Songs are like babies. Some of them drop into the world with barely a push, while others require yanking out with a wicked set of tongs after a long labor. Generally the latter is more common than the former, which is why any musician worth his or her salt carries around some sort of notebook to keep track of ideas, lyrics, chord progressions and the like.
Sometimes these notebooks, laptops, and even whole sets of masters get stolen. More often than not, that's the end of the project. If you're out there saying, "Why can't you just start over again?" then you've never really made an album before. Creativity is a capricious mistress that tends to answer every question with "No, nothing's wrong. Absolutely nothing."
If a musician loses his or her all-important records of creative sparks, those sparks are usually just gone. At least five albums have been aborted this way, all because of sticky-fingered jerks looking for a quick score and not realizing they hijacked someone's hard work. Sometimes it was honestly for the best, and sometimes it was absolutely devastating.
Let's take a look at what unbridled jerkery caused.
5. Ryan Leslie's Third Album The Heist: Jet-setting record producer and musician Ryan Leslie was riding tall in the saddle in 2010. He had released his Grammy-nominated second album Transition the year before, was wallowing in a pool of money, and was secretly preparing to release his third album independently, away from label control. Unfortunately, while on tour in Germany a bag containing his laptop (full of production work on the album), $10,000 cash, and his passport was stolen out of Leslie's Mercedes.
Using YouTube videos, Leslie offered $1 million for the return of the laptop, which was eventually indeed returned by a garage manager named Armin Augstein. While Leslie did get the computer back, the production files were missing. Initially he reneged on paying the reward, but a jury decided that he owed Augstein the million, plus another $180,000 in interest for delaying the payment.
How Bad Was It? Two years after the theft, Leslie released Les is More, a rap album featuring guest appearances by the likes of Kanye West and Fabolous. Whether it was the direction he was going for with the missing album we don't know, but it certainly seems to be doing well enough. I'd say Leslie came out ahead. On the other hand, even rich producers don't drop $1 million on a computer unless it's important.
4. Meat Loaf's Renegade Angel The Heist: Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman were tearing up the road and record charts with Bat Out of Hell in 1978, but Epic told Steinman he needed to get off the road and back to work trying to craft a follow-up. Steinman did so, and the result was an album called Renegade Angel that was supposed to be the next chapter in the series. Satisfied with his work, Steinman flew out to a Toronto concert to start going over the album with his friend after the show.
But as Steinman was onstage performing in the band for the night, someone ransacked the dressing rooms and made off with a haul that included Steinman's lyric book. Steinman was devastated, and Meat says to this day he's never gotten over the theft. It would be three years before either man would release another album.
How Bad Was It? Hard to say. Without a doubt we probably lost the solid concept album we all wanted and didn't get until Bat Out of Hell II in 1993. The theft, and subsequent problems with Meat's voice, shattered the solid alliance and both men began to work elsewhere than exclusively with each other. On the other hand, Steinman re-uses lyrics and melodies more than He-Man re-used animation, so it's probable that we've actually heard everything he wrote over the course of the last thirty years in various songs.
3. U2's October (The Less Crappy Version) The Heist: Ask any U2 fan what his or her least favorite U2 album is and he or she will probably say Coldplay's Viva La Vida (zing!), assuming they don't you'll probably hear them mock the Irish band's second album October. It's just not very well put-together, nowhere near as cohesive as 1983's War, or even previous album Boy. There's a good reason for that.
Bono's briefcase full of October's lyrics was stolen out of the band's limo after a show in Portland, Ore. They were booked to record the very next month, and Bono was literally trying to recreate the lyrics by writing them at the microphone during sessions while producer Steve Lillywhite paced up and down glaring at him while the cost mounted. As a result, U2 refers to the recording as their worst studio experience and the album is consistently regarded as one of the weakest.
How Bad Was It?: Pretty freakin' bad. Only a single song from October appears on The Best of 1980-1990, and even then only as a hidden track. It wasn't a strong album to begin with, and Bono having to improvise the words did it no favors. Ironically, Bono actually got the briefcase back 23 years later. It was found by a woman named Cindy Harris in the house of a rented attic, and later returned to Bono. He would periodically ask people about the briefcase at Portland concerts, and called its return "an act of grace."
2. Skrillex's Fourth EP The Heist: After Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, Skrillex was suddenly a household name, riding dubstep's wave of popularity. He was getting ready to make some more magic when two of his laptops were boosted out of his hotel in Milan, Italy. In April of 2011 he posted...
Just gonna set it strait. I had 2 laptops and both of my hard drives stolen out of my hotel in Milan Italy last month. On those laptops and drives were all the project files of Skrillex. All gone now. Also I had a new album that is now gone too. I spent a week pulling my hair out but now im just focussing on the future and re making my album.
He did eventually recover the laptops, but the hard drives had been reformatted for sale and everything was lost. A few of the works have turned up on YouTube, such as remix of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" he was working on.
How Bad Was It?: Skrillex released his most successful commercial EP Bangarang, less than eight months after the theft so it obviously didn't set him back too far. Sonny tends to take most things pretty much in stride, and the loss of an album doesn't seem to faze him much.
1. Green Day's Cigarettes and Valentines The Heist: Warning sounds exactly like what it is, acceptable cuts considering the dullness of the knives. By 2000, Green Day had essentially become their own songs, burned-out and tired after having been on top of the pop-punk world for several years. Nonetheless, they soldiered into the studio in 2003 to record Cigarettes and Valentines. It was supposed to be a throwback to the Kerplunk days, but the point is moot as the masters were stolen and have never been recovered.
Faced with the daunting task of recreating the entire album, the band looked at themselves and agreed that the work they had done was honestly not their best. Possibly because they were secretly recording their real masterpiece with Devo at the same time. In the end, the band decided to start again from scratch, and thank God they did.
How Bad Was It? Not at all. If no one had lifted the masters to Cigarettes and Valentines we might never have heard American Idiot. Though the mainstream empire it spawned has become somewhat overblown and obnoxious, the album itself remains a punk opera piece of brilliance that perfectly harnessed all the angst of Bush's America.
It's heaps better than listening to green Day try to reclaim their early punk roots at a time when they obviously didn't have the momentum or energy to do it right. The stolen masters have never been found, and not a soul cares. So... point, thieving dicks?
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