Despite disputations from Universal Music Group, The New York Times is doubling down on its reporting that a 2008 fire on Universal Studios’ Hollywood lot destroyed roughly 500,000 invaluable master recordings. A new report from author Jody Rosen details a 2010 recovery effort on the part of UMG dubbed “Project Phoenix,” which was formed to identify and recover as many of the recordings potentially lost in the fire as possible. Rosen studied three separate internal UMG lists prepared for Project Phoenix—part of a so-called “God List” of lost recordings—that adds more than 700 artists to the growing roster of artists who potentially lost their masters in the fire. Those named in the original report included John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, and R.E.M.
Now, we can add Iggy Pop, Dolly Parton, Weezer, the Who, Beck, Cher, Sublime, Cat Stevens, Blink-182, The Police, and even Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., among many, many others, to the list, which you can view in full here.
One particular interesting detail about these recovered lists is that they were apparently organized by letter-grade rankings prioritizing certain recordings over others. “The letter-grade rankings provide a snapshot of UMG’s marketplace wisdom circa 2010—judgments that, at times, favor top-sellers with thin discographies over historically significant figures and critically-lionized innovators,” writes The Times. For example, master recordings from bands like Limp Bizkit, Blink-182, and Whitesnake were reportedly prioritized over those from trailblazers like Les Paul, Merle Haggard, the Roots, and Captain Beefheart.
The Times reports that the original Project Phoenix program was able to obtain duplicates of roughly a fifth of the lost recordings. It also notes that, due to the recent reporting on the fire, a second Project Phoenix effort is underway. UMG, meanwhile, facing a class action lawsuit over allegations that it failed to report the full extent of damage back in 2008. Hole, Soundgarden, and Steve Earle are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, as are the estates of Tupac Shakur and Tom Petty. The suit is seeking upwards of $100 million in damages.