Making an album can often get out of hand, and the longer process goes on, the more costs spiral, leaving record labels severely out of pocket with jobs dependent on the success of their client’s forthcoming project.
Labels have been destroyed over this issue, and more often than not, the higher the costs of recording an album doesn’t equate to a high-quality level of output. While there are several classics in this list that benefitted from the unlimited funds on offer during production, there’s usually a reason why costs sky-rocket so gigantically during production. Frequently, inner turmoil inside the camp elongates the process and racks up the bills that the record label is left to pick up.
Below, we look at some of the most notorious cases in the history of music of occasions when artists have forgotten about the possible consequences of their carefree attitude, much to the dismay of label executives, and money is treated like it’s no object.
The 10 most expensive albums ever made:
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
When The Beatles got round to making Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were working with a limitless budget. EMI were more than willing for them to spend whatever they wanted on the album because they knew that The Fab Four were the most profitable band on the planet and would more than recoup the costs, no matter how astronomical.
They worked under strict restraints during their early days, and their debut album was recorded in just one day, whereas over 700 hours of studio time was ploughed into Sgt. Pepper’s.
EMI were proved correct to give The Beatles free reign to make whatever album they pleased even if it cost an equivalent of £500,000 in today’s money. To date, Sgt. Pepper’s has sold over 32 million copies, making the excess production costs look minuscule.
Happy Mondays – Yes Please
While there’s not a figure attached to the cost of Happy Mondays’ 1992 album Yes Please, we do know that it cost a pretty penny to make, and it forced the iconic Factory Records to enter bankruptcy.
The album was recorded in Barbados, but they quickly squandered the hefty advance they were given on drugs after Shaun Ryder’s sobriety ended and their stay in the Caribbean descended into chaos.
Yes Please still made the top 20 in the UK chart, yet, there wasn’t a successful single from the album, and Factory Records’ gamble on Happy Mondays would leave them insolvent just a few weeks after its release.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
My Bloody Valentine needed to get their second album right after the critical success of their 1988 debut, Isn’t Anything. Creative Records didn’t pressure Kevin Shields and allowed him to make the record that he wanted. However, it would be a decision that label chief Alan McGee would later regret.
The longer it went on, the more McGee felt the financial pressure and said the process was “a factor in my personal meltdown”. Whenever he tried to get Shields to finish the album, he was met with passive-aggressive behaviour, and their relationship quickly deteriorated.
Costs for the record eventually rose to the equivalent of £400,000 in 2021, and thankfully Creation managed to survive. While Loveless is revered as a true classic album, it only charted at 24 in the UK album charts and brought an end to their creative partnership with the label.
The Darkness – One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back
The rise and fall of The Darkness was a whirlwind in the 2000s. Their debut album, Permission to Land, went to number one in 2003, and the glam-rock throwbacks even headlined Reading & Leeds Festival the following year alongside giants The White Stripes and Green Day. However, their time at the top of the mountain didn’t last long.
Atlantic Records spent £1million on their follow up album, One Way Ticket To Hell… And Back. However, they discovered the hard way that their time as the flavour of the month was firmly over, and the album didn’t even crack the top ten. The group split up the following year before reuniting in 2011 and have released five albums independently since.
Metallica – The Black Album
Over the decade leading up to Metallica releasing The Black Album, the band were gradually climbing the ladder which was their crowning moment when they finally confirmed their place at the top table.
Producer, Bob Rock, is a perfectionist who wanted every take to be just right, even if it meant that the process dragged, and tensions rose as a result. In the end, it took eight months of meticulously recording for him to get the sound he wanted, and they reaped immense rewards from his intense methods.
“The goal from the start was to get this thing perfect,” guitarist Kirk Hammett later commented. “Even though we had our problems with Bob, we knew that he was the person who could get that done.”
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
Following Rumours, the world’s eyes were on Fleetwood Mac as they prepared to make their follow-up, and the group needed to make sure that everything was golden. Everything about Tusk was ambitious, as they tried to make a sonic departure from their predecessor, and they showed a new side of themselves on the double album. However, it did cost the equivalent of $3.57 million in 2020.
“In the context of the whole, Rumours took longer to make than Tusk. One of the reasons why Tusk cost so much is that we happened to be at a studio that was charging a fuck of a lot of money,” Lindsey Buckingham later commented.
He continued: “During the making of Tusk, we were in the studio for about ten months, and we got 20 songs out of it. Rumours took the same amount of time. It didn’t cost so much because we were in a cheaper studio. There’s no denying what it cost, but I think it’s been taken out of context.”
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Def Jam did everything in their power to keep Kanye West happy during the process of recording his fourth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and they knew that a happy Ye is a money-printing machine.
He recorded the LP in a glass-enclosed mansion in Hawaii with two chefs on hand 24/7 to provide him with whatever he wanted. West had caused controversy at the MTV Awards, and his career was resting on the strength of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Overall, the costs spiked to over $3 million, but it proved to be money well spent by Def Jam as it made the public fall back in love with West all over again, and it sold millions of copies worldwide.
Def Leppard – Hysteria
A lot had changed in the four years between the release of Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Hysteria. The future of the group looked in doubt following drummer Rick Allen losing his arm in a car accident in 1984, which understandably caused mass delays, and all cost precautions went out of the window.
The plagued process allowed costs to soar, and by the time the album was ready for release, it had set back their label $3.5 million. They needed it to sell five million copies just to break even, and the pressure was mounting. Fortunately, the public’s want for Def Leppard hadn’t diminished in their absence, and Hysteria went on to shift more than 20 million copies across the globe.
Guns ‘N Roses – Chinese Democracy
Chinese Democracy took Guns ‘N Roses 13 years to make, and by no stretch of the imagination was the final result worth the wait. It didn’t sound mastered correctly, and still to this day, it remains a mystery how not only it took that long, but also how it drained Geffen Records of $13 million.
Sales were below expectations in the United States; while it did well across Europe, it still wasn’t high enough to cover the obscene costs of production. The record wasn’t even really a Guns ‘N Roses record following the exits of Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum, who had departed in the ’90s due to creative differences.
Michael Jackson – Invincible
Michael Jackson was ‘The King of Pop’, and when you’re royalty, money is no object. His final album, Invincible, was released in 2001 after four years of relentless work procuring the most expensive songwriters, producers, and studios in the world.
While the album still topped charts across the world, selling over eight million copies to date, Jackson wasn’t the same artist as he was during his ’80s pomp. Additionally, there wasn’t that same fanfare surrounding the album like with his previous work despite costing a reported $30 million to create.