10 Musicians Look Back on the Albums They Don’t Remember Recording
After David Bowie’s tragic passing last year, I spent some time with my personal favorite Bowie album, Station to Station. While marveling over its raw power and effortless moments of innovation all over again, I couldn’t help but recall the record’s unique backstory–not only one of the best stories about David Bowie, but also one of the great pieces of rock’n’roll lore, period. Specifically, how Bowie once claimed to an interviewer that he didn’t remember the 1976 album at all.
Station to Station is perhaps the most famous instance of a pop musician claimed to not recall making a full album, or major entry into their corpus. As you might imagine, there are others. We’ve rounded up some prominent examples of major popular music figureheads not recalling the creation of one (or several) of their albums. Here are the best examples, denoted by the work of art and the creator who didn’t remember it.
David Bowie – Station to Station (Bowie)
In an interview during the Alistair-Crowley-inspired Station to Station sessions, Bowie told Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe: “I like fast drugs. I hate anything that slows me down.” This was borne out years later, when Bowie recounted this period in his life as being pretty hellish to live through. Biographer David Buckley’s research indicated that Bowie’s “diet” during the time was milk, peppers, and a lot of cocaine. Another biography by Nicholas Pegg cites Bowie going on record as saying, of the album: “I know it was [recorded] in L.A. because I’ve read it was.”
Aerosmith – “You See Me Crying” (Steven Tyler)
The commonly circulated tale, which seems to have originated from the book Aerosmith: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Boston Bad Boys, goes as follows:
This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard pic.twitter.com/AbVJfVFHr6
— pat tobin (@tastefactory) May 29, 2017
The claim is that it was “You See Me Crying,” the flop third single and closing track from 1975’s Toys in the Attic.
Fleetwood Mac – Mirage (Christine McVie)
At an odd, fraught point in their career, Fleetwood Mac holed up in a French chateau to record Mirage, their first (very-good-but-not-great) album of the ’80s. Christine McVie, when asked by Rolling Stone last year to reflect on the process of making the album, didn’t have a whole lot of insight to offer. “I don’t think any of us remember a huge amount about it! But I don’t remember there being anything bad about it, how about that?”
Alice Cooper – Special Forces/Zipper Catches Skin/DaDa (Cooper)
It’s commonly accepted wisdom that Alice Cooper, once one of hard rock’s heaviest drinkers, doesn’t remember the first three years of the 1980s—so much so that the three albums he released during that time (Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin, and DaDa) are regularly referred to as “The Blackout Albums” by his fans. Cooper used the term himself in a 2009 interview with The Quietus: “Well, there’s three albums that were basically my blackout albums – Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa and Special Forces. I wrote them, recorded them and toured them and I don’t remember much of any of that… I would actually like to go back and re-record those three albums because I never really gave them their due. I love the songs, I just don’t remember writing them.”
Lou Reed – Berlin (Reed)
As late in 2006, Lou Reed was still very self-effacing about what is widely regarded to be one of his most classic albums: 1973’s harrowing, semi-concept-album Berlin. “It was just another one of my albums that didn’t sell,” he told The New York Times as he was preparing to play a series of shows realizing the album—which is partially about and was definitely fueled by hard drug intake—as a pseudo-theatrical, multimedia concert experience. He commented that he thought it was “a great album,” but didn’t have much to contribute when asked about its creation: “I don’t remember,” he said, simply.
Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual (Dave Navarro)
Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro once said that during the disastrous period when the band made 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, the fundamental issue was that “We were on drugs! It was all fucked up!” Navarro, who was in and out of rehab during the making of the album, basically doesn’t remember it at all, claiming in one interview that “my memory of recording Ritual lasts about five minutes. In my head, we spent five minutes in the studio.” In 2015, the album’s producer Dave Jerden confirmed Navarro’s account of the situation, though he said he doubted it himself. “Dave says he doesn’t say he doesn’t remember making the record … he was totally present when I was there,” Jerden grumbled, saying he had only “heard talk” about the band’s drug problems. “There have been so many rumors about this record over the years and most of them are pretty much crap from my standpoint.”
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
36 Chambers is one of the most beloved hip-hop albums of all time. Integral to its unique, live-wire energy was the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the group’s most notorious member. A year prior to his death, ODB told Ebony that he had no recollection of his role in creating the record’s magic. “I don’t even remember making that record,” he said, matter-of-factly. “When I was drunk, I was in another world. All I remember was waking up and having a hangover.”
Primal Scream – “Rocks”/Give Out But Don’t Give Up (Andrew Innes)
Psych-rock and psych-house innovators Primal Scream were notorious for their drug use throughout most of their career. In a 2009 interview with Ultimate Guitar, the Scottish band’s guitarist Andrew Innes spoke very candidly about the band’s drug use in the ’90s. “From 1991 to 1998, I can’t remember anything as I was doing heroin,” he said. After explaining that he was also taking pills and doing a lot of cocaine during that decade, he said he couldn’t recall the making of “Rocks,” the band’s Stones-worshipping hit from their 1994 album Give Out But Don’t Give Up. “I remember our record company guy Alan McGee phoning us up and saying, guys you’re going to have a hit with ‘Rocks,'” Innes explained. “And I’m on the phone going, ‘I don’t remember recording it.'”
The Beach Boys – M.I.U. Album (Brian Wilson)
There are lots of Beach Boys albums one could reasonably dub “forgotten,” especially in their prolific but severely muddled 1970s. Perhaps none is less heralded than 1978’s devastating flop M.I.U. Album (named for Iowa’s Maharishi International University, Mike Love’s meditation center of choice at the time), a record that nary a Beach Boy seems to look back on fondly. There were too many cooks in the kitchen; Brian was present singing and co-writing throughout the album, but had relatively little control, despite the fact that he had helmed the group’s creative triumph of the decade, 1977’s Love You. It was the beginning of the group’s most serious period of decline. In a 1995 interview with Record Collector (not available digitally) Wilson claimed to have gone through a complete “mental blank-out” during this time, due to mental health issues and drug abuse. In an article in Mojo last year, Wilson would call 1978 “the worst year of [his] life,” claiming that he “wasn’t in any shape” to contribute to the album.
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (Bill Ward)
In terms of “Dude, I don’t remember any of that shit” testimonials in rock’n’roll, you can’t get much clearer and to the point than Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward. In a video interview recalling the making of the band’s 1980 album Heaven and Hell, during which Ward was at the peak of his infamous alcoholism, he said: “I don’t even remember recording Heaven and Hell … I was blacked out the entire time.” Watch it below.