Should they be burned or released: Posthumous releases

Taking off from Prince’s secret vault filled with thousands of recordings, we look back at a selection of albums, whose creators were not able to witness their release.

Text by Busen Dostgül, Illustration by Hilal Can, Translated by P. Ceyda Toksöz

Iconic and beloved artist Prince lost his life on 21st April when he was 57 years old. His devotion and passion for music lies within these words: “If I don’t make music just for one day, I will die…”

When it comes to productivity, Prince made an impressive amount of music and his secret recordings, which were examined by his old manager Alan Leeds last year, are on the boil again on the ground of the artist’s death. In the documentary Hunting for Prince’s Vault (2015) with the cooperation of many musicians, the artist’s manager and his close friends, we learned the details that were not really heard before about his secret vault, unreleased tracks and his music obsession. In 1983, while recording Purple Rain, Prince started working with sound engineer Susan Rogers. That is when the artist’s recordings started to be gathered under one roof with the request of Susan Rogers and his secret vault was founded then. As Rogers explains, “Sometimes he would be in the studio for ninety six hours non-stop”. She also said that the artist made one song almost per day. Arranger and composer Brent Fischer who had the chance of listening to most of the songs in the vault said, “Prince shared with us the songs he made, even though he knew they would not be released. He sometimes sent us various sound recordings.”

It has been said that there are approximately two thousand unreleased material at Prince’s house in Paisley Park. If that is true, new Prince albums can be released for long years. Should there be any album release after hearing Prince say, “I will burn all of this one day”? Who makes such a decision? Is it ethical to bring to light these long-time hidden tracks after the death of the artist, without his permission?

The recordings released with the consent of families or close friends of musicians up to present are made to maintain the artist’s success (both materially and morally) for long years. Recording companies’ requests on using the recordings that are on hand can be explained with their will to earn more money, but in the last few years we have encountered more different instances. For example, for Amy Winehouse (who passed away in 2011) that was not the way how it worked. If Amy Winehouse who released two studio albums with the Universal label and became popular all over the world did not pass away, she would have released her third album with Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi. CEO of Universal Music David Joseph declared that he deleted all unreleased Amy Winehouse recordings because he believed that was morally the right thing to do. Joseph defended himself by saying, “Keeping her vocal recordings and using them is not in my book.” He added that he just wanted to protect the rights of the artist.

Let’s now look back at some artists who had their albums released after their death or lost their life during the process of releasing an album:

Jeff Buckley

American musician and lyricist Jeff Buckley lost his life in 1997, after the release of his album Grace in 1994. Songs he worked on by taking inspiration from various musicians in 1993 to release his first album and some demo tracks of the album Grace were released at the end of last year. Young musician covering songs by his favorites (then) such as Bob Dylan, The Smiths and Led Zeppelin attracted great attention.

Marvin Gaye

In 1968 soul legend Marvin Gaye had studio sessions with American producer and musician Bobby Scott in New York. The recordings were rearranged almost after ten years and Gaye made preparations to release the recordings under the name of The Ballads in 1977, but because he thought the tracks were not completely ready, he did not release the album. Marvin Gaye passed away in 1984 and his once planned to be released tracks of The Ballads were gathered in the Vulnerable album in 1997 by Motown. Amy Herot and Art Stewart are among the producers of Vulnerable, the third release of Gaye after his death.

Kurt Cobain

The documentary Montage of Heck, which contains Nirvana’s founder Kurt Cobain’s non-broadcasted sounds and footages met the audience in the middle of last year. Brett Morgan came across to some recordings while making preparations and researches for the film. In Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, an exclusive compilation made by Morgan from the recordings that reach almost two hundred hours, there are 31 songs and demo recordings in total. The Montage of Heck contains many rather private and rare footages of and about Cobain. Although the film’s director Morgan explained he released all of the recordings without any materialistic expectation, only because he wanted to, he could not prevent many argumentations on the topic.

Cem Karaca

One of the most important figures of Turkish music history, Cem Karaca passed away in 2004. On his twelfth anniversary  a couple of months ago, İzzet Öz released the album 2.2.1973 that includes the recordings Cem Karaca did with Moğollar exactly forty-three years ago. Cem Karaca and Moğollar took stage in Güneypark Gazinosu, Ankara and after the concert on the persistent request of İzzet Öz, they had a session in a studio and recorded six songs. During the recordings, Cem Karaca wanted to record their chats too and with the adding of the recorded chats, the album took shape perfectly.  2.2.1973 includes songs like ‘’İhtiyar Oldum’’, ‘’Edalı Gelin’’, Ala Geyik Destanı’’.

Karen Carpenter

The Carpenters, founded by the siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter in the late 60s became one of the most popular groups of the 70s. Drummer and vocalist Karen Carpenter passed away in 1983 and after her death, her brother Richard released the album An-Old-Fashioned Christmas in 1984. It was known that two siblings, who performed for many years, had a lot of unreleased songs until then.  Thirteen years after Karen Carpenter’s death her first and only solo album released on her behalf and it contains the recordings she made with producer Phil Ramone in 1979-1980.

Arthur Russell

One of the most talented lyricists of music history, Arthur Russell, lost his life in 1992 when he was 42. His close friends knew that he would always leave the recordings incomplete but then he got back to them again. Russell always wanted to have a complete album and he had left behind over a thousand recordings and a lot of other material. Some of the works he made in 70’s and 80’s were released as six albums and a EP in the first place. Russell had interest in experimental music and was idiosyncratic; we are able to sense this in the recordings. Last year in June his most recent album Corn was released, on behalf of him.

Eva Cassidy

American singer Eva Cassidy could release only one album before she passed away in 1996. BBC Radio 2 DJs Mike Harding and Terry Wogan aired the artist’s “Over the Rainbow” and “Fields of Gold” on radio and shortly after the songs became quite popular and got the top ranks in many charts. The success that came after Cassidy’s death continued with the album Songbird released in 1998. The song “Over the Rainbow” that kenned in the film Wizard of Oz is also in the album. After Songbird, eight more albums consisting of the recordings Cassidy made before her death were released.

Elliott Smith

With the documentary The Heaven Adores You airing last year, Elliott Smith who passed away in 2003, came to fore. Smith made various recordings in 2002-2003, and it was known that he was preparing for a new album. But he lost his life in October 2003 and on the request of his family, his old girlfriend Joanna Bolme and old producer Rob Schnapf organized his recordings to take their final forms. In 2004 the album From A Basement On The Hill, containing fifteen of the thirty re-organized songs met the audience. Songs included references to depression and drugs. The album also had non-lyrical tracks.


Mark Sandman and his fascinating voice founded Morphine, a band combining jazz, blues and rock forms and captured an authentic taste in music. Morphine became one of the most popular groups of the 90s for such an authentic taste. Mark Sandman was also famous with his two string bass. He passed away in 1999 during a show in Italy. After Sandman’s death, the group members decided to complete the album and released it under the name The Night in 2000. The album had eleven tracks and unlike the other albums, it had various percussion and key elements used.

J Dilla

J Dilla, who was the most important and talented musicians of the hip-hop stage in the mid 90’s took part in various projects with different musicians during the time he actively made music. While working on his third studio album in February 2006 he passed away and his album was released the same year. The albums, Jay Loves Japan, Jay Stay Paid and the one that was released last month: The Diary released after his death contain different versions of the recordings