Musicians often get a raw deal when they sign to a record label. It's well documented, and we've all heard the scare stories of artists selling millions of records and earning a pittance from it.
But sometimes, those artists are smart enough to turn around and pull a prank so big that the labels don't even know how to react. These musicians play the labels at their own game, and sometimes win.
We're going to run down six examples from Cracked, not only because they're interesting but because it proves we don't always have to play to the industry's rules. And hey, maybe we'll pick up a lesson or two along the way.
01. The Rolling Stones release a rude single to get out of their contract
Mick Jagger and his crew of Rolling Stones were not happy when Decca Records insisted they continue with a contract they wanted to split from.
Their solution? Record the most profane single imaginable, and see what happens.
The song, "Schoolboy Blues", went like this:
"Oh where can I get my c--k sucked?/Where can I get my a-- f-cked?/I may have no money/But I know where to put it every time."
Profane indeed. Decca decided to sit the single on a shelf, where it stayed for 13 years before being accidentally included on a German-only box-set called "The Best Of The Rest." We know it was an accident because four weeks later a new version was pressed with the offending song removed.
It's still hard to find, but bless YouTube - you can hear a version of the song right here. Bear in mind it's NSFW.
02. Trent Reznor tells fans to steal his album
Trent Reznor has been behind some of the most innovative album release methods since the internet was born. One of them was the promotional trick of asking his fans to steal Nine Inch Nails' ambient "Ghosts I-IV" album.
It started when he found Universal Records selling his previous album "Year Zero" for $35 in Australia. When he asked why it was priced so high, the label responded with this:
"It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out -- you know, true fans. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy."
He decided to flip this on its head by offering the first of four parts of Ghosts for free on torrent sites, which in turn encouraged fans to buy the full set of EPs directly from his site.
But maybe he learnt something from his label when they said his fans are happy to pay extra. Special limited edition box-sets also went on sale at around $350, alongside other versions, netting the him millions within the first week of sales. Smart indeed.
03. The Clash trick label into releasing double album
When the Clash went to record their third studio album "London Calling", they likes the idea of making it a double record. Sadly, their label CBS disagreed.
It was one of many disagreements, and this time the band decided to play dirty. They negotiated the right to release a free single alongside the album, but secretly recorded an album's worth of B-sides at the same time - all at the expense of the label.
"London Calling" was effectively a double album, but because the deal said the extra "single" disc would be free, the whole pack was sold at the price of a regular album. The band won, the fans won, and the labels lost. It was beautiful.
04. Wilco make label pay for album twice
Wilco were dropped from Reprise Records, owned by Time Warner, in 2001. The band were halfway through recording "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" when a new manager at the label decided there weren't enough singles on the album, but at least gave the band permission to release it independently.
Once upon a time, this album would have been lost without a major company pressing up records to distribute. But this was 2001.
A new invention called the MP3 meant music files could easily be shared on the internet thanks to their tiny file size. It sparked a revolution.
The band streamed the new album for free on their website. They saw 3.5 million hits in one month, and the music industry was interested again. Fancy that.
With their newfound power, Wilco saw a bidding race between labels before settling for Nonesuch Records. But guess what: Nonesuch were a subsduary of Time Warner - the same major who owned Reprise Records, which paid to record the album in the first place.
As an executive at Nonesuch Records said at the time:
"There was a common perception and irony of one Warner label passing on the record and letting the band go out of its contract for very little cost, and another Warner label picking it up and putting it out. In other words, paying for it twice."
05. Mike Oldfield tells Richard Branson to f--k off in morse code
Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" album sold millions upon its release, thanks to a tie-in with popular horror film "The Exorcist". It was the first release on Richard Branson's Virgin Records, and it made them both a household name.
Ten years later, Virgin was growing impatient with Oldfield's dwindling record sales. So it did what every label knows best, and bullied him, insisting on a sequel to "Tubular Bells".
Oldfield was not happy, but went ahead with his contractual obligations and made a new record. But it was no sequel.
"Amorak" was an hour of the most uncommercial music ever heard, recorded specially so no individual singles could be taken from it.
To make sure Virgin knew his creative protest was intentional, Oldfield included the phrase "f--k off RB" in morse code during the album, then offered 1,000 to the first person to find the album's secret message.
Virgin quickly dropped Oldfield from the label after poor sales - or perhaps because Branson had been publicly humiliated.
His first album as an independent musician? "Tubular Bells II". And best of all, Branson would never make a penny of profit from it.
06. Black Flag break into label warehouse to self-release album
Black Flag had built a dedicated cult following by the time their debut album "Damaged" went to press. But MCA boss Al Bergamo decided to actually listen to it at the last minute, and decided it was "immoral" and "anti-parent."
The label blocked the album from release, even after pressing 25,000 copies. So the band decided to take matters into their own hands.
First, they broke into the warehouse where the album was being stored, and stuck their own stickers to the front: "As a parent I found it an anti-parent record."
Then they took the album and released it nationally through guitarist Greg Ginn's label SST instead.
But this wasn't the end of it. MCA sued Black Flag for breach of contract and were unable to release new music for two years while legal proceedings went on.
The band countered this by releasing music under their own names, but MCA sued again. Two of the band even went to jail for contempt of court, but they stuck by their morals throughout.
Have you heard similar tales of bands protesting their label contracts? Any fun examples? We'd love to read them, and will keep them in mind for future posts, so share them in the comments.