Merry Christmas Eve-eve, friends and readers! I have prepared a little present for you. The first of my diversified
in which I expand my self-created sonic universe to include more than ten song playlists for books.
This week I bring you ten songs that tell a story. The story of an artist (or group of artists) struggling within a corporate machine milking their creativity for profit. The artists have made a devil’s bargain, and the results are songs passionate, raw, and wry.
1. “The Compromise” – The Format
Off of the now-defunct The Format’s second major-label album, Dog Problems. You may recognize their lead singer from current radio darling, Fun.
2. “Harder to Breathe” – Maroon 5
The first big hit for the band that gave us People’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2013, Adam Levine. These days it can be hard to remember that he is part of a band, and word is that his carousing kept his fellow musicians from hitting the studio on more than one occasion, but this song is from those early days. When he was chafing under the record exec’s boot, wondering how they dare tell the creative genius how and when to create. Not a hint of faux-reggae in sight, thankfully!
3. “Rabbit Heart” – Florence + The Machine
Flo’s label asked for an upbeat song, so she turned in this ode to the panicked realization that she may have traded creative autonomy for a shot at fame and fortune.
4. “Love Song” – Sara Bareilles
Bareilles’ label told her her album was not complete with out a love song, so she wrote one…about how she wouldn’t write one. As in the case of Maroon 5, her first big hit.
5. “Signing Emo” – MC Lars
Satirical tune by a bedroom-based rapper creating songs on his laptop, chronicling the struggle of a middle-aged A&R scout looking for bands to fit the trends.
6. “Barracuda” – Heart
The band wrote the song after shady dealings by their record label, which included releasing an album of old material they did not want to use and placing an ad insinuating that the Wilson sisters were lesbian lovers. From this odious situation came the classic rocker “Barracuda”, a statement on the nature of the record industry in general.
7. “Fuck You” – CeeLo Green
Another first hit, though CeeLo had charted previously as part of Gnarls Barkley. After writing more than seventy songs for Elektra, Green felt that there was simply no pleasing his label. So he wrote his fabulous, FCC-baiting kiss-off “to be an asshole, to be spiteful to the label.”
8. “You’ve Made Us Conscious” – The Audition
A tale of the struggle involved in being a touring band waiting to be ordained as “The Next Big Thing” by a major label. The Audition came up in the Chicago scene alongside Fall Out Boy and watched them skyrocket to success during the pop-punk boom of the mid aughts. There was more than a little bitterness in the lyrics of The Audition’s cerebrally-lyricked album Controversy Loves Company, but their second major-label-backed followup Champion featured plenty of radio-friendly love song fare.
9. “Shut Up and Let Me Go” – The Ting Tings
First there was a complete staff turnover at their first major label, then The Ting Tings’ band Dear Eskimo fell apart after months of being strung along and then dropped without notice. Two of the members of Dear Eskimo formed The Ting Tings, and mined their feelings of frustration and impotence for a list of hits including “That’s Not My Name” and “Shut Up and Let Me Go.”
10. “One Down” – Ben Folds
One of four-point-six songs Folds wrote to burn off the remainder of a publishing contract with a major label, so that he could get a recording contract. The lyrics are a hilarious commentary on artistic integrity:
“People tell me
Ben, just make up junk
And turn it in
But I never was alright with turning in
A bunch of shit
Don’t like wasting time
On music that won’t make you proud
But now I’ve found a reason
To sit right down and shit some out”
Thought: the crappy thing about getting super-pissed at your record label and writing an awesome song about it, is that you make them more money. Season’s Greetings everybody!