The most expensive albums ever made
14 August 2021, 13:00
Some rock stars know nothing of the word "budget". Here are the tales of some albums that cost way, way more than they needed to.
Happy Mondays - Yes Please! (1992)
ESTIMATED BUDGET: WHO KNOWS? BUT IT COST A WHOLE RECORD LABEL
The album that sunk a legendary label, the follow-up to the successful Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches saw Factory boss Tony Wilson send the Salford lads off to Barbados to record with Talking Heads duo Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. Bad move: recovering heroin addict Shaun Ryder smashed his bottle of methadone before they'd even left the airport and their destination was the world's No 1 centre for crack. The recording dragged on and on as members of the band started selling studio equipment to buy more drugs. When Wilson finally got hold of the tapes, there were no vocals - which meant yet more sessions. The resultant album made the Top 20, but the first single (Stinkin' Thinkin') made #31 and the second (Sunshine And Love) didn't even make the Top 40 - it was issued a few weeks before Factory had to file for bankruptcy and remains the final release on the "original" label.
Guns N'Roses - Chinese Democracy (2008)
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $13 MILLION
Axl Rose procrastinated somewhat over the follow-up to GN'R's The Spaghetti Incident? - fifteen years in fact. According to figures leaked from the record company, he racked up in excess of $13 million to get the record into shape, including salaries of $11,000 a month for each musician, $25,000 a month for the "recording software engineer" and $50k a month for the studio. While the album made No 2 in the UK album charts, it has only sold in the region of 350,000 copies in this country.
Korn - Untouchables (2002)
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $4 MILLION
Jonathan Davis and co spent two years recording the follow-up to the successful Issues. During that time, the band kept their entire 15-man crew on a retainer and estimates suggest that they spent a cool $4 million on the album, with most of this being spent on houses for the band and engineers. Recording the vocals alone took almost six months. Davis later told Noisey: “We did shit that couldn’t ever be done again. It was the peak and pinnacle of everything in Korn. I still can’t believe how much work went in on it.” The record went on to sell over 5 million copies across the world.
Metallica - Metallica (The Black Album) (1991)
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $1 MILLION
The metal legends hooked up with producer Bob Rock for the first time, which resulted in an eight month recording session - unheard of from a band that grew out of the DIY punk ethic. The band kept recording and re-recording and the entire LP was remixed three times, resulting in a bill of a reported $1 million and divorces for James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett.
The Darkness - One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back (2005)
ESTIMATED BUDGET: £1 MILLION
Reportedly costing £1 million to record, with legendary Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker at the helm, the follow-up to 2003's cheerful poodle rock homage Permission To Land was a huge critical flop, and only made a paltry No 11 in the UK charts. Their reputation in tatters, the band effectively split the following year, with frontman Justin Hawkins entering rehab. They reunited in 2011, though. Hooray!
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)
ESTIMATED BUDGET: £250,000
Now hailed as a masterpiece, it took MBV's leader and producer Kevin Shields two years to record the follow-up to the shoegaze pioneers' 1988 debut Isn't Anything. It took nineteen different studios and a rumoured £250,000 to get the sound that Shields wanted… although he claims the figures were exaggerated. Nevertheless, the LP didn't sell as many copies as expected and the expense drove Alan McGee and Creation Records to the brink of bankruptcy. Thankfully, Oasis were just around the corner...
The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
ESTIMATED COST: £25,000 (IN OLD MONEY), £400,000 TODAY
There probably wasn't an actual budget for the Fabs' masterpiece - record label EMI made so much money from the band in the previous five years, they let the mop tops do what they liked when they stopped touring in 1966 and became a "studio band". While the Beatles' first album Please Please Me took a mere day to record, Pepper took over 700 hours, which racked up around £25,000… which was a LOT of money in those days. And that wasn't even including the super-expensive sleeve.