Elton John, Sonny and Cher, Sheryl Crow + many more master recordings reportedly lost in 2008 fire

music news 13/06/2019

In 2008, a fire caused major damage to parts of Universal Studios in Hollywood. At the time, headlines focused on the theme park and some 'video vaults' that were burned, but a newly released report by The New York Times has shed light on damage caused to an archive house some of the studio's most iconic recordings.

The report reveals that an "estimated 500,000 song titles" were lost in the fire. Back in 2009, it was reported "assets destroyed" numbered 118,230. The report also lists artists who lost works including the likes of Elton John, Yoko Ono, Sting, Sheryl Crow, The Eagles and many more. 

Journalist Jody Rosen suggests the news of the lost recordings was overlooked due to confusion over the archive's inclusion in Universal's holdings at the time. He writes: "The confusion was understandable. Universal Studios Hollywood was a movie backlot, not a record-company headquarters. What’s more, a series of mergers and acquisitions had largely severed the ties between Universal’s film and music businesses. In 2004, Universal Studios was purchased by General Electric and merged with G.E.’s television property, NBC, to become NBCUniversal; UMG was cast under separate management, and in 2006 fell wholly under the ownership of Vivendi, the French media conglomerate. When the fire struck in June 2008, UMG was a rent-paying tenant on NBC Universal’s lot."

Senior Director of Vault Operations Randy Aronson said he realised he was witnessing something of major proportions when he arrived at the scene in 2008. "It was like those end-of-the-world-type movies,” he said. “I felt like my planet had been destroyed.”

Aronson recalled hearing that the company priced the combined total of lost tape and “loss of artistry” at US$150 million when the number of "assets distroyed" was 118,230. If the New York Times report is correct, that figure could be north of US$600 million. 

The New York Times report did not name individual recordings or any unreleased recordings, the impact of the 2008 fire definitely hit a wealth of recording artists in many different genres.

Read the full report here.

List of artists believed to have lost master tape recordings in 2008 fire:

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
Bing Crosby
Ella Fitzgerald
Judy Garland
Billie Holiday
Chuck Berry
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