Being successful in rock 'n' roll has a lot to do with talent, of course. But it would also be fair to say that where an artist ultimately ends up is influenced greatly by the kind of people they surround themselves with.

The reality of the music business is that not everyone working within it has honest intentions. Managers, promoters and record executives sometimes possess and act on personal motivations (often financial in nature) that go far beyond the best interest of a band or artist, leading to unpleasant relationships where one side feels taken advantage of the other. You can guess which one is which.

  1. That's certainly not always the case, but the list below of 24 Songs About Managers and Record Executives focuses primarily on tracks whose writers have a bone to pick.

1. Badfinger, "Hey, Mr. Manager"
From: Headfirst (2000)

Headfirst, the 10th and final album by Badfinger was recorded in 1974 but not released for nearly three decades, thanks to an onslaught of legal issues. At the time, Warner Bros. Records' publishing division sued both Badfinger and their manager Stan Polley over money that was missing from an escrow account and refused to accept the master tapes for Headfirst. But even before Badfinger became aware of the lawsuit, they were suspicious of Polley and considered him untrustworthy when it came to their finances, hence songs like "Hey, Mr. Manager."

 

2. The Beatles, "You Never Give Me Your Money"
From: Abbey Road (1969)

By 1969, the Beatles' business affairs — and their personal relationships with one another — appeared to be unraveling. "["You Never Give Me Your Money"] was me directly lambasting [manager] Allen Klein's attitude to us: no money, just funny paper, all promises and it never works out," Paul McCartney said for 1997's Many Years From Now. "It's basically a song about no faith in the person, that found its way into the medley on Abbey Road. John [Lennon] saw the humor in it."

 

3. Billy Joel, "The Great Wall of China"
From: River of Dreams (1993)

In the late '80s, Billy Joel learned that his manager (and former brother-in-law) Frank Weber was grossly mishandling his finances. Joel sued Weber and was ultimately awarded $2 million in 1990, but the deception stuck with Joel as he wrote songs for 1993's River of Dreams. Themes of distrust and disappointment appeared on songs like "The Great Wall of China." "It was much more of an emotional betrayal for me than financial," Joel recalled to The New York Times Magazine in 2013, "because this was somebody I trusted so much."

 

4. Black Sabbath, "The Writ"
From: Sabotage (1975)

There's not that many Black Sabbath songs featuring lyrics penned by Ozzy Osbourne, but "The Writ" is one of them, in which the singer vented some of his frustrations toward the band's former manager Patrick Meehan, who was then suing them. "I wrote most of the lyrics myself, which felt a bit like seeing a shrink," Osbourne wrote in his 2011 memoir I Am Ozzy. "All the anger I felt towards Meehan came pouring out."

 

5. Bob Dylan, "Dear Landlord"
From: John Wesley Harding (1967)

Sometimes you don't know who or what exactly you're writing about until after the fact. Bob Dylan didn't have his manager Albert Grossman in mind when he penned "Dear Landlord" — "If you don't underestimate me / I won't underestimate you" — but as he said to Rolling Stone in 1971, "only later when people pointed out that the song may have been written for Grossman I thought it could have been."

 

6. Bon Jovi, "Burning Bridges"
From: Burning Bridges (2015)

By the time Bon Jovi split with Mercury Records in 2015, they'd been working with the label for over 30 years. But enough was evidently enough — "Hope my money and my masters buy a front row seat in hell," Jon Bon Jovi sings on the title track to Burning Bridges. "This hits it right in the head and tells you what happened," he noted at the time. "Listen to the lyrics because it explains exactly what happened. And that's that."

 

7. The Clash, "Complete Control"
From: The Clash (1977)

The Clash got straight to the point from the top of 1977's "Complete Control," which appeared on their debut album: "They said, 'Release Remote Control' / But we didn't want it on the label." How much clearer need one be? This was a direct reference to the fact that CBS had released "Remote Control" as a single without the band's permission. And that wasn't all — the title "Complete Control," according to Joe Strummer, stemmed from a conversation with Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, who apparently stated he wished to have "complete control."

 

8. Graham Parker and the Rumour, "Mercury Poisoning"
From: 1979 Single

The Clash were hardly the only ones to write about their frustrations with their label. Graham Parker aired his own grievances with 1979's "Mercury Poisoning," a straightforward statement about his feelings toward Mercury Records, whom he felt had done little to help him promotionally. "It wouldn't matter if I was singing Saturday Night Fever with Mercury, it would still be a flop," Parker joked to Rip It Up in 1978.

 

9. Hall and Oates, "Gino (The Manager)"
From: Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975)

Daryl Hall and John Oates wanted very much for people to know who "Gino (The Manager)" was about, which describes a man with "Sicilian imagination" and "Gucci-Pucci pointed shoes." The record jacket insert for 1975's Daryl Hall & John Oates reads "And introducing Tommy Mottola [their manager] as 'Little Gino.'" Mottola loved the song — "I thought it was true, and I thought it was great," he told Rolling Stone in 1985.

 

10. Heart, "Barracuda"
From: Little Queen (1977)

For some reason in the late '70s, Mushroom Records decided to launch a fake publicity stunt involving an incestuous relationship between sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Furious, Ann penned "Barracuda." It didn't help that Mushroom was less than cooperative when it came to renegotiating their contract. "'Barracuda’ was created conceptually out of a lot of this record business bullshit," producer Mike Flicker said to Mix Magazine in 1999. "'Barracuda could be anyone from the local promotion man to the president of a record company. That is the barracuda. It was born out of that whole experience."

 

11. John Fogerty, "Zanz Kant Danz"
From: Centerfield (1985)

John Fogerty's "Zanz Kant Danz" was so painfully obviously written about Saul Zaentz, owner of Fantasy Records, that Fogerty attempted to change its title to "Vanz Kant Danz" a few months after it was released in an effort to avoid a defamation lawsuit (which didn't work). Zaentz famously had tried to sue Fogerty in 1980 for plagiarizing his own songwriting.

 

12. Joni Mitchell, "Free Man in Paris"
From: Court and Spark (1974)

As its title suggests, Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris" takes place in the French capital, and the free man in question is David Geffen, then-president of her record label, Asylum. "Another song about show business and the pressures," Mitchell recounted in 1996. "He didn't like it at the time. He begged me to take it off the record. I think he felt uncomfortable being shown in that light."

 

13. Kid Rock, "I Got One for Ya'"
From: Devil Without a Cause (1998)

"Record companies stressin' that they all want hits," Kid Rock sings in 1998's "I Got One for Ya.'" A few lines later, he makes a direct reference to Jason Flom, head of Lava Records and the man who had originally given him the demo tape containing the song. "Hey Flom you want a hit, money? / I got one for ya.'"

 

14. The Kinks, "The Moneygoround"
From: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970)

Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One examines a number of aspects of the recording industry, including the accounting. "The Moneygoround" even mentions the Kinks' three managers, Robert Wace, Grenville Collins and Larry Page. "Let's all sit and watch the money-go-round / Everyone take a little bit here and a little bit there."

 

15. Led Zeppelin, "Hots on for Nowhere"
From: Presence (1976)

In the summer of 1975, Robert Plant was involved in a car accident. While recovering from his injuries in Malibu, California, he penned "Hots on for Nowhere," in which Plant considered his future and his relationships with those close to him, including Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant. "I've got friends who will give me fuck all," he sings.

 

16. Nick Lowe, "I Love My Label"
From: Jesus of Cool (1978)

In sharp contrast to every other song on this list, Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" actually waxes poetic about all the things he likes about his record label. "They always ask for lots of songs, but no more than 2:50 long, so I write 'em some / They never talk behind my back and they're always playing my new tracks when I come along."

 

 

17. Procol Harum, "Butterfly Boys"
From: Exotic Birds and Fruit (1974)

It didn't take the higher ups at Chrysalis Records very long to recognize that the "butterfly" in this Procol Harum song was a reference to them. "Procol Harum is the 'sinking ship' here," Gary Brooker later explained, "and the label owners, who were also our managers, are the ones that 'get the cake'. We weren't exactly ripped off, not like in the past, but [Keith] Reid had spotted an imbalance! They were very upset about the song, and wanted us to change the words and title to 'Government Boys.' We said 'Bollocks.'"

 

18. Queen, "Death on Two Legs"
From: A Night at the Opera (1975)

There is no direct mention of Queen's former manager, Norman Sheffield, in 1975's "Death on Two Legs," but the lyrics leave little room for interpretation as far as who it's about. "You suck my blood like a leech / You break the law and you breach / Screw my brain till it hurts / You've taken all my money, you still want more." In subsequent live performances, Freddie Mercury would sometimes introduce the song as being about "a real motherfucker of a gentleman."

 

19. The Rolling Stones, "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man"
From: Out of Our Heads (1965)

In his 2002 book Rolling With the Stones, bassist Bill Wyman confirmed that 1965's "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man" was "a good-natured jibe" at a man named George Sherlock, who worked for London Records and accompanied the band on their first American tour.

 

20. Sammy Hagar, "On the Other Hand"
From: Marching to Mars (1997)

Anyone even remotely familiar with Van Halen knows that the transition between singers Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth wasn't exactly smooth. In 1993, Ray Daniels, the brother-in-law of Alex Van Halen, took over as manager after the death of Ed Leffler. Around that time, Hagar penned two songs for a soundtrack album, only to learn that one of them would be used for a greatest hits LP instead. "That's where the bad blood started," Hagar recalled to SFGATE in 1996. "Next thing I knew they pulled David Lee Roth in because supposedly I wasn't co-operating." Hagar's "On the Other Hand" reflected some of this frustration, with lines about "an evil man, money on his mind."

 

21. The Sex Pistols, "E.M.I."
From: Nevermind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)

The Sex Pistols may not have been around for very long but if there was one thing advisable not to do then was piss them off. In early 1977, the Sex Pistols' contract with EMI was terminated after only three months, sparking a song named after the label about the hypocrisy the band felt they'd been handed, with lyrics implying the label wanted to make money off the growing punk phenomenon, only to get scared the Pistols would damage their reputation.

 

22. Sheryl Crow, "The Na-Na Song"
From: Tuesday Night Music Club (1993)

Sheryl Crow didn't write "The Na-Na Song" about anyone specific — it was more an overarching piece about misogyny in the music business — but she also didn't pass up the chance to name-check Frank DiLeo, who had helped sign Michael Jackson to Epic Records. Crow had met DiLeo when she worked as one of Jackson's backup singers. "Frank DiLeo's dong / Maybe if I'd have let him I'd have had a hit song."

 

23. XTC, "I Bought Myself a Liarbird"
From: The Big Express (1984)

XTC's "I Bought Myself a Liarbird" is play on the word "lyrebird," a type of bird known for their ability to mimic sounds in their environment. This 1984 track was written about their shady former manager Ian Reid, who worked for the band up until 1982 when it was discovered he was mishandling their income. Years and years of litigation followed.

 

24. Yes, "Five per Cent for Nothing"
From: Fragile (1971)

When Yes' original manager, Roy Flynn, parted ways with the group in the early '70s, a deal was struck in which he would still receive 5% of the band's earnings in perpetuity, but the band was unhappy with this agreement, going so far as to write an entire song about it. In the end, Flynn settled with the band out of court for $150,000. "To be honest, after two years I was just emotionally drained," he recalled to Oxford Mail in 2010. "It's part of my life I'd rather forget."

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Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening

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