This probably isn’t news to you, but with the best will in the world, record companies don’t always know what they’re doing, or even what they’re doing it with. Most people have a favorite box set that manages to omit every song the fans have been waiting for; most have a favorite bootleg, preserving an album that the record company rejected as being unsaleable; and many have a favorite tale of such absurd denial that it literally defies belief.
Through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, EMI’s Harvest subsidiary was constantly receiving phone calls asking whether they’d ever release any new Syd Barrett music. The reply was always the same — there isn’t any. Barrett hadn’t been near a studio since 1974, and he hadn’t actually recorded a song for four long years before that. Two solo albums issued in the aftermath of his departure from Pink Floyd represented the sum total of their holdings.
For 18 long years, this was the official line; for 18 long years, collectors and bootleggers looked at one another and scratched their heads. Three Floyd-era outtakes, “Sunshine,” “Scream Your Last Scream” and “Vegetable Man” were in wide circulation. Two full-length BBC sessions, for the Top Gear and Sounds of the 70s shows, were a matter of public record. And at least an album’s worth of alternate versions and unreleased songs had been doing the underground rounds since at least the late 1970s.
And the record company claimed none of them actually existed. How odd.
It was 1988 before Harvest actually lifted up the mattress and began rooting around beneath. And what did they find? Opel, a compilation of unreleased material that barely even looked at the material that was already in underground circulation and which itself proved merely the tip of the iceberg. A little under 10 years later, a Barrett three-CD box set not only expanded the original Opel vinyl into a fully stuffed CD, it also unearthed sufficient further material to pack the reissued Barrett and Madcap Laughs solo albums to 70-plus minutes. And 2001 brought another compilation, the whimsically titled Wouldn’t You Miss Me? The Best of Syd Barrett, and what was waiting at the end of the disc? Yet another previously unreleased cut to lure in the collectors. All of which adds up to around two hours worth of new music, and the Floyd tracks and Sounds of the 70s broadcasts were still unavailable.
The Barrett story may or may not be an extreme example of labels either denying, or dismissing, the existence of further material, and is, in any case, muddied by the circumstances surrounding Barrett’s own withdrawal from the industry. Sometimes, however, music hitherto regarded as the stuff of mere legend is consigned to the realms of absolute myth for reasons that we might never be privy to.
Back in 1991, readers of Goldmine magazine were treated to a very detailed feature written by Jeff Rougvie, product manager at Rykodisc Records, rebutting a similarly detailed story denigrating the label’s handling of their recently acquired David Bowie back catalog (“Unreleased Bowie: Is Rykodisc Holding Back the Good Stuff?” – Goldmine 12/14/90). The bone of contention was the non-appearance of Bowie’s version of “All the Young Dudes,” either as a bonus track on the appropriate Aladdin Sane album, or anywhere else within the catalog. “I’m not convinced that there ever was a real studio recording of ‘All The Young Dudes’,” Rougvie told Goldmine readers, “as every tape I ever got cl