of music. There is no genre-hopping (which The Byrds went on to do when they virtually created country-rock with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo), just doing what the company demands. There is a bitterness about the lyrics and the sentiment. And yet it is a great song. Lyric example:
"Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware And in a week or two if you make the charts The girls'll tear you apart…"
'Have A Cigar' by Pink Floyd (1975)
From the brilliant Wish You Were Here album, this Pink Floyd song (featuring Roy Harper on vocals, one of only two Pink Floyd songs with a guest vocalist) is about the hypocrisy of the music business (according to Roger Waters, who wrote it). It is told from the point of view of an industry bigwig, who wants the band to keep on doing what they were doing for as long as possible, to make money for everyone, artistic merit be damned. This is an angry song, but it is Roger Waters, so that's not really a surprise.
"I've always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere;
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think,
Oh, by the way, which one's Pink?..."
(One of my favourite lyric lines ever, by the way.)
'E.M.I.' by Sex Pistols (1977)
The Sex Pistols were signed to the record label E.M.I., but then they had their rather infamous interview on the Today show (detailed in wonderfully in The Filth And The Fury) and were dropped. The song itself rails against the company for contracting them, thinking what they did was all an act. EMI wanted to be seen as different, but they were still just the same old record company they had ever been. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) said it was one of his favourite Sex Pistols' songs. I reckon it is right up there as well.
" And you thought that we were faking
That we were all just money making
You do not believe we're for real…"
'Mercury Poisoning' by Graham Parker (1979)
Graham Parker decided he didn't like how his old label Mercury had treated him and he let everyone know it on this incredible B-side. Parker could rock with the best of them, and this is what happens when anger and rock combine to produce something impressive. He does not hold back; a listener is left in no doubt as to just how he feels.
" The company is crippling me,
The worst trying to ruin the best, the best
Their promotion's so lame…"
'Paint A Vulgar Picture' by The Smiths (1987)
This is an incredible song about the way record companies take a dead artist and milk them for all they're worth. It namechecks companies and is brutal and blatant in what they are saying. Songwriters Morrissey and Marr just let everyone have it with both barrels. I heard it when I got the Strangeways, Here We Come album and it stunned me (though I did buy the album for the song 'Girlfriend In A Coma'). This is another angry song.
"Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra track and a tacky badge…"
'Download This Song' by MC Lars (2006)
This song is about, basically, how record companies are stuck in the past, and do not understand the realities of music in the twenty-first century. There is no subtlety here – that is exactly what it says in the lyrics. Not only that, because of the new way music is created and sold, he is actively encouraging his listeners to download the song, and not buy it, so not only biting the hand that feeds him but also cutting off his nose to spite his face. Borrowing the guitar line (and "la-la"s) from Iggy Pop's '[IThe Passenger[/I]', it is one of the few songs that involves rapping that I really enjoy.
"Music was a product, now it is a service
Major record labels, why are you trying to hurt us?..."
And there you have it, six songs that were released by the same music industry they railed against. It's quite circular, but I still find it amazing that these songs were released by major record labels. Wow.