Article:Why are 'lost' albums lost? - 06/08/2015
Having fronted Mansun in 1990s, and now working as a producer alongside his solo projects, Paul Draper has watched albums vanish into studio cupboards from both sides of the control booth. With reissues and new editions of ‘lost albums’ continually cropping up the release schedule, in a guest column for Q he explores how a record becomes lost in the first place…
I’ve been busy this year trawling through a host of old demos and half-finished songs that I started putting together for my ‘lost’ solo album, Spooky Action, way back in 2003. Last year’s Mansun convention finally pushed me into digging out these songs and demos, which were in various states and finally completing them as my next production project, having just finished producing The Anchoress‘ debut album Confessions Of A Romance Novelist with multi instrumentalist Catherine Anne Davies, now a member of Simple Minds.
The demos and half-written songs for Spooky Action were archived on DVD-R’s and dumped in a stack of boxes after I abandoned the album all together back in the mid-2000s, I never expected to return to these songs ever again and I all but forgot about them. However, having promised the organisers of last year’s convention I’d give them one of these old songs to play, I had the daunting task of finding them and knocking them into shape. When I came to dig them out, for some reason I couldn’t find them anywhere in my studio.
It later transpired my studio assistant Ben had thought they were blank DVDs as I hadn’t labelled them up, and took them home to record Match Of The Day on. Thankfully the songs weren’t archived onto rewritable DVDs, otherwise my album would be a football commentary along the lines of, “hhhmmm he’s in a wide open space…” (now there’s an idea!) After a few unsuccessful attempts by Ben to record over the only existing version of my ‘lost’ album he gave up and managed to misplace it somewhere. After months of hunting, we finally found the album in his mum’s loft.
So, why was my album ‘lost’ in the first place and why are lost albums, well, ‘lost’? Some of the most famous lost albums’ disappearance can be attributed to all sorts of reasons – some real and some myth – with reasons ranging from mental illness, drug misuse, record company disputes, band infighting and break-ups, publishing disputes and even bad ecstasy trips being cited.
Prince, my favourite artist of all time, famously binned the Black Album just prior to its release in 1998, which I obtained as a teenager on bootleg vinyl before its eventual release. At the time he replaced its original release with that of Lovesexy, a lukewarm album, but a scintillating live spectacle, still one of the best concerts I ever attended.
The reason Prince pulled The Black Album is shrouded in mystery to this day but an even better album (the best of his career) that Prince also pulled was the original Crystal Ball in 1986. A triple album, and the last of his collaboration with The Revolution, it’s possibly the greatest triple album of all time and has never been released to this day. Wendy Melvin and Lisa Coleman had contributed enormously to the record but whether for financial, personal or publishing reasons, or his label Warners’ reluctance to put out a triple album for its biggest star at the height of his fame, Prince decided to pull the plug on Crystal Ball and record Sign O The Times, essentially on his own, to prove the point that he didn’t need The Revolution. The lesson here: never pull rank on a rock star, they’ll simply pull the plug on you! In my opinion the original Crystal Ball was his finest ever work.
Other great albums have been ‘lost’ for a multitude of reasons. Smile, Brian Wilson‘s opus never materialised until decades after he disappeared into his sandpit to reinvigorate his creative juices and everything from the pressure of following up Pet Sounds, to hearing Strawberry Fields, to his state of mind have been cited as to why Brian was crippled with a lack of self confidence and disappeared from music for so long.
Toy by David Bowie was scrapped and became Heathen for unspecified reasons. My personal theory is that Bowie wanted to get his next album right after his Drum’N’Bass dabblings and Heathen was indeed a great album, so maybe it was a good thing Toy was binned. Even The Beatles had their ‘lost’ album too.
The Get Back project was shelved by the Beatles amidst the band’s slow decline over a few years towards the end of the 60s, a project to get back to playing as a live band. It emerged less than a few years later in a new incarnation as Let It Be, with lashings of overdubs by Phil Spector to boot, much to the dismay of Paul McCartney who put the record straight with the reimagining Let It Be Naked (personally I love this version of the final incarnation of the Get Back project). The sessions for Get Back were dogged in acrimony post Brian Epstein’s death and were chronicled on film, since pulled from view, with the infamous squabbling scene between McCartney and George Harrison believed to be one reason.
So why was my post Mansun solo album Spooky Action filed under the lost category back in 2004? Well, for a multitude of reasons really, and not all to do with me. Publishing disputes? Money? Blackmail? Sadistic vendettas? Confidence trickery? Lack of interest? Lack of will power? Mental illness? Drugs? Drug-induced mental illness? Jealousies?
Well, just tick all of the above and you have the answer….. but like a lot of things, you can win or loose a battle but not the war, so maybe Spooky Action won’t be lost after all. I’m working on finishing it off right now! Paul Draper @PaulDraper