16 votes

The Day the Music Burned - The 2008 Universal fire was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business — and almost nobody knew

6 comments

  1. [4]
    boredop (edited ) Link
    For anyone who loves music this loss is horrifying. A huge cultural and historical disaster. The musical equivalent of the Brazil museum fire or Notre Dame burning. How something like this can...

    For anyone who loves music this loss is horrifying. A huge cultural and historical disaster. The musical equivalent of the Brazil museum fire or Notre Dame burning. How something like this can happen in the 21st century when we have the knowledge and technology to prevent it ... But people never fucking learn.

    6 votes
    1. [3]
      cfabbro Link Parent
      Goddamn, you weren't kidding about the scale of this disaster. And it certainly puts the efforts of enthusiast librarians/archivists (e.g. like those over at /r/datahoarder) in perspective, since...

      Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. The Decca masters also included recordings by such greats as Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.

      The fire most likely claimed most of Chuck Berry’s Chess masters and multitrack masters, a body of work that constitutes Berry’s greatest recordings. The destroyed Chess masters encompassed nearly everything else recorded for the label and its subsidiaries, including most of the Chess output of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter. Also very likely lost were master tapes of the first commercially released material by Aretha Franklin, recorded when she was a young teenager performing in the church services of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who made dozens of albums for Chess and its sublabels.

      Virtually all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost in the fire. Most of John Coltrane’s Impulse masters were lost, as were masters for treasured Impulse releases by Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and other jazz greats. Also apparently destroyed were the masters for dozens of canonical hit singles, including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley/I’m A Man,” Etta James’s “At Last,” the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”

      The list of destroyed single and album masters takes in titles by dozens of legendary artists, a genre-spanning who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century popular music. It includes recordings by Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Big Mama Thornton, Burl Ives, the Weavers, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, George Strait, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.

      Then there are masters for largely forgotten artists that were stored in the vault: tens of thousands of gospel, blues, jazz, country, soul, disco, pop, easy listening, classical, comedy and spoken-word records that may now exist only as written entries in discographies.

      Goddamn, you weren't kidding about the scale of this disaster. And it certainly puts the efforts of enthusiast librarians/archivists (e.g. like those over at /r/datahoarder) in perspective, since these big music publishers clearly can't be entirely trusted to safeguard our cultural heritage, doesn't it? :(

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        boredop Link Parent
        And also bootleggers / pirates. In many cases it's because of them that alternate takes and unreleased songs will survive in some form. One organization I support enthusiastically is the Archive...

        Goddamn, you weren't kidding about the scale of this disaster. And it certainly puts the efforts of enthusiast librarians/archivists (e.g. like those over at /r/datahoarder) in perspective, since these big music publishers clearly can't be entirely trusted to safeguard our cultural heritage, doesn't it? :(

        And also bootleggers / pirates. In many cases it's because of them that alternate takes and unreleased songs will survive in some form.

        One organization I support enthusiastically is the Archive of Contemporary Music in NYC. They are doing a lot of great preservation work. In recent years they have partnered with archive.org on mass digitization projects like The Great 78 Project.

        2 votes
        1. cfabbro (edited ) Link Parent
          My love of archive.org grows ever stronger still... They, and Doctor's Without Borders, are the two Orgs I donate to every year, without fail.

          My love of archive.org grows ever stronger still... They, and Doctor's Without Borders, are the two Orgs I donate to every year, without fail.

  2. annadane Link
    And also the shutting down of what.cd in the name of corporate profits, which had a massive trove of obscure music that may well now be lost forever

    And also the shutting down of what.cd in the name of corporate profits, which had a massive trove of obscure music that may well now be lost forever

    1 vote