The music industry is notoriously difficult for artists to thrive in. And as these examples show, not even being a platinum-selling artist ensures that your music will be heard.
Artist: Green Day
Album: Cigarettes and Valentines
Story: By 2003 Green Day was in a creative rut. They’d won a Grammy Award (for Dookie in 1994), sold tens of millions of albums, and were one of the biggest bands of the 1990s. But they wanted to grow—to somehow mature their sound without alienating the fan base who loved their three-chord punk rock. Not knowing quite how to do it, they went into the studio and recorded 20 tracks for an album called Cigarettes and Valentines. Then fate intervened.
The master tapes were stolen from the studio, leaving the punk trio with nothing to release. After consulting with their longtime producer, Rob Cavallo, the band decided to go in a completely new direction and made American Idiot. It wasn’t a punk album at all—it was a concept album and a rock opera about bored suburbanites.
Result: American Idiot became a massive hit. It sold 12 million copies and was later turned into, of all things, a Broadway musical.
Though the Cigarettes and Valentines tapes were never recovered, rerecordings of two of the songs, “Too Much, Too Soon” and “Olivia,” later appeared as B-sides.
Album: James River
Story: In 2000 R&B singer D’Angelo became an international sensation when he appeared nearly nude in the video for his hit “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” But D’Angelo was more than just a pretty face and a set of rock-hard abs. His album Voodoo was named one of the best soul records of all time by Rolling Stone. So what did he do for a follow-up? Amazingly, nothing…yet. While struggling to adapt to his new fame, D’Angelo developed a drug and alcohol problem during the tour to support Voodoo and didn’t release any music for five years. In the decade since getting clean, D’Angelo has made guest appearances on other artists’ records, but has missed every publicized release date for the highly anticipated followup, reportedly titled James River. However, according to Voodoo producer and Roots bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson in 2013, James River is “ninety-nine percent done.”
Artist: Dr. Dre
Story: Detox, in the works since 2001, has become legendary…as in it may be real, and it may not be. In a cameo on rapper The Game’s 2005 track “Higher,” Dr. Dre shouted, “Look out for Detox!” But the album didn’t materialize, nor did it in 2008 when Dre’s protégé, Snoop Dogg, told Rolling Stone that Detox was finished. A sample of Detox was played in a 2009 Dr Pepper commercial, but that was all that was released. The wait seemed to be over in late 2010 when Dre released two official singles, “Kush” and “I Need a Doctor,” and even filmed music videos for them. Still no album. After serving as executive producer for Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed Good Kid M.A.D.D. City in 2012, Dre announced that he was taking a hiatus from making music to concentrate on his Beats By Dre headphone line and the USC Academy of Arts, Technology, and Business that he founded with Interscope Records’ Jimmy Iovine. Like Brian Wilson, Dr. Dre has a reputation for being a perfectionist in the recording studio, so don’t be surprised if his hip-hop equivalent of SMiLE takes another 40 years to see the light of day.
Artist: 50 Cent
Album: Power of the Dollar
Story: Imagine you’re a record label executive who just signed an up-and-coming gangsta rapper, when word reaches you that someone put out a hit on him…and he’s in the hospital with a gunshot wound. That’s what happened to Columbia Records in 2000 when they discovered that 50 Cent had been shot nine times while parked in a car in Queens. But instead of taking advantage of the free publicity and mega-hype that would surround the rapper after the incident, the label dropped the former drug dealer and shelved his debut album, Power of the Dollar. While the album was never officially released because it still belonged to Columbia, it was heavily bootlegged. The bootleg eventually reached the ears of Dr. Dre, who quickly got 50 Cent a record deal with Interscope. His official debut, Get Rich or Die Trying (2003), sold more than nine million copies.
Artist: Britney Spears
Album: Original Doll
Story: Spears was the world’s biggest pop star in the early 2000s, but her downfall began around 2004 when she married rapper and backup dancer Kevin Federline. The damage that their marriage and subsequent divorce did to the superstar’s reputation and mental state was well publicized between 2004 and 2007, but it also killed one of her albums. On New Year’s Eve 2004, Spears made a surprise appearance on the Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM to premiere the single “Mona Lisa” from her new album, Original Doll. The only problem was the singer didn’t have permission from her label, Jive Records, to unveil the single or reveal the title. Jive responded by shelving Original Doll. Additional tracks from the Original Doll sessions have emerged on YouTube, but the album remains unreleased.
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: Nebraska, the electric version
Story: Released in 1982, between Springsteen’s massive hits Born in the U.S.A. and The River, Nebraska showed the New Jersey legend’s more haunting side. While his lyrics about small-town life have always been dark and brooding, Nebraska was the first time Springsteen abandoned the sound of his E Street Band for the simple, powerful resonance of folk music. That, however, wasn’t the initial plan. Springsteen’s acoustic demo tapes (recorded on a four-track cassette player in his home) were just supposed to be a blueprint for a full electric version of Nebraska. But when Springsteen listened to the E Street Band’s lush recordings of his songs about down-on-their-luck blue-collar workers, he and his producers decided that the acoustic guitar-driven demos should be the album instead. Though Springsteen has downplayed rumors of the unreleased electric version for years, in 2010 his longtime drummer, Max Weinberg, confirmed that the E Street Band’s version of Nebraska does, in fact, exist.
Read more in Uncle John’s Canoramic Bathroom Reader.