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SurfGuitar101 Forums » The Shallow End »

Permalink The Day the Music Burned

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It was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business — and almost nobody knew. This is the story of the 2008 Universal fire:

Holy crap!!! This is unbelievable. Thank you for sharing!


Interesting read. Does anybody have a way to verify the accuracy of this?

I am shocked that I never heard of this incident before, so, thank you Summerfun, for sharing this article.

A google search on "UMG fire" produced several articles in response to the New York Times article, from Variety, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian Magazine, Billboard, etc. So, yeah, this happened. The Times may have milked it for the greatest dramatic effect, but the bare facts are tragic enough.

It looks like UMG does not dispute that the damage was severe, but UMG downplays the loss of up to 500,000 master tapes and the NY Times assertion that priceless recordings have been "lost forever."

My takeaway is, yes, UMG says the actual historic analog tape master records were lost, and that is a great tragedy for our musical heritage, but, luckily, tens of thousands of master-quality audiophile versions of recordings have been released. UMG is doubtlessly trying to minimize the reported damage and present itself as highly involved with restoration and preservation projects.

So on the positive side, many of these classic music records are still available in some format and not, technically, "lost forever". BUT, to quote Variety,

"Despite its at-times dramatic tone, the article does contextualize the assets that were lost, which are primarily historic in value. “John Coltrane and Patsy Cline music has not vanished from the earth; right now you can use a streaming service to listen to Coltrane and Cline records whose masters burned on the backlot,” it reads. “But those masters still represent an irretrievable loss. When the tapes disappeared, so did the possibility of sonic revelations that could come from access to the original recordings. Information that was logged on or in the tape boxes is gone. And so are any extra recordings those masters may have contained — music that may not have been heard by anyone since it was put on tape.".

The list of destroyed masters is mindbogglingly staggering. It broke my heart when I read that

Also apparently destroyed were the masters for dozens of canonical hit singles, including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley/I’m A Man,” Etta James’s “At Last,” the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”

And there you have it, the sonogram of the birth of rock and roll is gone, and has been gone for over ten years. Yesterday, I was blissfully ignorant, and nothing has really changed today, but damnit...

SSS Agent #777

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