Elton John, Eagles, GNR master recordings among 100,000 destroyed in fire

News 12/06/2019

We finally have more details on the tragic 2008 fire that scorched the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood has done more damage than initially divulged.

A statement made public for the first time since then saying that they have lost over 100,000 master recordings owned by Universal Music Group in the fire.

Among the works are by Elton John, Tom Petty, the Eagles, Guns N' Roses, the Police and Nirvana. You can see the full list below.

NY Times has cited internal company documents and interviews with UMG employees as their sources. One of the documents used in a 2009 company meeting declared that the "lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage."

When the fire broke out in 2008, Universal Studios revealed minimal details regarding the damage to the archival warehouse that was referred to as the 'video vault'. They shifted the focus to the famous studio sound stages and filming facades that burned down. 

A 2008 Deadline article suggested that the fire may have burned down irreplaceable "1,000's of original ... recording masters". However, a Universal spokesperson denied the claims and has told Billboard that UMG suffered "no loss".

NY Times cites a 2009 confidential report, indicating that UMG has estimated over "500K song titles" were lost. 

It's a secret I'm ashamed to have been a part of

Randy Aronson, former senior director of vault operations, has worked for Universal for 25 years. He admitted that his employer attempted to downplay the loss in fear of any public backlash. 

According to NY Times, "masters for largely forgotten artists" were stored in the vault that burned down, those include genres of gospel, jazz, blues, country, disco, soul, pop, easy listening, classical, comedy and spoken-word recordings "may be lost forever and only exists as written entries in discographies."

The fire at the Universal backlot in June 2008.. Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

Among the lost masters are likely to include most of Chuck Berry's Chess masters and multitrack masters, part of Berry's most excellent recordings ever. 

"The company knew that there would be shock and outrage if people found out the real story," Aronson explained. "They did an outstanding job of keeping it quiet. It's a secret I'm ashamed to have been a part of."

It feels as if music has evolved beyond the reach of objects," says Andy Zax, a Grammy-nominated producer. "In fact, we are as dependent on irritating physical stuff as we ever were."

Below is a list of master recordings speculated to be lost forever. Details on other lost recordings were not revealed. You can read the full article here.

  • Elton John
  • Eric Clapton
  • The Eagles
  • Aerosmith
  • Steely Dan
  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • The Police
  • Guns N' Roses
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • Nirvana
  • Soundgarden
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Beck
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Duke Ellington
  • Al Jolson
  • The Carpenters
  • Bing Crosby
  • Bill Haley and His Comets
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Judy Garland
  • Billie Holiday
  • Chuck Berry
  • Buddy Holly
  • Aretha Franklin
  • John Coltrane
  • Count Basie
  • Ray Charles,
  • Sammy Davis Jr.
  • Les Paul
  • Fats Domino
  • Loretta Lynn
  • B.B. King
  • Quincy Jones
  • Burt Bacharach
  • Joan Baez
  • Neil Diamond
  • Sonny and Cher
  • The Mamas and the Papas
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Cat Stevens
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Jimmy Buffett
  • Don Henley
  • Iggy Pop
  • Barry White
  • Patti LaBelle
  • Yoko Ono
  • Sting
  • R.E.M.
  • Janet Jackson
  • Queen Latifah
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Sonic Youth
  • No Doubt
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Hole
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Eminem
  • The Roots