Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

In Focus

Outtakes or must-haves? Legacy acts won’t stop releasing music – have we reached ‘peak archive’?

As Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Elton John and others keep serving up unreleased songs and demos, Stevie Chick looks at the artists whose ever expanding back catalogues test their fans’s patience – and purchasing power

Saturday 24 February 2024 06:00 GMT
Comments
Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Bob Dylan: Like Prospero in ‘The Tempest’, these stars are preparing to hang up their magic forever, looking to shore up their legacies and shape how they’ll be remembered
Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Bob Dylan: Like Prospero in ‘The Tempest’, these stars are preparing to hang up their magic forever, looking to shore up their legacies and shape how they’ll be remembered (iStock/Getty)

It ain’t cheap to be a Neil Young completist right now. His latest release Dume is the maverick singer-songwriter’s 20th album in five years. But the 78-year-old isn’t experiencing some late-career surge of creativity: 16 of those 20 albums are entirely composed of material recorded many years earlier. And Young’s not the only baby-boomer superstar scavenging nuggets from his closet to share with his fans – The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Elton John and many more are at it too. Everyone, it seems, is glorying in the era of “peak archive”.

Back in the day, the release of unreleased old recordings was a shadier business, with labels often ripping off fans and artists alike as they scraped every barrel they owned. Artists who’d left one label and found success elsewhere might discover former paymasters repackaging their old dregs as new material. When Aretha Franklin became the queen of soul following her mid-1960s move to Atlantic Records, her previous label Columbia issued numerous compilations of discarded songs from her six underwhelming years with them, competing with her genuine new releases.

The premature passing of a star often provoked an avalanche of outtakes (and still does: see the posthumous Kurt Cobain industry). Jimi Hendrix died while still conceiving the sequel to his 1968 masterpiece Electric Ladyland. This unfinished work soon surfaced across a series of posthumous releases of wildly varying quality. The marvellous 1971 release The Cry of Love debuted future fan favourites like “Angel” and “Drifting”, but by 1975’s Crash Landing his label was hiring session musicians to patch up otherwise unreleasable Hendrix fragments. The results were often dire.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in