The Concert For Bangladesh (album) - Record Company Obstruction

Record Company Obstruction

See also: The Day the World Gets 'Round

On 23 August, press reports appeared citing "legal problems" as the reason behind the delaying of the much-anticipated live album – problems that would turn out to be a disagreement between EMI-owned Capitol Records (Apple's US distributor) and Columbia Records (Dylan's label) over who had a rightful claim to release the album. Columbia/CBS were eventually mollified with the granting of tape distribution rights in North America, and record and tape distribution in the rest of the world. Another stumbling block was Capitol's insistence that they receive monetary compensation, thought to be around $400,000, for what the company perceived to be vast production and distribution costs for the boxed three-record set. It was a position from which EMI chairman Bhaskar Menon refused to budge, while Harrison was equally adamant that, since all the artists were providing their services for free and Apple was supplying the album packaging at no charge, the record company "must give up something" also.

With the sound mix down being completed in LA, Harrison spent most of September 1971 in New York working on the problematic film footage of the concert, before heading to London. There he attended the re-opening of Apple Studio on 30 September and produced new signing Lon & Derrek Van Eaton's debut single, as well as enduring a fruitless meeting with the British Treasury's financial secretary – the latter activity in an attempt to have the government waive its standard purchase tax, and so keep the album affordable to record-buyers. Harrison returned to New York on 5 October and announced that the Bangladesh live album would be issued during the following month. At this time, with concert bootlegs now on the market, posters were placed in record shops bearing the slogan: "Save a starving child. Don't buy a bootleg!"

This record should've been out a month ago really ... and the problem is with our distributor ... I mean, I'll just put it out with CBS and, you know, Bhaskar will have to sue me. Bhaskar Menon!

– George Harrison, discussing the album's delay on The Dick Cavett Show, 23 November 1971

In the fourth week of November – well into the lucrative Christmas sales period and close to four months after the concerts – Harrison voiced his frustration at the stalemate with Capitol on ABC's late-night chat show, The Dick Cavett Show. Harrison was on the program to promote the Raga documentary with Shankar, but after making a surprise guest performance with Gary Wright's new band Wonderwheel, he launched into a complaint about his US record company's interference and threatened to take the whole album package to Columbia. With the outburst attracting unfavourable attention in the press, where Capitol were viewed as "profiteering on the backs of famine victims", the company eventually backed down and agreed to release the album on Harrison's terms. Of all the labels involved, only Columbia would make any money from The Concert for Bangladesh – 25 cents on every copy sold. Although none of these royalties went to the artist, Dylan and his record company were already benefiting from the exposure provided by the Bangladesh concerts, through the timely release of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II. Of the other featured artists at the Concert for Bangladesh, the careers of both Preston (A&M Records) and Russell (Shelter) likewise prospered as a result of their participation, but their record companies imposed no such conditions on Apple and Capitol. In January 1972, Melody Maker's Richard Williams remarked in his Concert for Bangladesh album review: "Between them, Capitol and CBS have proved that, when it comes to awareness and enlightenment, the business is still several years behind the musicians."

Once the album had been granted a release date, Apple's financial terms ensured that as much money as possible would be raised from each copy sold, but that it would be difficult for retailers to profit financially. Some retailers responded with "shameless price gouging" on the three-record set, apparently at Capitol's recommendation. Following the protracted negotiations surrounding the live album's distribution, Harrison's disaffection with EMI/Capitol was a key factor behind his signing with A&M Records in January 1976.

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