In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: In honor of South By Southwest, we’re picking our favorite songs about the music industry.
Back in the late ’90s, Spoon was just another promising young band spurned by a major label. Signed to Elektra Records during the tail-end of the post-grunge boom on the strength of 1996’s Telephono, the Austin group released the wiry and discordant A Series Of Sneaks in 1998—and was promptly dropped by the label less than four months after the album’s release, right after the band’s A&R guy, Ron Laffitte, was canned.
In post-mortem interviews, the band members exhibited a range of emotions: ticked off, shell-shocked, bummed out, and sanguine. “No one would have ever known that a VP of Elektra [Laffitte], who had been chasing us for a year and a half, who was totally excited about our band, would ever just flake out and get fired from the label,” Jim Eno told the Austin Chronicle in early 1999. “There was no indication at all that that would ever happen. That’s why it’s laughable. We never thought anything like that would happen.”
Still, to exorcise any lingering anger, Spoon released a 7-inch on Saddle Creek called “The Agony Of Laffitte.” The lo-fi, acoustic-based composition seethes quietly, calling Laffitte out for his lack of communication, two-faced behavior, and suspect moral character. Perhaps more pointedly, the sing-song chorus (“But you’re no better than Sylvia”) doubles as a dig at then-Elektra president Sylvia Rhone, who apparently reneged on a promise to keep Spoon around even if Laffitte left. Yet “The Agony Of Laffitte” and its B-side—the cleverly titled “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now,” a jangly psych-pop gem mainly obsessed with his dishonesty—are disappointed finger wags more than anything, songs that tsk-tsk about Laffitte’s shortcomings.
Because the song doesn’t wallow in self-pity, it’s had a longer shelf life than Spoon’s label woes. In fact, Nada Surf—a band no stranger to being screwed over by Elektra Records in the ’90s—did a commendable version of “The Agony Of Laffitte” on the 2010 covers record If I Had A Hi-fi. Spoon, of course, found greater fame (and respect) in the early ’00s after landing on Merge Records—giving the band the last laugh after being chewed up by the major label machine.