The 10 Most Expensive Albums Ever Recorded

By: Jonny Hughes

We constantly hear figures of how many copies a record has sold or how much it money it has earned, but very little about how much it actually cost to record the album. This information is more free and open in the film industry, and this helps give you a better idea of how profitable a film is. As it turns out, there are a handful of very famous albums which cost an absolute fortune to make. Sometimes this overrun is caused by chasing perfection, but often it just comes down to the tumultuous nature of being in a rock and roll band.


10. Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

In 1979, Fleetwood Mac released their twelfth album, Tusk, and it would be one that, at the time, was the most expensive rock album ever recorded. It was reported in the press to have cost $1 million, but years later it was revealed to have cost $1.4 million. With the success of Rumours, Mick Fleetwood offered to buy a studio to record the album, but the label refused. Instead, the band constructed their own studio, Studio D, which is where most of the album’s lofty price tag comes from. One famous story to emerge from the recording is that on the first recording night, the band decided to celebrate Mick buying a $70,000 sports car with copious amounts of cocaine. By the time the session ended at 6 a.m., nothing had been recorded, and Mick received a phone call which informed him that the uninsured car had been broadsided and demolished while being towed to his house.

9. Steely Dan – Gaucho

Although there is no dollar figure available for Steely Dan’s Gaucho, it is an album that is famous for costing a fortune and been plagued by problems. The band spent over a year in the studio and used 42 different musicians, but this was just a small part of what ran up the costs. Walter Becker’s increasing drug use was causing friction with other permanent band member Donald Fagen, but this took a backseat after Becker was hit by a car after pushing a woman out the way. With numerous injuries, it took him 6 months to recover and he also suffered from secondary infections. Tragically, Becker’s girlfriend would die of a drug overdose shortly after. Her family attempted to sue Becker for introducing her to drugs, but the court would rule in his favor. There was also a three-way legal battle over the rights and the band was sued for copyright infringement.

8. The Darkness – One Way Ticket to Hell…And Back

Labeled by one critic as the “world’s most expensive penis joke”, One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back, The Darkness’s sophomore effort cost around $1.8 million dollars (in 2005). It did not perform nearly as well as its predecessor, Permission to Land, which went 5x platinum, but it did achieve platinum status in the UK. Cranking up their 70s glam-rock sound, it is said that songs on the album included 120 to 160 guitar parts each, and in some cases 100 guitars were on the final track only for a couple of seconds. Insisting on recording in analogue, producer Roy Thomas Baker (who has worked with Queen, Journey, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue and more) cut down 400 reels of tape and nearly 10,000 tracks from 37 songs, and condensed it to an album that clocks in at 35 minutes with only 10 songs. In addition, the band also had to overcome bassist Frankie Poullain walking out due to musical differences.

7. Happy Mondays – Yes Please!

Although it is rare to find figures for how much an album cost, one clear sign that it was too much is if the label declares bankruptcy shortly after a release. This is exactly what happened to Factory Records following the 1992 release of the Happy Mondays’ Yes Please!, which is widely considered to be their poorest work. In an attempt to stop the band from taking heroin, the head of the label, Tony Wilson, sent them to record in Eddy Grant’s home studio in Barbados. It was clear that things would not go according to plan when Shaun Ryder’s suitcase smashed at Manchester airport, revealing a four week supply of methadone. In Barbados, the band ended up taking crack cocaine, which saw Wilson fly out in an attempt to get them back on track. As his plane landed, he saw them wheeling Grant’s furniture to trade for drugs.


6. Chris Gaines – Greatest Hits

In 1999, country pop star Garth Brooks experimented with an alter ego called Chris Gaines so that he could explore rock and roll. As it turned out, this exploration would be such an enormous flop, that the president of Capitol Records Nashville, Pat Quigley, resigned and Brooks apologized to the other artists on the label for the amount of attention they paid to his project. The album cost $5 million to produce and over 50 musicians were used to record it. Capitol then had to inject $15 million into promotion, which did little to cause any excitement about Gaines. The album sold over 2 million copies, but expectation was much higher and it was consequently a gigantic commercial failure. The album was supposed to be used as a soundtrack to a film called The Lamb, but this never materialized and the unsuccessful Gaines project came to an end in 2001.

5. Korn – Untouchables

In 2002, Korn released Untouchables, which went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide. However, it also cost around $4 million over a two year period. The band admitted the reasoning, and that is that they moved around from Phoenix to L.A to Canada, and in each place they would all rent extremely lavish properties for a few months. The actual recording “only” cost $750,000, but Korn also had a 15 person crew on retainer for the two years that the album took to complete. Although Untouchables sold well and reached number 2 in the charts (behind Eminem’s The Eminem Show), it ultimately did not perform as well as their previous albums and consequently was a commercial flop. According to lead vocalist Jonathan Davis, the reason for this drop in sales was due to the album leaking on file sharing websites a whole two months before its June release.

4. The Beach Boys – Smile

The most legendary album to never be released, there is an air of mystique around The Beach Boys’ Smile, which would eventually be substituted for 1967’s Smiley Smile. The album was eventually reinterpreted as Brian Wilson Presents Smile in 2004. The original sessions took place between 1966 and 1967, but it was eventually shelved due to Brian Wilson’s escalating substance abuse and mental health problems, but also a few legal battles and technical difficulties. For the recording, Wilson demanded an Arabian-style tent be built in his home for consuming sandwiches, LSD and weed; he also demanded his grand piano be placed in a sandbox with eight tons of beach sand. It was also widely reported that the recording of “Good Vibrations” alone cost a whopping $75,000 ($555,000 today). In the 1980s, bootlegged tracks circulated and people began to assemble their own versions of the record.

3. Def Leppard – Hysteria

Although Def Leppard’s Hysteria sold over 25 million copies, it also cost a fortune to make largely due to delays. The record took over 3 years to record and cost around $4.5 million. The most obvious reason for the delay was drummer Rick Allen’s famous auto accident on New Year’s Eve 1984, which resulted in him losing his left arm. The band stuck by Allen, but it took him a long time to figure out how to play with one arm. Additionally, producer Mutt Lange dropped out due to exhaustion and then wanted everything redone on his return, plus singer Joe Elliot suffered from the mumps. It was said that Hysteria would need to sell 5 million just to break even after the disastrous and unfortunate recording, but luckily for the band, it would go on to become one of the best selling rock albums ever.

2. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

In a quest for perfection, Guns N’ Roses took their sweet time with their sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy, which took an incredible 14 years to record. Starting in 1994, things got off to a bad start for the legendary rock act when band members Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke were all either fired or had left the band altogether by the mid 90s. After recording the album with a fresh lineup, it was completely re-recorded in 2000. More members came and went, but more delays in the release followed due to these constant changes, legal matters and Axl Rose’s quest for perfection. After using multiple studios, a number of different producers, expensive staff, rented gear which was not even used and plenty more, production costs for Chinese Democracy exceeded $13 million by its 2008 release, which makes it the most expensive rock album ever produced.


1. Michael Jackson – Invincible

The final studio album released by The King of Pop Michael Jackson is reported to be the most expensive album ever made. Sony are thought to have shelled out a staggering $30 million on the 2001 album, and these expenses came down to using a handful of producers and co-writers to record between 50 and 87 songs over 5 years. This was eventually slashed to just 16 tracks for its release. During this time, it is said that three studios would have to be booked simultaneously, as Michael Jackson did not know which one he would feel like recording at each morning. Sony then spent $25 million on promoting Invincible, but this failed due to Jackson refusing to tour and having a huge fallout with Sony. Jackson claimed that then Sony chairman Tommy Mottola was racist, which resulted in them refusing to renew Jackson’s contract.