Browsing Tag

Neil Young

(Legal) Career Killers: Geffen Records v. Don Henley

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

Nothing can kill an artist’s career quite like a lawsuit.

After all, litigation not only taxes a party’s resources while putting them under an undue amount of mental and physical stress, it can also take time. Lots and lots of time.

And if an artist or band tries to take on their record label, time can be a real killer. After all, most labels simply put an artist on ice once the lawsuit is filed, essentially freezing their careers by refusing to release their recordings or promote them. Since most contracts have an exclusivity clause, artists often have limited-to-nonexistent options when it comes to recording on other labels or guesting on other people’s songs.

Simply put, for many musicians, time is a luxury they don’t have. All acts have a shelf life, and as Clive Davis once pointed out, if they aren’t in the public eye, they risk being forgotten about.

As such, artists end up losing years of their career that they’ll most likely never get back. For instance, George Michael was one of the biggest stars in the world when he sued Sony to try and get out of his record deal. The lawsuit dragged on for nearly two years and Michael’s career never quite recovered. Same for Prince when he challenged Warner Bros.

Same for Don Henley when he took on Geffen Records. Luckily, he had other things to fall back on…

(more…)

Career Killers: “No Code” by Pearl Jam

There were several reasons why Neil Young got the moniker “Godfather of Grunge.”

His 1979 album, Rust Never Sleeps, featured a highly distorted guitar sound that proved to be very influential with several major grunge musicians, including Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder.

Young would become a close collaborator and mentor to Pearl Jam, performing, working and touring together throughout the 90s and 00s. Young even helped inspire the name “Pearl Jam.” According to Rolling Stone, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were already considering using the word “Pearl” in their band’s name, and after attending a Young show in 1991 that featured several long instrumental jams, something clicked.

But it wasn’t just his music that was inspirational. Long known as an artist who refused to play by anyone else’s rules, Young was famous, or perhaps infamous, for making music for artistic reasons without regard for commercial success. In fact, his label once pressured Young for a rock album and he delivered a collection of rockabilly songs (they didn’t specify what kind of rock they wanted). His label then sued him for making music that was “not commercial” and “musically uncharacteristic” of his previous recordings.

Pearl Jam would take a page from Young’s book for its fourth album, 1996’s No Code. The more experimental, less mainstream and barely promoted album ended their run of commercial dominance and abruptly halted their seemingly inevitable march towards becoming the biggest band in the world. However, it may have also saved them.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Liz Phair”

Plenty of artists with cult followings go mainstream and become popular.

R.E.M. went from highly-regarded college band to one of the biggest and most acclaimed groups in the world. Metallica slowly and steadily built up a passionate fan base that kept growing in size and intensity until they exploded in popularity in the early 90s. Genesis established itself as a highly inventive artistic and progressive rock band before transitioning to FM superstardom.

In fact, these days, many “indie” acts are actually mainstream and do all sorts of things that artists like Fugazi and Neil Young would have considered “selling out.” Allowing your music to be used in commercials, TV shows and movies? Check. Praising pop stars and being influenced by their hit songs? Check. Working with hit-making producers and songwriters? Check and check.

Yet when indie queen Liz Phair did all those things in 2003, she provoked a furious, almost personal backlash that tanked her career. Maybe she was simply a few years too early. Or maybe she was never going to succeed because the same factors that led to her rise helped keep her down.

Or maybe it was because her self-titled 2003 album wasn’t as good as it could have been.

(more…)

The Reluctant Pop Star

“There is no such thing as a reluctant star. Stars are almost always people that want to make up for their own weaknesses by being loved by the public and I’m no exception to that.” — George Michael, 1987.

But there is such a thing as a reluctant pop star. George Michael was no different from the many singer-songwriters desperate for critical acclaim and credibility. What made him unique was that he was willing to throw away his chance at being the biggest pop star and sex symbol in the world because he believed that his songs were good enough to sell themselves.

And in most cases, he was right.

(more…)