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Hipgnosis takes 50% stake in Neil Young’s publishing catalogue

By | Published on Thursday 7 January 2021

Neil Young

The Hipgnosis Songs Fund has started the year with a flurry of acquisitions, including a big one that involves taking a 50% stake in the entire global songs catalogue of Neil Young. That’s 1180 songs by Young that Hipgnosis now co-owns, via a deal that reportedly set the firm back $150 million.

“I bought my first Neil Young album aged seven”, says Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis. And if you think that sounds like the beginning of a very long story, well done, you are correct. “‘Harvest’ was my companion and I know every note, every word, every pause and silence intimately”, he goes on. “Neil Young, or at least his music, has been my friend and constant ever since”.

“Over the last 50 years that friendship took me back to Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, ‘After The Gold Rush’, and guided me forward to ‘On The Beach’, ‘Tonight’s The Night’, ‘Zuma’, ‘Comes A Time’, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, ‘Trans’, ‘This Notes For You’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Ragged Glory’, ‘Greendale’ and through each successive album and on to last year’s ‘Colorado’. They’re part of who I am. They’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA”.

“I knew I would never be a singer or songwriter myself so my love for Neil also extended to his manager Elliot Roberts, who is sadly no longer with us”, he continues. “Elliot was the template for who I wanted to be. He and Neil were partners in crime and Elliot made sure the art was never compromised and the commerce always maximised. He complemented Neil’s integrity perfectly and together they protected the songs so fiercely that they became important to millions of people all over the world”.

This is probably the bit where he talks about this deal he’s just done, right? No. There’s more of this story to share, everybody! “This was personal conduct that you could aspire to, something you could believe in. Somewhere along the way Elliot became a mentor to me, and my friend. This allowed me to collide with Neil from time to time and Frank Gironda as well. We had a mutual respect as people whose lives were changed forever by music and particularly by this magical music”.

“With Elliot’s passing last year it was only natural that Frank, who had so ably worked alongside him, would step into his shoes and also, as it now turns out, logical for Hipgnosis to partner with Neil to ensure his incredible songs reach all corners of the earth”, he continues.

That was a mention of the deal there. I don’t know if you noticed. But this isn’t just any deal for Mercuriadis. It’s a particularly significant one that justifies (almost certainly) this incredibly long story. “I built Hipgnosis to be a company Neil would want to be a part of”, he reveals. “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs”.

“There will never be a ‘Burger Of Gold’, but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms”, he concludes. “There’s a good chance their life will be changed just like mine was. This is a deal that changes Hipgnosis forever and it’s a dream to welcome Neil, Frank, Bonnie [Levitan] and the team to the Hipgnosis family”.

Sadly there’s now no time to hear from Young or any of his management team. Not least because there are still two other Hipgnosis deals that were announced earlier this week which I should probably tell you about.

On Monday, it was announced that Hipgnosis had acquired the catalogue of producer and industry veteran Jimmy Iovine, which covers his work on 259 songs by acts including John Lennon, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Simple Minds and more. The company has also bought Iovine’s film production royalties for ‘8 Mile’ and ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.

“While barely in my teens I noticed that so many of my favourite albums had one name in common”, says Mercuriadis. Strap in. “The best albums by John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith all had Jimmy Iovine on them. This continued through the 80s with Stevie Nicks, Dire Straits, U2, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, and more from Tom and Patti, and I have been glued to everything Jimmy does ever since”.

Noting some of Iovine’s business ventures – and also how the profits from this deal will be spent – Mercuriadis goes on: “His incomparable success with Interscope and Beats means that he would never have to make a deal for money again, but leave it to Jimmy to figure out the most efficient way possible to use his producer royalties to build a best in class high school in the inner city and once again make a massive difference, as he has throughout his life. It’s an honour to now be a custodian of his incredible work on these iconic albums and I’m very happy to welcome him to the Hipgnosis family”.

Explaining more about the project this deal will support, Iovine adds: “I’m happy that my work as a producer with so many great artists has found the right home with Merck and Hipgnosis. I am going to use the proceeds from the deal to help Iovine Young Academy’s initiative to build a high school in South LA as part of the Iovine Young Academy at USC and continue our efforts to support education”.

On Tuesday, it was former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham’s turn to announce a Hipgnosis deal. “Didn’t he already sell his publishing catalogue to Hipgnosis?” you might be thinking. And, yes, you are right. 25% right. Because Buckingham did indeed sell 25% of his catalogue to the firm back in September. Now he’s decided he might as well get shot of the rest of it. Hipgnosis now owns 100% of Buckingham’s 161 released songs, as well as 50% of his unreleased compositions.

“Lindsey Buckingham is one of the greatest guitarists, songwriters and producers of all time yet is still so underrated”, says Mercuriadis, failing to mention his own childhood this time. “His work with Fleetwood Mac has brought the world unparalleled joy over the last 45 years and he belongs in any discussion featuring Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. It’s wonderful to welcome him and his iconic songs, both as a solo artist and with Fleetwood Mac, to the Hipgnosis family”.

Buckingham adds: “Prior to arriving at an agreement with Hipgnosis, I had wonderful long conversations with Merck Mercuriadis”. No kidding.

“I was pleased to find a kindred spirit, someone who’s a big fan of my work in Fleetwood Mac, and an even bigger fan of my solo efforts”, he goes on. “I look forward to working with Merck and the whole Hipgnosis team going into the future, and am confident that my body of work will be curated with great heart and insight”.

And here ends today’s Hipgnosis essay.