It wasn’t as simple as just getting noticed by record label bods and putting pen to paper for these bands when it came to signing record deals…
The Who. Pete Townshend accidentally broke the head of his guitar during a gig and became so infuriated by the crowd’s laughter that he smashed the instrument on stage. At another performance, Townshend toppled a stack of amplifiers and Keith Moon wrecked his drum-kit. The Who built a reputation out of these destructive gimmicks and some say this ‘edge’ helped them secure their record deal.
Marina And The Diamonds.
Marina And The Diamonds. Marina Diamandis has said she was “delusional with drive” while trying to secure her big break. So desperate was she that she dressed up as a boy and went to an audition for a reggae boy band with Virgin Records. An unsuccessful gambit… until she got a call back from the company a week later.
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Jimi Hendrix. Linda Keith, girlfriend of Keith Richards, saw Hendrix at the New York Cheetah Club and said, “His playing mesmerised me.” After failing to interest Stones manager Andrew Oldham, Linda referred Hendrix to Chas Chandler, who was then leaving The Animals and was interested in managing artists. Chandler liked Hendrix’s version of ‘Hey Joe’ and brought him to London in 1966.
Nine Inch Nails.
Nine Inch Nails. While employed as an assistant engineer and janitor at Right Track Studios, Trent Reznor took the initiative and asked the owner for permission to record his material when the studio wasn’t in use. Inspired by Prince, Trent played all the instruments except drums himself.
Nina Simone. Nina Simone recorded and performed George Gershwin’s ‘I Loves You, Porgy,’ a song she learned from a Billie Holiday album, as a favour for a friend. Good friend, because the single went on to become her only Billboard top 20 hit. The album ‘Little Girl Blue’ followed shortly on Bethlehem Records.
Bloc Party. A Franz Ferdinand concert saw Bloc Party get their big break. Kele Okereke attended and gave out copies of ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ to FF lead singer Alex Kapranos and DJ Steve Lamacq, who played the track on his show shortly afterwards. They were then invited in to record a live version.
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Beck. While performing in numerous venues across Los Angeles, Beck met Chris Ballew (founder of The Presidents of the United States of America). The duo performed on the streets for a short period prior to Beck working with Tom Grimley at Poop Alley Studios, a part of WIN Records.
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Depeche Mode. The band personally delivered their demo tape to record companies, and were regularly turfed out with some choice words in their ear. But while playing a gig in Canning Town, Depeche Mode were approached by Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records. A verbal contract led to their first single.
Benga. In his youth, Benga frequently hung out at the Big Apple record shop in Croydon, and made his own music at home on a PlayStation. His songs were heard by Hatcha, a worker at the shop who also happened to be a dubstep producer. By age 15, Benga had made his first record, ‘Skank’, released on Big Apple’s own record label.
Bauhaus. Bauhaus associate Graham Bentley videotaped the group performing and distributed copies to various record labels. This approach proved too smart for its own good, as many record companies didn’t have the video equipment to play the tape. However, the band’s debut single, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ was released by Small Wonder Records in 1979.
Stevie Wonder. Ronnie White of The Miracles credits his brother Gerald for this one – Gerard constantly asked him to come to his friend’s house to see Stevie Wonder. White eventually did, and subsequently took Wonder to Motown, where CEO Barry Gordy was so impressed he signed him.
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Elvis Presley. Sam Phillips of Sun Records acquired a demo recording of the ballad ‘Without You’ and asked Elvis to come into the studio to see if he would suit it. Though Elvis was unable to do the song justice, Phillips asked him to sing as many numbers as he could. Sufficiently impressed, Phillips invited two local musicians to come in and perform alongside Elvis for a recording session.