Music

10 albums that blew the budget

When it comes to big-budget albums, there's a lot of mythology out there.

Plenty of records are hammed up as being the most expensive ever made, perhaps in the hope that the story will take the edge off the eye-watering bill.

For instance, according to legend, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless cost so much to make and sold so poorly (at the time) that it bankrupted Creation Records. Likewise, Tony Wilson's Factory went to the wall in the aftermath of Happy Mondays' Yes Please! - in hindsight, sending Bez and Shaun Ryder to record in Barbados may not have been the brightest idea.

But were either of them among the most expensive? Here's our attempt to tally the definitive Top Ten of budget-blowers...

  • 10 albums that blew the budget

    1.

    Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle

    Estimated cost: $35,000 ($250,000 in today's money)

    Released: 1967

    In 1965, Parks recorded a cover of Donovan's Colours. Its positive reception convinced Warner Bros. to let the young composer have a crack at making an album. Two years later, they received Song Cycle, 33 minutes of half songs strung together in one dreamy medley. At $35,000, it came in three and a half times over the usual budget for an album, let alone a debut. 

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 1

    2.

    Queen - A Night At The Opera

    Estimated cost: £45,000 (£400,000 in today's money)

    Released: 1975

    At the time of its release, A Night At The Opera was the most expensive album ever made. Recorded in at least six different studios, it was actually written and recorded very quickly; between June and November 1976. A feat all the more amazing when you consider that one of its 12 songs is the absurdly complex, epoch defining, very-very frightening six-minute operetta Bohemian Rhapsody. Madness.

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 2

    3.

    Fleetwood Mac - Tusk

    Estimated cost: $1,000,000+

    Released: 1979

    After the colossal success of Rumours, things went a bit weird in Fleetwood Mac-land. It's difficult to summarise comprehensively in the space we have, but basically: drugs. And swinging. Despite the massive costs incurred Tusk still sold 4 million copies. Not bad going, though slightly short of matching Rumours. 41 million sales short, to be exact. Oops. Still, it remains a classic.

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 3

    4.

    Chris Gaines - Greatest Hits

    Estimated cost: $20,000,000 

    Released: 1999

    Do you recognise the chap on the left? And no, it's not Derek Zoolander. It is, in fact, country musician Garth Brooks. A man who, in 1999, could have released a triple LP of his fridge humming and it would have shifted millions. Perhaps bored by his country music supremacy, Brooks invented the alter-ego Chris Gaines and set about becoming a rock star. This record, titled Greatest Hits, was supposed to be the forerunner to a feature-length film. It confused the hell out of the American public, and sold poorly. No film appeared and Brooks retired the character. 

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 4

    5.

    Michael Jackson - Invincible

    Estimated cost: $55,000,000

    Released: 2001

    And now we reach what is probably the most expensive album on the list, based on the available data. Invincible, released in 2001, is alleged to have cost in the region of $30 million to make and another $25 million to promote. But why? A glance at the mammoth list of personnel is a pointer...

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 5

    6.

    Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

    Estimated cost: $15,000,000

    Released (finally): 2008

    Work began on Guns N' Roses sixth album Chinese Democracy in 1994. However, Axl Rose spent the next 14 years faffing, hiring and firing countless producers and musicians seemingly indiscriminately along the way. When it was finally completed in 2008, costs were estimated at more than $13 million - and that's just production, not promotion. Mind-boggling.

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 6

    7.

    Brian Wilson - Smile

    Estimated cost: $Unknown

    Released: 2004

    In 1966, Beach Boy Brian Wilson recorded the most expensive single of all time: Good Vibrations. The studio time and equipment totted up to $70,000, the same price as the whole of the classic Pet Sounds LP. His next album, Smile, was to be recorded entirely in this way. Sadly, Wilson's mental health deteriorated while trying to undertake the project, and it was shelved until 2004. It's tough to put an actual figure on the price of Smile, but it reportedly cost Capitol Records in excess of $100,000 - with nothing to show for their cash.

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 7

    8.

    Def Leppard - Hysteria

    Estimated cost: £3,000,000

    Released: 1987

    With 20 million copies shifted, Hysteria is one of the best-selling albums of all time. However, it didn't always look a certainty for success. Most of the production costs were incurred by delays in production, the most horrific of which being the loss of drummer Rick Allen's left arm in a car accident in 1984. An album's worth of material recorded with Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman was completely scrapped, too. It all adds up.

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 8

    9.

    Mariah Carey - Glitter

    Estimated cost: $Unknown

    Released: 2001

    It's not known how much Mariah Carey's Glitter album, plus the film of the same name, cost to make. What is known, however, is that Virgin/EMI paid £19million to cancel her recording contract in January 2002. A dramatic U-turn, given that they had signed her to a record£70million, five-album deal less than a year earlier.

  • 10 albums that blew the budget 9

    10.

    Tears For Fears - The Seeds Of Love

    Estimated cost: £1,000,000+

    Released: 1989

    Tears For Fears took four years to make their third album. Normally, a gap that long between releases suggests that the artists concerned have had some downtime. However, in this instance, the band were hard at work. Well, okay, half the band were at work. While Roland Orzabal mutated into a perfectionist, slaving over countless versions of the same songs, Curt Smith was accused of living a "jetset lifestyle", gadding about the globe like an actual rock star. Much of The Seeds Of Love was laboured over, recorded and then scrapped completely, a recording technique that resulted in spiralling costs. 

     

Share this article

Related Posts