A recent New York Times story detailing the extensive damage caused by the Universal fire in 2008, which struck at Universal Studios Hollywood and resulted in the loss of a dizzying number of iconic recordings, including those mentioned in the passage below:
“The list of destroyed single and album masters takes in titles by dozens of legendary artists, a genre-spanning who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century popular music. It includes recordings by Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Big Mama Thornton, Burl Ives, the Weavers, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, George Strait, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.”
The damage was higher than initially reported at the time, as Vulture broke down:
According to the Times, a court document from 2009 estimated the “assets destroyed” at 118,230. But another confidential report obtained by the paper has Universal Music Group saying “an estimated 500K song titles” were destroyed. Specific tracks that were reportedly burned up include Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Etta James’s “At Last,” the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.” The vault where the blaze occurred also housed more than artists immediately associated with UMG. As the Times explains, “There were recordings from dozens of record companies that had been absorbed by Universal over the years, including several of the most important labels of all time,” including big names like Decca, Chess, and Impulse. There were also masters from the labels MCA, ABC, A&M, Geffen, and Interscope. Amid the incalculable loss of music history, it’s possible Billie Holiday’s entire Decca catalogue was lost.
In subsequent conversations after this story initially run earlier this week, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic shared concern that the original studio masters of the band’s seminal Nevermind album may be lost forever:
I think they are gone forever.
— Krist Novoselić (@KristNovoselic) June 12, 2019
Of course, Nevermind has had several remastered reissues in the years since its 1991 release, though losing the original source material is rough all around … not to mention all the other artists’ whose session recordings are now gone forever as well.
Questlove, drummer of the Roots, echoed a similar thought regarding a couple of early Roots albums, too:
For everyone asking why Do You Want More & Illdelph Halflife wont get reissue treatment https://t.co/Vs0ykRcyAK
— Questlove De La Rose (@questlove) June 11, 2019
Steely Dan manager Irving Azoff also issued the following statement, per Variety:
“We have been aware of ‘missing’ original Steely Dan tapes for a long time now,” he wrote. “We’ve never been given a plausible explanation. Maybe they burned up in the big fire. In any case, it’s certainly a lost treasure.”