In a move that signals a generational change in rock, U2 has replaced the Rolling Stones as the world’s highest-paid record act.
U2--a Dublin quartet that released its first album in 1980, almost two decades after the Rolling Stones formed--has signed an estimated $60-million-plus, six-album contract with PolyGram’s Island Records.
That’s almost $20 million more than the Stones received in their widely publicized 1991 deal with Virgin and more than twice as much as ‘70s rock veterans Aerosmith received in an equally publicized pact with Sony Music that same year.
“I am thrilled,” Island Records founder Chris Blackwell said Thursday by phone from Miami, where PolyGram executives heard a preview of the new U2 album due July 3.
“U2 is an amazing band and I have had a very excellent relationship with them from the beginning. I’m very happy that they decided to stay with us at PolyGram.”
Industry reaction to the deal Thursday was positive.
Unlike the Stones or Aerosmith, whose members will be well into their 50s and beyond before their agreements expire, the four members of U2 are all in their early 30s--and viewed by many to still be at their creative peak.
The group’s last album, “Achtung Baby,” has sold more than 4 million copies in the United States and was nominated for a Grammy. The group’s previous studio album, “The Joshua Tree,” has sold more than 5 million copies in this country and was named best album of the year in 1988.
Formed in the late-'70s, U2 consists of lead singer Paul Hewson, who goes by the name Bono; guitarist Dave Evans, known as Edge; bassist Adam Clayton Jr. and drummer Larry Mullen.
Representatives for U2 and PolyGram declined to discuss details of the contract, but insiders speculate the new deal guarantees the band a $10-million-plus advance per album and a blue chip 25% royalty rate on every record sold. That puts it in the neighborhood with superstar pacts signed by Michael Jackson, Prince, Barbra Streisand, Madonna and Janet Jackson.
Sources at PolyGram said the deal--announced late Wednesday in London--also includes hefty multimedia provisions that allow the group to take advantage of the Dutch-owned conglomerate’s video, movie and interactive entertainment divisions. U2 will also receive significant additional funding for its own label, Mother Records.
Under the estimated 10-year deal, Island acquired the worldwide rights to U2’s next six albums. The company also paid handsomely for the exclusive international rights to U2’s entire catalogue of songs following a publishing agreement that took effect in January, 1993.
U2--which has sold more than 50 million albums since signing with Island in 1980--has been wealthy for some time now. The band earned an estimated $30 million in stock four years ago when PolyGram, a subsidiary of the Dutch electronics company Philips N.V. purchased Island Records for an estimated $300 million.
The band’s next album is titled “Zooropa,” which is also the name of the group’s current European tour. The album contains 10 songs and has been described by someone close to the group as “a further expansion of the U2" sound--something that doesn’t echo either “The Joshua Tree” or “Achtung Baby.” It was produced by the team of Flood, Brian Eno and Edge.
“Island Records and their owner Chris Blackwell have stood behind U2 since the second he heard them,” said U2 manager Paul McGuinness in a phone call from London Thursday. “We are extremely pleased to stay with a company that believes in us. Couldn’t be happier.”