Behind every major artist, you can bet of there being an influential PR team. A group of people working tirelessly to make sure that their act is being talked about, whether it be for the right reasons or not. But for a PR person to do their job well means that it doesn't look like they did anything at all. These are just some of the cases of major events in musical history that you didn't know were a deliberately intended PR stunt.
1. Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his guitar
Possibly one of the most iconic moments in musical history was when Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar live on stage. It's now impossible to think about the man without relating back to that moment. And while Hendrix is now seen as one of the best guitarists in musical history, prior to this event he was struggling very badly. Desperate to make a name for himself in the international scene, Hendrix and his team thought of a number of ways to be remembered, so when it came to his performance at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, they gave him a bottle of lighter fluid to take on stage in order to burn his guitar during the finale. It caused a huge stir throughout the festival and Hendrix was suddenly a worldwide sensation and is now considered one of, if not the, greatest guitarist of all time.
2. The Who trashing their equipment
The damaging of property by rock and roll bands is almost as old as the genre itself, but one of the most notorious bands known for their destructive attitude were The Who. Looking to shake their clean-cut mod credentials, the band's PR team decided that their rebellious behaviour needed to be encouraged. So this meant that guitarist Pete Townsend was given a carte blanche when it came to what he could do on and off stage. The guitarist was completely egged on by his management to cause carnage at any opportunity, which included smashing his stage equipment beyond repair, openly discussing drugs and sex with his fans, and swearing during TV interviews.
3. The entire punk movement
During the late 70s, punk had well and truly taken over as the sound of British music. Bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks and The Stranglers were causing mayhem at every turn. But to coin a phrase, "If no-one is getting mad, are you really being bad?" This became almost like a mantra for the PR teams behind these bands who began to feed false claims about the band's live shows to the press. If a fight broke out in the venue, the press release would claim an all-out brawl. If the band took some girls backstage, the PR team would say it was a dozen. And just like that, every major newspaper in the land was reporting daily on the unacceptable behaviour of these groups. Showing that there is no such thing as bad press.
4. The Beatles perform on a rooftop
Once again we are back with an iconic moment in musical history, this time concerning the Fab Four. During the recording of their album 'Let It Be', the band had been planning a surprise set for their fans and had been in discussion about where to play it. But it took their PR people to think outside the box to suggest they simply head to the roof of their recording studio and do it from there. As you can imagine, this was still during the crest of Beatle-mania and the stunt got them more attention than they anticipated. It stopped traffic on the streets below as people left their cars to see the performance and the band were almost advanced on by the police for causing such a stir. But of course it worked and the band's profile was never greater.
5. Prince changed his name to a symbol
This is of course one of the most bizarre moments that the artist now known as Prince went through in his career. But the move actually came from a very frustrated place. Having become increasingly fed-up with his label Warner Bros, Prince wanted out of his contract with them but as they held the rights to his name and image, anything he planned to release in the future would have been theirs. So the idea was simple, change your name and do it under an alias. But this still wouldn't have done the trick, so with a deep intervention from his lawyers they realised that changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol was the only way it could work. His PR team had a field day with the idea; allowing the artist to become nothing more than an instantly identifiable logo was a branding manager's wet dream and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was born.
6. Madonna kisses Britney Spears at the VMAs
Madonna is probably one of the few artists in the world who has built a music career around her PR stunts. From releasing a book of sexualised images to blasphemy of the Catholic Church in her 'Like A Virgin' video, it seems that the music comes as a consequence to what most people know her for. This behaviour of course carried over to the new millennium when she decided to lay a fat on Britney Spears during their dual performance at the VMA Awards. With the singer just about to release a new album later that year, the plan was to upstage the then popular Spears by becoming talked about more than her. It helped that Britney and her team were left in the dark about this idea, giving the stunt a sense of spontaneity, as shown by Britney's reaction to the kiss. Madonna of course tried this again with Drake during a live performance last year, but with a more disgusted aftermath.
7. Sasha Baron Cohen "dick slaps" Eminem
Not a very famous entry on our list but one that many at the time believed was a real stunt. During the promotion for Sasha Baron Cohen's then latest film character 'Bruno', the actor took to the stage at the VMAs (again) to present an award. He notices Eminem in the front row and as the rapper had been accused of homophobia in the past, the actor decided to stage dive crotch first onto the MC. The crowd found the whole thing hilarious, except of course Eminem who quickly stormed out of the venue spouting all kinds of abusive things. However later in the week, the head writer of the show admitted that the whole thing was staged and Eminem knew what was going to happen. Probably as it didn't help the anti-gay image Eminem was trying to shake.
8. Jarvis Cocker moons Michael Jackson
This is the problem with being the most famous person at an award ceremony, everyone is looking to steal your thunder. So when Michael Jackson came to the Brit Awards in 1996 to perform his new single 'Earth Song', who would have thought that Jarvis Cocker would be the one to show himself up at the event. His PR team, that's who. Jackson was of course embroiled in one of his many scandals at the time and someone who took issue with this was of course Cocker, who dropped his pants in order to moon the crowd during the show. While Jackson himself was unaware this was going to happen, the idea that he got on stage to do it in the first place means that someone, somewhere helped him do it.
9. Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift's acceptance speech
We're back at the VMAs again, and it seems we have stumbled on a trend. The awards seem to contain one shock and awe moment every year but this one seems to keep coming up again and again. Kanye West may seem like an unhinged and pretentious individual but he definitely knows how to get people to talk about him. You can guarantee that any time he plans to release a new album or headline a festival, he will do or say something absurd that gets him attention. The most famous of these incidents was in September 2009 when he butted into Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Video by claiming that Beyonce's video for 'Single Ladies' was not only better but one of the best of all time. Yet despite the outrage that this caused, and in fact still causes to this day, Kanye West remains the biggest act in the world today. Go figure.
10. Oasis endorse The Labour Party
We've left the best until last for our list because as far as PR stunts go, this one had the biggest impact by a country mile. Throughout the mid 90s, Oasis were the biggest band on the planet. With record-breaking sales and anthemic music to boot, there influence was immeasurable, which made them the perfect candidate to help bring in a new Labour government. Noel Gallagher took to the stage at the Brit Awards in 1997 to endorse and encourage people to vote for Tony Blair. While it may have seemed like an artist simply wishing to express their own political opinion, Oasis and the Labour Party had actually been in cahoots throughout the year and Noel took every opportunity he could to promote the political party. So when the election rolled around later that year, Tony Blair became Prime Minister and Noel got to hang out at Downing Street throughout many of the years after that. Something that his peers and fans deeply resented.