Famous albums that cost an absolute fortune to record


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It takes money to make money, and if you want to create a piece of music that reaches a broad audience, some capital investment is needed to make that happen. It doesn’t have to be a stratospheric amount of money, but no one rides for free, as the saying goes.


Some people in the music industry – musicians, producers, label presidents – have decided that if they want to have hits, then they need to pay top dollar for the privilege and will part with exorbitant sums of money to make it happen. Sometimes, the gamble has been worth it; other times, it amounted to flushing millions of dollars down the toilet. Here are 10 examples of albums that cost scads of money to produce, with varying results.

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‘Tusk’ by Fleetwood Mac (1979)

In 1977, Fleetwood Mac released “Rumours,” a colossal seller that remains one of their most beloved albums. To follow it up, the band created 1979’s ‘Tusk,’ and they spent a fortune on it, blowing $1.4 million to make it, or $6.3 million in 2023 dollars. It sold four million copies, but since “Rumours” sold 10 million copies, it’s hard to say that the expenditure was worth it.

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‘One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back’ by The Darkness (2005)

The British rock band The Darkness emerged in 2003 with their debut album “Permission to Land,” and even though they were unknown, the album was successful and put the band on the map. It was decided to spare no expense for the follow-up, and the band spent $1.8 million on 2005’s “One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back.” The album sold less than its predecessor, and the band broke up afterward, although they would reunite in 2012.

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‘Untouchables’ by Korn (2002)

2002’s “Untouchables” sold many copies upon its release, charted well, and got good reviews. Unfortunately, the band spent $3 million to make it. According to the band, a lot of the expense was due to the fact that the album took two years to finish, and they were paying a 15-person crew for that entire time, in addition to pulling up stakes and recording in different cities. Lead singer Jonathan Davis added that the album was also a casualty of file-sharing websites like Napster and Limewire, which allowed fans to illegally download the album for free.

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‘Hysteria’ by Def Leppard (1987)

1987’s “Hysteria” saw Def Leppard facing numerous challenges that caused them to take three years to craft the record. A big part of the problem was drummer Rick Allen, who had lost his left arm in a car accident and needed time to retrain his body to play without it on a newly designed electronic kit. Between that and producer Mutt Lange’s perfectionism, the record came in with a price tag of $4.5 million. It seemed like there would be no way for such an expensive record to turn a profit, but as every Gen Xer knows, the thing sold like crazy, and it remains their best-selling album of all time.

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‘Chinese Democracy’ by Guns N’ Roses (2008)

For a while there, Guns N’ Roses was one of the most popular bands in the world, but they managed to go from packing stadiums to losing all their members in just a handful of years. By 1993, the band became Axl Rose and a revolving door of sidemen, but this loose conglomeration was said to be hard at work on a new album, “Chinese Democracy,” that would see them regain their footing. The thing did not come out until 2008, 17 years after their last album of original material, at a cost of $13 million.

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‘Invincible’ by Michael Jackson (2001)

Michael Jackson, the man who gave us “Thriller,” enjoyed a lot of luxuries that lesser artists would not have been given, such as massive recording budgets. His record label showered him with overflowing recording budgets, especially when it came to 2001’s “Invincible,” which cost a reported $30 million. It sold well upon its release, but it didn’t dethrone “Thriller,” and nothing ever will, most likely.

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‘Metallica’ by Metallica (1991)

In less than a decade, Metallica went from being an obscure thrash band that you would never expect to hear on the radio to the most popular band in the world. The album that put them there was their self-titled 1991 album, which cost $2 million to make. Compared to some of the albums on this list, that’s nothing, but it’s remarkable considering that their first album sounded like it had been recorded over the phone with a budget of $20.

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‘A Night at the Opera’ by Queen (1975)

Again, compared to some other albums on this list, Queen’s breakthrough 1975 album ‘A Night at the Opera’ was made for what can best be described as “chump change.” At the time, its budget was around $50,000, which was the most money ever spent on a record to that point. In the context of this list, it’s probably one week’s catering budget.

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‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ by Yes (1973)

After hit albums like ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge,’ Yes made ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans,’ which contained four album-side-length songs and ran over 80 minutes. While we’d like to credit them for pushing the artistic envelope, the album is unlistenable and pretentious beyond words. It was also crazy expensive, with Yes guitarist Steve Howe telling New Music Express in 1975 that it had cost “90 grand” to make. Honestly, the album is so tedious and painful that people should be paid that particular sum to sit through it.

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‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine (1991)

Ireland’s My Bloody Valentine is considered pioneers in the shoegaze genre, an alternative rock style consisting of lots and lots of distorted and dissonant guitar. After two EPs and 1988’s ‘Isn’t Anything,’ they spent three years and thousands of dollars on the follow-up, 1991’s ‘Loveless.’ The album is considered a masterpiece by fans and a foundational release in the shoegaze genre, but the rumored £250,000 production cost broke the bank of their label, Creation Records, who did not recover until they signed a much more popular band called Oasis.

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