Legendary artists achieve such lofty status because their work is consistent with the highest standard, and they rarely miss the mark. But, unfortunately, their perfectionism can be both a gift and a curse simultaneously, as these ten scrapped albums prove.
There’s no doubt that some albums on this list were abandoned by the artist in question for the right reasons after realising the LP wasn’t fit for public consumption. However, the beauty derives from the listener having no clue whether the LP was a masterpiece in waiting or a recipe for disaster.
We’ve got little to judge the albums from, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not desperate to hear every single one on the list and understand why the project didn’t arrive on time. Imagine if The Beatles decided to abandon Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band because they deemed it too experimental, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.
Here, we are taking a look at ten albums thrown on the scrap heap and exploring why they never were released. Even some of the greatest artists ever have questioned their own methods from time to time, so let’s get to it.
10 abandoned albums from iconic musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Electric Nebraska
Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is an acoustic masterpiece that isn’t far away from utter perfection, but even The Boss couldn’t make an electric version of the album work. The record we all know and love was originally a draft version that he had planned to bring to life with the E Street Band. However, the final result didn’t sit right with Springsteen.
“They overruled the lyrics,” he told Uncut. “It didn’t work. Those two forms didn’t fit. The band comes in and generally makes noise, and the lyrics wanted silence.”
“The E Street Band actually did record all of Nebraska, and it was killing,” drummer Max Weinberg told Rolling Stone. “It was all very hard-edged. As great as it was, it wasn’t what Bruce wanted to release. There is a full-band Nebraska album – all of those songs are in the can somewhere.”
Marvin Gaye – Love Man
During the latter stages of Marvin Gaye’s life, his problems spiralled out of control and he was becoming more famous for overindulging in the party world than for producing hits. Finally, in 1979, he promised to write the wrongs of his declining career and return to his roots with a new album called Love Man.
“All these boys are romancing my fans and I don’t like it,” he snarled at the time following the emergence of artists like Prince. “I’m getting my fans back. I’m doing a straight-ahead make-out party album.”
The lead single ‘Ego Tripping Out’ didn’t quite bring his fans back into his arms, and a huge tax bill meant that Gaye had to immediately hit the road to make money, with the album dropping to the back of his mind.
In the end, the album never came to fruition, and Gaye instead moved on to his next project, 1981’s In Our Lifetime. “No matter how much money Motown would give me to release Love Man, I couldn’t do it,” Gaye said about the ordeal.
Green Day – Cigarettes and Valentines
Green Day intended to release Cigarettes and Valentines in 2003 and even recorded over 20-songs for the record before deciding to abandon the project entirely.
They headed back into the studio and created the concept album American Idiot, which turned out to be an international hit that eventually ended up on Broadway.
“It’s pretty much in the vault right now,” Billie Joe Armstrong told NME in 2016. “There was the one song, ‘Cigarettes and Valentines’ that we brought out live, I don’t know, we’ll see if any of that stuff ends up seeing the light of day.”
Dr. Dre – Detox
Dr. Dre’s Detox has been in the works for almost 20 years now, but we’ve still only heard the occasional leak and never anything official. The NWA rapper has recently returned to the project after a few years away, and it looks like it might finally be completed, but we’ve been here many times before.
“I had between 20 and 40 songs for Detox, and I just couldn’t feel it,” Dre explained to Rolling Stone in 2015. “Usually, I can hear the sequence of an album as I’m going, but I wasn’t able to do that. I wasn’t feeling it in my gut. So I really thought I was done being an artist.”
Mick Jagger & The Red Devils
The Red Devils were big fish in the LA jazz club scene, and legendary producer Rick Rubin introduced them to Mick Jagger. The Stones frontman then recorded an album with the group, which never saw the light of day.
Jagger recorded 13-songs with the band in 1992 during a mammoth session, there were no rehearsals, and they wanted the album to be freewheelin’. Seemingly, this concept sounded better in their heads than on stereo, as his solo career went down a different avenue.
Jimi Hendrix – Black Gold
Before his death, Jimi Hendrix was gearing up to steer his career in a new direction and challenge himself. The project was titled Black Gold, which he described as “Pieces. I guess that’s what you call it. Like movements. I’ve been writing some of those.”
Hendrix kept his cards close to his chest when it came to the project. “It’s mostly cartoon material,” he said. “I make up this one cat who’s funny. He goes through all these strange scenes. You could put it to music, I guess.”
Mitch Mitchell found a collection of tapes in 1992, but only the track, ‘Suddenly November Morning’, has been released by Hendrix’s estate. Following Mitchell’s death in 2010, it looks unlikely the LP will arrive soon.
Prince – The Black Album
Prince probably scrapped more albums than he ended up releasing throughout his career, but his reason for withdrawing The Black Album makes it a worthy mention on this list.
The Black Album was shelved by the Purple One after becoming unsure if his latest effort was suitable for the current landscape while high on ecstasy and having an epiphany.
During the clarity of mind that Prince had during the trip, he became convinced that the album was an “evil” entity and demanded that the album was shelved — just a week before it was due to go on sale.
Withdrawing the record would end up being a slightly futile act and, in the end, too little too late. It was simply too far down the line to stop the album from reaching the public, and the LP would later become the most bootlegged album of all time.
The Beatles – Get Back
Get Back is the most notorious scrapped album of all time, and although a lot of tracks would make their way on to Let It Be, the essence that Paul McCartney envisaged was lost on the way.
“The idea was that you’d see the Beatles rehearsing, jamming, getting their act together and then finally performing somewhere in a big end-of-show concert,” McCartney explained about Get Back during Anthology. “We would show how the whole process worked. I remember I had an idea for the final scene, which would be a massive tracking shot, forever and ever, and then we’d be in the concert.”
John Lennon wasn’t ever really invested in the projected, he also revealed in Anthology, stating: “We’re lazy fuckers, and we’ve been playing for 20 years, for fuck’s sake. We’re grown men, we’re not going to sit around rehearsing. And we couldn’t get into it, and we put down a few tracks, and nobody was in it at all. It was just a dreadful, dreadful feeling and, being filmed all the time, I just wanted them to go away.”
The Beach Boys – Smile
Following the huge expectation that rested on The Beach Boys’ shoulders after the monumental success of Pet Sounds, they found themselves stuck in a conundrum and ended up scrapping the album.
The Beach Boys decided to get avant-garde and experiment like never before on Smile, but, instead, came to the conclusion that it was too far out to release. So instead, they downscaled the tracks on the record and created a minimalist version titled, Smiley Smile which they shared with fans in 1967.
Neil Young – Homegrown
Neil Young finally put fans out of their misery in 2020 when he shared, Homegrown at long last. The album was recorded in the mid-1970s when Young was undisputedly at the top of his game, but he decided to release the more upbeat Tonight’s The Night. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t allow Homegrown to flourish in the wilderness until almost 40 years later.
Young confirmed the release in a lengthy statement, writing: “I apologise. This album Homegrown should have been there for you a couple of years after Harvest. It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on. So I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind… but I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful. That’s why I made it in the first place.
“Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean. This is the one that got away. Recorded in analogue in 1974 and early 1975 from the original master tapes and restored with love and care by John Hanlon.”