For every watershed album that helps plow a whole new field of boundless musical crops, there's one that has been aborted by corporate wrangling or artistic misstep. These albums go down in nerd history as monuments to the stupidity of label management.
The Beach Boys' Smile This was supposed to be Brian Wilson's sequel to Pet Sounds. It was to be bigger and even more bombastic. Brian set out to craft a new masterpiece using snippets of disparate tracks to form a cohesive album. It would have been that, had the other Boys and even Capitol Records not seen it drastically differently. Brian grew increasingly paranoid and depressed. He believed the music itself was the cause of small fires in the studio. He made the band wear tiny firemen's helmets while recording. All this mental instability was only exasperated by the allegedly massive hash, speed and high-powered LSD that Brian was allegedly self-medicating with. The album was scrapped by mid-1967. Tapes of the sessions leaked for years, becoming coveted bootlegs and enduring testaments to Brian's infinite creativity. In 2004, the album was finally finished, but it didn't carry the mystique of the original bootlegs for hard-core fans.
Prince, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash
Prince's The Black Album No, the Purple One didn't attempt to cover Metallica's commercial breakthrough song for song. This 1987 record was shelved due to the artist's own emerging religious convictions, citing the content on the album as misogynistic and uncharacteristic. The track "Bob George" is rightfully a spiritual precursor to Houston's own DJ Screw. Prince had the release pulled just weeks before its debut. It was replaced by Lovesexy, another album of presumably tamer material, albeit with the naked sex dwarf on the cover. This is the supposed greatest-selling bootleg of all time, going the equivalent of Gold. Original pressings are on eBay for up to five grand. But this isn't half as enticing as the Prince/Miles Davis pairing that is rumored.
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Bob Dylan's and Johnny Cash's Dylan/Cash Sessions Two gods go into a studio. They should make rivers run backwards and change tides with the sheer amount of awesomeness. What came out of it was hours of geniuses screwing around, just enjoying each other's company while getting stoned (allegedly stoned). "The Girl from the North Country" was a notable standout, though. Sometimes even music gods like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash need to make fart noises and drink cheap beer to recharge.
Weezer's Songs from the Black Hole Post-Blue Album, Rivers Cuomo set out to create a power-pop space opera. Imagine if Styx and The Cars had collaborated. Clerks-style dialogue on spaceships, sassy robots and the usual pining for unattainable girls can be heard on the various boots that float on the Internet. The rest live on as B-sides, fueling the flames of their rabid emo cult.
Green Day's Cigarettes and Valentines In 2003, Green Day was not the swaggering and mascara-stained Bush-burners they are now. They went into a studio and threw down 20 tracks, in the midst of intense band therapy and internal housecleaning. By the end of tracking, the masters were stolen from the studio. Some argue that they were not stolen, but actually scrapped in lieu of a more political bent, to capitalize on the upcoming 2004 elections. After 12 millions albums sold, no one really wants to hear the originals anyway.
Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy The long-maligned and ridiculed release from Axl Rose and a bunch of dudes that aren't Slash has yet to see an official public offering. The leaked tracks that abound on the P2P don't show much promise. One of the unfortunate side effects of taking over a decade to make an album is that you can't tap into a single musical zeitgeist. The tracks range from piss-poor takes on rap-metal to clunky and awkward clawing at trip-hop.