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This is the Remix!: When the Remix is Better than the Original (Part 2)

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A couple weeks ago we were successfully able to determine that Diddy did not in fact invent the remix.

Thus, the dastardly album cover at left — by the way, is Diddy wearing leather pants? — represents a complete fallacy.

Shame on you, Sean.

There is, however, admittedly significant evidence pointing to Diddy’s influence and accomplishments as a remixer — at least within the Hip Hop/R&B community. Many of the examples I gave of songs whose remixes turned out to eclipse their respective originals in terms of either quality, popularity, or both, are indeed the work of Diddy and his Hitmen production crew over at Bad Boy Records. So I’ll definitely give him his fair share of credit for bringing us remixes of “Only You” from 112, “Fantasy” from Mariah Carey, and Usher’s “I Need a Girl.”

All three of these remixes far surpassed their original versions in their measure of street cred and mass appeal, if not in actual chart performance. Yet given today’s differing musical climate, one hot with digital downloads, highly-targeted Satellite radio broadcasts, more music channels than ever, and the overall increased accessibility of music, I would wager that all three remixes would fair far better by Billboard’s measurements today than when they were originally released. Simply put, more people would know about them, more people would hear them, and more people would be able to obtain them, giving the remixes a much broader reach.

In the television industry, viewers are often known simply as “eyeballs” — the more eyeballs your advertisements have on them, the more they are worth. The same should hold true in the music industry: the more “eardrums” a certain song attracts, the more valuable it becomes and the higher it rises on the music charts. For example, as of this writing Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” is the number nine song on iTunes’ top downloads. Song number ten? The remix of “Lollipop” featuring Kanye West. Similarly, the album version of Usher’s hit “Love In This Club” sits at number forty-eight. The remix, “Love In This Club Part II,” sits at number forty-nine. In both cases the original versions were officially released well ahead of their respective remixes, so given enough time, it’s entirely possible that the remixes will end up being downloaded as much, or more, than the original songs.

Okay that’s enough outta me.

I promised a second installment of songs whose remixes eventually became more popular than the originals, so let’s get to part two of this ever-expanding list:

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The Sound’s Jeopardy – Anthems of the Heartland

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Being born in the middle of the Eighties, the Cold War was merely something I read about in history class. But based on what my textbooks and The History Channel tell me, it was a time of paranoia and Us vs. Them. Nuclear winter was imminent at any notice; all someone had to do was push a little red button and it was all over.

That said, I don’t know what that feeling was like. Terrorism is too local and isolated of a phenomenon for me to really lose sleep over, these days. During the Cold War, we were talking about full-on nuclear war. That amount of fear and dread is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. But I feel that if there was one ideal document for those feelings, it would be The Sound’s 1980’s debut album, Jeopardy.

Released on the Korova label (home to fellow gloomy new wavers Echo & The Bunnymen), on the surface it sounds like any other English band with eyeliner and guitars. It was dark and it was brooding. But the lyrics paint a different picture, with the focus seemingly on socio-political aspects of the times. England in 1980 was not a time for beautiful music. Thatcherism was the new modus operandi. Punk rockers pointed their fingers and blamed “them,” post-punk singers blamed themselves.

But Adrian Borland’s lyrics screamed of something beyond self-pity and doubt. Guided by a steady rhythm section that churned methodically like a heartbeat, he found his source of anguish beyond and within England’s borders. On “Missiles,” he finds it in the military-industrial complex that ran the world as he knew it. “Heartland” seemingly mocks (or supports?) the political nationalism of the era.

The band would follow up with 1981’s also-excellent From The Lion’s Mouth, but nothing would come close to the highs the band achieved with this record. Tragically, Adrian Borland would end up committing suicide in 1999.

Download: Live Instinct EP

[In 2002, Jeopardy was reissued with the four-song concert recording Live Instinct EP as bonus tracks. It has since gone back out of print.]

Written by Carman

May 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? (Part II of II)

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(If you haven’t read last week’s post, “Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? Part I of II,” click here to backtrack to it before reading Part II below).

First let me start by apologizing for taking so long to get you guys Part II of the Sam Sparro story.

Frankly, I blame the drugs.

(And Hillary Clinton).

That being said, buckle up for the longest post of all time. But I’m throwing in links to all the songs, as well as a few pictures to make up for it. Okay, here we go………

So I realize that giving up Sparro’s excellent first single, “Black and Gold,” as an introduction to his music is a little like having sex on the first date — I gave up the goods without making you work for them. But as is often the case after people have sex on the first date, I wasn’t merely placated or satisfied by hearing “Black and Gold,” rather my appetite was whetted, and I was left wanting more. (Um, more Sam Sparro, that is). If anything, “Black and Gold” succeeded in roping me into the house of mirrors that is Sam Sparro. Now, I was trapped.

But how does the rest of his first album hold up in comparison to its lead single? Does it pale or do the other tracks back it up? Exactly what kind of music does this kid make anyway? And what of the God references? Was “Black and Gold” a one shot deal that just happened to be about Sparro’s search for God? Or would I discover the world’s first “Electro-soul spoof-disco-pop mixed with religious-funk-house” album, with lyrics wrought with religious references and questions at every turn? Because while I like to consider myself as having an eclectic and wide-ranging musical taste — and with apologies to the elder Mr. Falson — Christian Rock just isn’t among my preferred genres, nor do I plan on making it one.

Well the truth is, Sparro’s self-titled album is, not surprisingly, much like he is — it’s a true reflection of himself. Not an exact reflection, that isn’t what I mean. But an honest reflection, a real one. Shrouded in mixed signals yet entirely open to interpretation. Questioning, yes, but only in his authoritative and ever-urgent voice. Bouncing from one genre to another, with only ambiguous connections in between. Serious and introspective in one moment, then bubbly and ridiculous in the next. A God-fearing man of faith who also happens to smoke mad weed. Maybe. Who hides his pain behind fun, friendly, and sometimes silly dance tracks. In other words, Sam Sparro the album and Sam Sparro the man are both, well…..consistently inconsistent. Complex and confusing. Unsurprisingly surprising. (Now how’s that for confusion?)

But that isn’t to say there’s no meat left on the album’s bones after “Black and Gold.” True, it is quite easily the best track on Sparro’s album — I’ll tell you that right up front. But that’s largely due to its accessibility. The track just somehow works, and you don’t even have to think about why. And though three different listeners might put “Black and Gold” in three different genres of music, none of the three would find themselves saying, “What the fuck am I listening to?”

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Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? (Part I of II)

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Sam Sparro is an intriguing character. Everything about him seems not exactly mysterious, but at least somewhat cloudy: his name, age, heritage, sexuality, religious influences, musical pedigree, lyrics, intentions, and sense of humor are all cloaked in one way or another. Even his album cover is a bit disguising.

And then there’s his music.

Don’t even try to define that.

House?…Soul?… Spoof?…Funk?

Electro?…Disco?…Religious?…Pop?

Electro-soul spoof-disco-pop mixed with religious- funk-house??? It’s enough to make you crazy.

Or maybe it’s just plain fun. Because when you get past Sam Sparro the man, and instead just focus on his music, things can get extremely enjoyable. But whether or not Sparro wants his listeners to ignore his upbringing, lifestyle, and motivations in order to just hear his music is up for debate. Though I think he’d like us to be able to understand him, I’d still love the chance to ask him how he feels. But there is one thing about Sam Sparro that is neither mysterious nor cloudy, complex nor confused. In fact it’s not even remotely questionable:

“Black and Gold,” the first single off Sparro’s just-released eponymous first album (Island 2008), is absolutely and completely undeniable. It is currently sitting at Number Two on the UK Singles Chart, bested only by the musical atrocity that is “4 Minutes” from Madonna and Justin Timberlake. (What? Bitter? Who, me? Nahhhhhh.) Sparro’s voice is remarkably dark and soulful, especially for a young, white, hipster-looking kid. He sings with a tinge of yearning and palpable sense of urgency — when Chaka Khan first heard Sparro sing years ago she’s said to have exclaimed, “Damn! That white boy can sing.” — and the accompanying beat is utterly infectious. It seeps slowly into you, and doesn’t leave easily.

Now I’m not claiming “Black and Gold” is a great song, or even a good one, though I happen to think highly of it. It’s just that you can’t deny it. It’s insistent. Kind of like “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John — you may not even like their music (I don’t) or the song itself (meh), but there’s just something about it that ropes you in a little bit no matter what you do. The same is true of Sparro’s “Black and Gold.” You don’t have to be a loyal customer of whatever kind of music it is that Sparro is selling, you just can’t help but buy in, even if only for a second.

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Written by Jonathan

April 30, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Record Store Day

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While its difficult to overlook the fact that the undoing of the modern recording industry is largely a decline initiated by their own hand, it coincides with the more unfortunate decline of the independent record store. I have no qualms with seeing Best Buy or Wall-Mart sacrifice CD’s to gain additional floor space for other, more profitable media formats, such as the Larry the Cable Guy’s Big Ol’ DVD Box Set of Yuks Yuks and Cheese Farts, or a bargain bin full of Left Behind video games. But I find it disheartening to see indie record shops fall like a series of dominos. It seems likely that an entire generation of music listeners will acquire records from the sterile, human-free interfaces of services such as iTunes, never knowing that unique smell that lingers in the air of a basement record store, the intermingling scents of cellophane wrapping and dust rising off box after box of used LP’s.

But all is not lost yet. Today is Record Store Day! Indies from coast to coast are featuring special in-store performances and giveaways. So shut off that BitTorrent client, eject that iPod, and head to your local indie and experience what one day might be a nostalgia exhibit a la Colonial Willaimsburg.

Written by Ignatius

April 19, 2008 at 7:28 am

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But do the Words Matter?

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If you’ve ever seen The Graduate you probably remember the scene where Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is franticly driving his Alfa Romeo convertible through tunnels and fields to try and break up Elaine’s wedding. You probably also remember that throughout the scene, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” is playing in the background. What you may not remember, though, is that, as the song plays in the film there is only one chorus and no verses, just some “Dee da dee’s.” The reason being, Paul Simon hadn’t written the words yet. When he did get around to putting lyrics down, “Mrs. Robinson,” whose tune was already familiar to anyone who saw the film, went to number one on the charts and became the group’s second major hit after “Sounds of Silence.”

When asked in a recent interview why “Mrs. Robinson” became such a huge success, Art Garfunkel answered that he didn’t know but that all big hits have something about their rhythm that just appeals to people. Sure, Garfunkel wasn’t the lyricist of the group, but his statement does make you wonder if half of such a lyrically-rooted supergroup concedes that songs connect to people because of their rhythm and not their words, then where does that leave lyrics in the broader sense? How important were the lyrics to “Mrs. Robinson’s” success? Does it matter what we, the listeners, are singing along to?

It’s easy to come up with examples of music where lyrics play second fiddle to a song’s overall feel (not to mention all the instrumental songs out there). Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Pearl Jam’s “Evenflow,” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” are just a few random examples of this. But even with songs where we can understand the lyrics (and love them), do we really like the song because of what it is saying, or are we most drawn to it because of how the song says it?

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Written by JustJake

April 17, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Show @ The Smell feat. Abe Vigoda and friends

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Flyer

After a mentally exhausting few days, I was more than delighted to finally get back to the Smell for the first time in a month or so. The amount of press that place has gotten in the past year is beyond nutty at this point. After going there the first time about two years ago, I would never have imagined to see the Smell written up everywhere, The New Yorker, Pitchfork,Vanity Fair, and MTV.com to name a few. Even with all the new found press though, the crowd hasn’t seemed to have changed all that much, and the intimacy between bands and fans hasn’t changed a bit. This place is still just as special. How many people can say they can see some of their favorite acts in a tiny venue with less than 100 people with any regularity. One of my favorite parts of going to the Smell is getting their early for the undercard. I can’t even begin to name how many of my favorite bands/artists that I first saw opening for a band there.

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Written by RocksRocksRocks

March 27, 2008 at 5:59 am