Integrity: it’s a valuable thing. So valuable, in fact, that you can sometimes literally put a price on it. After Sia turned down a cool $1 million for new single ‘Alive’, we dig into the most lucrative deals that never quite came to be. From dodgy advertising sell-out opportunities to the dreaded reformation cash-cow, here are 15 artists who had the financial carrot dangled in front of them but managed to walk away with their heads held high (or their pockets emptier, depends on your view).
In what could be the highest refusal in music history, Swedish pop icons Abba turned down a whopping $1 billion dollars to get back together in 2000. Why? “We said no because they wanted 250 shows or something,” Agnetha Faltskog explained. Considering the fractious nature of their inter-band relationships and subsequent divorces, it’s understandable why that didn’t sound appealing.
Super Furry Animals:
Welsh cult heroes the Super Furries might have made their reputation as experimental indie types, but in 2006 they were courted by one of the biggest corporate monoliths of them all. Asked to use their track ‘Hello Sunshine’ in an advert for Coca-Cola, the band turned down a seven-figure deal because of the company’s treatment of their workforce.
Back in 1968, Doors singer Jim Morrison refused to let the band accept a $75,000 deal to use ‘Light My Fire’ in a car ad. Following his death, the remaining members of the band became embroiled in a lengthy row when they were offered $15 million for the same thing. Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger agreed, while drummer John Densmore refused to go against the singer’s wishes.
OK, so the rumour that Led Zeppelin were once offered $800 million by Virgin mogul Richard Branson to reform turned out to be rubbish, but the fact that the original story was initially believed says it all. Yep, that’s how much Robert Plant doesn’t want to play with his old band: the price of a small country.
Similarly, Beastie Boys turned down an undisclosed “lot of money” to use their track ‘Sabotage’ in the recent Arnold Schwarzenneger film of the same name to respect late band member Adam Yauch’s wishes that they never use their music for “advertising purposes”.
Back in 2005, meanwhile, The Smiths were offered $5 million to reform for Coachella but turned their noses up at the chance. “Money doesn’t come into it,” said Morrissey at the time. Oh but Moz, we wish it did a little bit…
Keeping up the trend for new wave legends who’ve moved on far more successfully than the fans have, it’s Paul Weller and The Jam. “I was offered a million quid and I turned it down,” said the Modfather in 2008. “Everyone has the old records anyway, so if they are searching for a bit of nostalgia then let them do that.”
When Pulp were offered £100,000 for the use of their track ‘Sunrise’ on a Coca-Cola ad (yep, them again), the band refused. So the bigwigs at the company went and ordered in a song that sounded almost identical for the commercial instead. It sounded like a “bad soft rock version of ‘Sunrise’,” said Jarvis. “As far as we are concerned, it’s an original piece of music,” said Coke. Hmm.
At the peak of their indie disco powers in 2006, Franz Ferdinand passed up a £30 million ad campaign in the US. The band never revealed who the commercial was for, but frontman Alex Kapranos did state that their involvement would have “meant we had to completely surrender all of our identity and integrity”.
Proving that pop stars can be pillars of integrity too, Lady Gaga is said to have turned down $1 million (£660,000) to sing at a 2012 Republican National Convention in the United States. The right-wing party even tried to convince her by pledging that they would give $15,000 to a domestic violence charity if she agreed. Ah, blackmail – that age-old political favourite…
Guns N’ Roses:
In 2013, rock impressario Kim Fowley claimed that Axl Rose had been offered £33,000 to leave Guns N’ Roses before they were famous, in order for the group to be poached, but turned it down. The decision paid off, of course. He was the only musician who “knew exactly how valuable he was,” said Fowley.
When director Sam Taylor-Wood was casting the role of John Lennon in 2009 film Nowhere Boy, her first choice wasn’t eventual star Aaron Johnson but Mr Miles Kane. “[She] came to a gig when we did the [Last Shadow] Puppets, but I knocked it back,” revealed Miles. Sure, it may never have got to the actual cash offer stage, but we can imagine it would have been hefty.
Now for music’s most expensive facial hair. In 1984, razor company Gilette offered ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons $1 million to shave his trademark beard off for an ad, but was turned down. With today’s rate of inflation, that’s more than $2.25 million or around £1.5 million. You could buy an awful lot of stick-on follicles for that money.
Guns N’ Roses’ former axe-man Slash really does not want to get onstage with Axl Rose again despite repeated, lucrative financial incentives. “I can’t remember exact numbers, but it’s excessive,” he told GQ of a previous refused offer. “Oh, you know – seven, eight digit kinds of things.” Just close your eyes mate, it’d probably be fine.
Led Zeppelin via Kiss:
With industry efforts to reunite Led Zeppelin failing, one promoter decided to try another route. “In 2009/10 I was given a few hundred million dollars in an account by a large concert promoter and given the task of reaching out to Jimmy [Page] and Robert [Plant] and trying to convince them to get back together,” said Kiss star Gene Simmons. The band still said no.