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Beware, playlist connoisseurs – these well-known musicians deleted their own albums from existence

From unapproved samples to pure embarrassment, a number of well-known acts have removed albums from the public’s grip

Over the last number of months, I’ve been lucky to get the chance to write, produce and present a podcast for American independent record label Secretly Canadian, all about the life and music of one of my favourite artists, Swedish indie-pop singer-songwriter Jens Lekman.

Specifically, a two-part miniseries – a highly unusual project that Lekman undertook over the last few years, to basically remake two of his best-known and best-loved albums – the 2005 compilation Oh You’re So Silent Jens, which contains some of his early breakout singles, and his most critically and commercially successful release 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, which was hailed by Pitchfork and The Guardian as one of the best albums of its era.

For reasons you’ll discover if you listen to the podcast – essentially to do with rights issues around samples, which featured heavily in Lekman’s music at that time – both of those albums now no longer exist in their original form. In their place rise two wonderful, let’s say adapted, versions of the records with problematic samples removed, fleshed out with additional rare bonus material and now respectively re-titled The Cherry Trees Are Still In Blossom and The Linden Trees Are Still In Blossom. The same albums, just different.

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In advance of the new albums being announced a few weeks ago, Lekman with minimal fuss and ceremony deleted Night Falls Over Kortedala from digital services forever (Oh You’re So Silent Jens had been taken down years earlier).

In a moment, millions of streaming stats were dumped, holes were left in playlists, and fans were left scratching their heads as to the fate of a record which had meant so much to so many.

Had another artist ever before committed such an act of commercial and artistic self-sacrifice? Turns out that, actually, several had. In a strand of research which never made it into the podcast in the end, here’s a roundup of other well-known musicians who sent whole albums to the grave for their own very individual reasons. 

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Pantera

By their mid-’90s peak Pantera were one of the baddest-ass thrash metal bands on the planet, fast on their way to selling more than 20 million albums worldwide. But a decade previously, the young Texans had been just another bunch of poodle-haired dudes doing their best to mimic the glam-metal
successes of Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister and the rest. So ashamed in later years did Pantera become of their first four albums – Metal MagicProjects in the JungleI Am the Night and Power Metal – that after changing their sound and hitting it big, they deleted them all. Unluckily for these headbangers, photos of their big ’80s perms have proven harder to erase from history.

Faust

Can a successful album ever prove too successful? It can if it’s West German experimental rock band Faust’s chaotic and influential cult classic The Faust Tapes. In 1972, Melody Maker magazine reported that the album was being deleted because copies of it were costing more to make than they were earning at the tills. Faust’s label Virgin had been selling it for just 49 pence as part of an unexpectedly effective promotional gimmick – the price of a seven-inch single at the time. On 60,000 sales, Virgin reportedly lost £2,000 (nearly £30,000 in today’s money). A number 12 chart placing was also rescinded on grounds of the unfairly cheap price. “Some chose to play frisbee with the LP,” reflected Faust founder member Jean-Hervé Peron, “others said it changed their lives.”

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Milli Vanilli

In what has become a byword for music industry scandal and fakery, in 1990 the LA Times revealed that good-looking but vocally challenged German-French R&B superstar duo Milli Vanilli had sung not a note on their seven-million selling 1989 album Girl You Know It’s True. For violating every value of artistic integrity and the American way – or so many people puritanically chose to believe – the industry threw the book at poor Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. The album was not only deleted, but a US court ruling went so far as to promise anyone who had bought the record a full refund. Milli Vanilli even had to give back a Grammy Award. By 1998, Pilatus was dead from a drug overdose. By the 2000s, thanks to autotune, vocal fakery was normalised in pop.

The KLF

When you’re best known for burning a million pounds in cash on a remote Scottish island in the name of art, or something, then deleting your entire catalogue at the time of your break-up as a band is surely pretty small beer insofar as creative self-sacrifice goes. These chart-topping anarchic electronic pop radicals had pre-announced their departure from the music business three months earlier in February 1992 with a performance at the BRIT Awards which saw them fire machine gun blanks into the audience and dump a dead sheep at the aftershow party. For years The KLF’s multimillion-selling catalogue – which was riddled with uncleared samples (KLF stood for “Kopyright Liberation Front”) – was unavailable. But since 2021, their albums have started to appear on streaming and download services for the first time – albeit re-edited, with copyright-violating samples removed. Ancient, and now officially justified.

The Secretly Society Podcast episodes about Jens Lekman are available on all major podcast platforms now; Jens Lekman’s new albums are released on vinyl on June 3.

@MBJack

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