Five Of The Worst Record Label Deals In History

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If you want to learn about the darker side of the music industry, then here are some of the worst record label deals in history.


#1  Apple Records and BadFinger

British group BadFinger were once referred to as being the next Beatles. They were catchy and they had some very convincing tunes as well. Even though everything looked great, they were being really ripped off by Stan Polley, their manager. He had written in the contract that the royalties from the band would be first put into an escrow account, but then disappeared. He left the band in poverty which forced Pete Ham into a deep depression. In the year 1975, he committed suicide, with a note referencing Polley as his downfall in the music industry.


#2  Nanker Phelge USA and the Rolling Stones

Even the Rolling Stones were not spared their fair share of bad contracts. Back in the 60’s, Allen Klein really did try and press his clients for everything they had. The Rolling Stones had an organisation to help them deal with their distributing. Which was Nanker Phelge. Klein proclaimed himself as being the proprietor of the organisation and he became part of it by affiliation as well. It took years for the band to even be able to get out of the situation.

worst record label deals
Rolling Stones

#3  Chess Records and Chuck Berry

Chess Records are famous for not handing out royalty statements. The very few that they did issue came with a huge range of complications. When you look at the single Maybellene, you will soon find that the Chess Brothers made Chuck give them the songwriting credit. This made him lose out on an extortionate amount of money. It also made him struggle to make ends meet.

#4  RCA Records and Sam Cooke

Allen Klein has made himself quite a reputation and not for the right reasons. In the ‘60s, Klein was chosen to manage Sam Cooke and he also helped him to secure a deal with RCA Records. The contract allowed him to form his own label and publishing company. Klein made sure that he had a stake in both and when Cooke died in 1964, Klein was able to have full control over his entire catalogue.

#5  Motown and the Jackson 5

The Jackson 5 were superstars back in the day, but by the year 1973, the band started to go downhill in terms of popularity. Gordy refused to give them creative control or even permission to update their image. He also had a stake in the publishing rights, and this increased all of the tension within the band. When Joseph Jackson persuaded the group to go to CBS for a much better deal, Motown then sued them for breaching their contract. This forced them to lose their name, the Jackson 5 and forced them to choose something else. This was not good for the band as they had worked so hard to achieve their level of success and it also made it much more difficult for them to market themselves in the future. 

worst record label deals
Jackson 5

Final Thoughts

So there’s 5 of the worst record label deals in history! Great stories but probably not how you’d want your music career to go. If you agree, check out what we do at Cosound, we offer music beyond labels, where you can enhance your career while not being bound to any company.


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