Thom Yorke’s been laying into Spotify this week, but he’s not the first artist to come out fists flailing against The Man. Here are 19 more rock stars who stood up to the suits, stuck rigidly to their principles against the prevailing tide or basically confounded expectations. Power to the people!
Last Friday (12 July) Amanda Palmer hit back at the Daily Mail’s prurient story about her accidentally exposing a breast at Glastonbury, by performing a song at the Roundhouse just for them. “Your focus on debasing women’s appearances/Devolves our species of humans,” went the catchy number, and she whipped off her kimono entirely.
In 2010, Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco got his fans to picket Atlantic Records to demand the release of his somewhat shelved album ‘Lasers’. Six months later it was out. It even went to the top of the Billboard charts, the fans putting their money where their mouth was.
When Prince scrawled ‘SLAVE’ on his cheek in 1995 it wasn’t just a natty new bit of facial art – he was protesting at his treatment at the hands of Warner Brothers. He wanted ownership of his catalogue, they refused to promote ‘The Gold Experience’. In the end a settlement was reached, but Prince’s golden age had passed.
This one’s for the people. The people who said, “We’re not going to stand by and let the X Factor winner have the Christmas No.1 this year!” It was 2009 and poor Joe McElderry had to wait for his just desserts when a Facebook campaign catapulted Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ to the top instead. That showed them.
“I’mma let you finish…” Poor Taylor Swift. It was 2009 again and the MTV VMAs were marked by Kanye West bounding onto the stage to protest at Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ winning Best Female Video instead of Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’. These things mattered back in 2009.
There are many legends to explain how Doors singer Jim Morrison avoided the draft. One suggests he showed up drunk when he turned 18, another that he came onto an officer, another still that he went without sleep for a week and showed up delirious. Whatever the truth, he wriggled out of it.
Earlier this year, Morrissey cancelled an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! because he’d be sharing a stage with cast members from TV hunting show Duck Dynasty. “I can’t take the risk of being on a show alongside people who, in effect, amount to animal serial killers,” he said, with characteristic understatement.
On an Italian TV show in 2009, Muse were aghast to discover they would have to mime ‘Uprising’. So they did what any principled rock band would and swapped instruments – Matt on drums, Chris on guitar and synth and Dom on bass and vocals. Have that.
Johnny Marr faced down the highest office in the land when he got fed up with Prime Minister David Cameron jawing on about his love for The Smiths. “Stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don’t,” he said on Twitter. “I forbid you to like it.”
And speaking of taking it to the top, in 2003 artists including Jay-Z, Nas, Wilco, REM and Lou Reed ran an advert in the New York Times – under the banner Musicians United to Win Without War – to protest against the impending invasion of Iraq. A valiant effort, but…
Thom Yorke again. EMI got all prissy about Radiohead releasing ‘In Rainbows’ independently after their contract went out, so promptly decided to slap out a boxset to combat the album’s physical release, advertising it via a rather sneaky promotion that popped up when you searched for the band online. A quick draw of the Radiohead big guns scuppered that.
In 1979, Tom Petty staged his own Prince-style protest by filing for bankruptcy. This was a ruse to show up his record label MCA and the contracts it – and other labels – enforced, which effectively left artists in debt forever. His stand set the foundations for change.
Don’t mess with Amanda Palmer, who wrote a song – ‘Please Drop Me’ – to tell record label Roadrunner that she wanted them to, um, drop her. The relationship had broken down, they couldn’t give her what she wanted, it wasn’t her it was them etc. and the deed was done within months.
No walls could confine him, no Diary Room force him to express his innermost feelings. No, rock’n’roll rebel Donny Tourette showed his punky disdain for Big Brother when he clambered over the fence in 2007 like a leather-trousered cat in a Rod Stewart wig, and embraced freedom.
In 2000, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich singlehandedly ended file-sharing and illegal downloading. Sort of. In a landmark case, Metallica forced P2P service Napster to remove their songs and those of any other protesting artists from its systems, effectively bringing the service down. It would re-emerge in squeaky-clean form. File-sharing still happens.
When Glasvegas singer James Allan slipped off the radar for a few days in 2009 there were fears for his safety. But really it just seemed to be a post-modern protest about the need for mobile phones in our hyper-connected age or something. Anyway, he got a well-deserved break.
There’s been renewed interest recently in anti-Thatcher pop – for obvious reasons – and it’s revealed just how politically switched on the 80s charts were. Billy Bragg was the leading torch-bearer, but there were specifically Maggie-opposed hits for The Blow Monkeys and The Style Council too, fighting the good fight with plastic funk.
We couldn’t leave the subject of artist vs record label without a special mention for George Michael, who’s taken on two labels in his starry career. First he extricated Wham! from their Innervision contract then, in the 90s, he took on Epic, citing “professional slavery”. It didn’t work, but at least he never drew anything on his face. Apart from that beard.
Back in April, DJ and producer Diplo took a stand against the heinous crime of buying Facebook ‘likes’, calling out DJ BL3ND for his somewhat implausible three million registered fans. He backtracked – a bit, anyway – but struck a blow for this insidious exercise. Now to take down Bieber.