From Bon Jovi to Prince to Van Morrison: 5 'Get Me Out of My Record Deal' Albums
Usher has reached the end of his contract with RCA Records, sources tell Billboard, leaving behind a relationship that dates back 22 years to when he first signed with LaFace and Arista Records. (The Sony Music label declined comment.)
His musical output during that time has been fruitful: Usher's 2001 album 8701 sold 4.8 million units, according to Nielsen Music, while his next three releases (2004’s Confessions, 2008’s Looking for Myself and 2010’s Raymond v. Raymond) all sold over a million copies each, with Confessions moving an astonishing 10.3 million on its own. His latest, Hard II Love, however, only registered 38,000 equivalent album units in its first week -- with 28,000 of that in traditional album sales -- good for a top five debut on the Billboard 200, but a significant drop-off from the opening of his last album, 2012’s Looking 4 Myself, which bowed with 128,000 sold in its first week.
Cynics might say that releasing the final album of a long-term contract feels more like an obligation than a creative achievement. If so, it wouldn't be the first time. Here are five examples of artists who bid adieu to their labels in not-so-subtle ways.
Bon Jovi, Burning Bridges (2015)
In 2015, Bon Jovi seemingly bid farewell to their then-32-year relationship with Island/Universal Music Group. The subsequent "fan album" Burning Bridges was a direct hit with not only the title but the bland, brown wrapping paper design -- not to mention "We Don't Run," with the lyric, "After 30 years of loyalty, they let you dig your grave." Jon Bon Jovi stuck to his guns -- and his integrity -- as he came to a new agreement this spring, on his own terms. "The legacy mattered and the future was bright,” he told fans at concert promoting the forthcoming album, This House is Not for Sale, at a listening party in New Jersey on Oct. 1. “There was no way I was going to walk away from that.”
Prince, Chaos and Disorder (1996)
Prince famously pulled this trick to get out of his deal with Warner Bros. by first changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. His next move in the escape plan was the release of Chaos and Disorder, and odds and sods collection of recent leftovers that fulfilled the contract. He then emerged with the aptly titled triple-disc album Emancipation.
After having pop hits with songs like "Brown Eyed Girl," Morrison wanted to do more experimental music, but his label, Bang Records, wasn't having it. When Morrison later looked to jump ship to Warner Bros. Records, he realized he owed more music to Bang, with royalties owed for exactly one year after the contract was up. What to do? He strapped on an old, out-of-tune guitar and banged out 30 songs in one session with titles like "The Big Royalty Check," "Blow in Your Nose" and "I Want a Danish." The record was deemed "unfit for release," and he broke ties. Just check out "Twist and Shake" -- there are hardly any lyrics.
Ben Folds, "One Down"
Before Ben Folds became a successful recording artist, he signed a publishing deal he came to regret. The contract specified number of songs per year -- deal terms he couldn't keep up with once he had label and touring commitments to uphold. To meet the obligations of his contract, he wrote a song called "One Down and 3.6 to Go," with the lyrics: "Ben, just make up junk and turn it in."
David Bowie, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
Following his Berlin trilogy of albums -- Low, Heroes and Lodger -- Bowie was looking to end his relationship with RCA Records. The records weren't successful commercially, and Bowie believed his double live album, Stage, counted as two albums. When it didn't, he turned in his last album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), a critical and commercial success with the hits "Ashes to Ashes" and "Fashion."