Best Evil Record Label Songs
In the history of evil, there aren’t too many things more vile than record labels. Just ask any artist who’s been screwed out of thousands of dollars by these cigar-chompin’, coke-snortin’, pockets-linin’ devils. It took a while before artists grew a pair and stood up to the bosses who signed their paychecks, but writing songs about record labels — which have been known to shelve entire albums if they don’t hear a hit single or hold bands hostage as they fine-tune the details of their contracts — has become a favorite pastime of musicians since the late ’60s. Our list of the Best Evil Record Label Songs features a few of the brave souls who’ve stood up to the Man.
The story goes that the publicity team at Heart’s record label hatched an idea to market the Wilson sisters not as siblings but as lesbian lovers. Ann became aware of this after someone inquired about her “girlfriend” following a show. She immediately retreated to her hotel room and wrote ‘Barracuda,’ using the slimy underwater predators as her launching point.
Pink Floyd, particularly Roger Waters, never hid their contempt for their record label bosses (or their fans, for that matter). On 1975’s ‘Wish You Were Here,’ they explore founding member Syd Barrett‘s descent into mental illness, taking a detour for this song about stogie-packin’ suits who are clueless about their own clients: “The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think / Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” The same album’s ‘Welcome to the Machine’ covers similar ground.
The verbally sharp Parker was fortunate enough to release a couple of albums on Mercury Records at the start of his career, opening the door to ‘Mercury Poisoning’ a few years later after the label failed to break the much buzzed-about Londoner in the mainstream. “Their promotion’s so lame, they could never ever take it to the real ball game / Maybe they think I’m a pet,” sings Parker. He went onto work with several other companies, who also couldn’t sell his work.
During one of their early tours, the Stones’ record label didn’t trust them to be on the road alone — for good reason. Even back in 1965 they had a reputation as rock ‘n’ roll bad boys. So the label sent one its publicists to babysit them as they toured parts of the U.S. They wrote ‘The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man’ about the guy: “I sure do earn my pay, sitting on the beach every day.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s biting track about their relationship with their record label was released by the very same record label. We’re guessing there weren’t too many hard feelings, since the band was about to make them a whole lotta money with ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ from the same album. “I’ll sign my contract, and I wan’t you people to know that every penny that I make, I’m gonna see where my money goes,” they warn. Despite all this, the original band stayed with MCA until the tragic plane crash claimed its singer and others.
John Fogerty’s animosity toward his old record-company boss Saul Zaentz lasted until the latter died in 2014. It all stemmed from Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s 1967 contract with Fantasy Records, which Fogerty for years wrestled to get out of. The wounds were still fresh in Fogerty’s mind when he released his comeback LP, ‘Centerfield,’ in 1985. The album’s closing track, ‘Zanz Kant Danz’ (“but he’ll steal your money,” went the chorus) pissed off Zaentz so much that he sued Fogerty for defamation. The song’s title was later changed to ‘Vanz Kant Danz,’ but the point was made and the damage was done.