It's thought that the 2008 fire at Hollywood's Universal Studios wiped out tens of thousands of recordings by artists from across music history. "We have been aware of "missing" original Steely Dan tapes for a long time now", he says.
The full report in the New York Times Magazine is worth a look - it's not only an exhaustive report of what happened, but also a musing on the importance of history, and what can happen when it isn't properly safeguarded. Other master recordings reportedly lost in the flames include offerings from Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, 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 and many more. Asked by a fan on Twitter if that means that the "Nevermind" masters were destroyed, Novoselic replied: "I think they are gone forever". "The video library was affected and damaged, but our main vault of our motion picture negatives was not".
Universal Music Group produced a confidential report about what was lost in the fire in 2009, the Times said, and may have kept the true extent of the damage a secret to avoid embarrassment and stave off possible repercussions from angry artists and their estates. Reportedly, pretty much all of Buddy Holly's masters were lost. The fire also claimed numerous hit singles, likely including Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock", Etta James's "At Last" and the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie". The only reason we're just now hearing about the loss of music is because documents from the company have been laid out during ongoing litigation. Instead, the music company highlighted its commitment to music preservation and investments in technology.
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"While there are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details of the fire that occurred at NBCUniversal Studios facility more than a decade ago, the incident-while deeply unfortunate-never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists' compensation", the statement continues.
The recordings were in a vault that caught on fire and included about 500,000 song titles dating back to the 1940s, including artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry and Aretha Franklin, according to The New York Times.