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Taking a Great Song and Making It Better
I have been getting involved with music from the 1980s/1990s…
and bonding with artists I first encountered when I was younger. I was thinking about Arrested Development and the song, People Everyday. The ‘original’ – their cut of it – appeared on their debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of… and was a huge smash. The version on the album is different to the one I remember fondly: the Metamorphosis Mix. That version is slicker, faster and more thrilling! It is catchier and more enduring: completely reinterpreting the one that appears on the 1992 album – the version, I feel, people prefer. One can argue a remix is only good because of the original material: the same way a cover version cannot succeed were it not for the source from which it was inspired. I take that but my argument remains true: a great remix can elevate a song and endure it succeed decades later. That song is one example of a great reimagining. Black Box’s Ride on Time is another classic song from the 1980s. We remember that big, bold version that features the version of Heather Small. That is the ‘U.K. Mix’ - and replaces the Loleatta Holloway vocal. Remixing has been a part of music for a long time and, when done right, can add a new spin to a song. It was more common in the underground in 1980s and 1990s – there were chart songs remixed; not quite as prolific as later years – but it is interesting seeing how the artform has evolved and the best examples out there.
D.J.s and producers like Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) have taken songs like King of Snake (Underworld) and added his own say on the song. It is Cook’s input on Brimful of Asha that stands in my mind. The Cornershop original is on their album, When I Was Born for the 7th Time, and was a minor success. It was a slower and more ‘traditional – from an Asian band – cut of the song. By the time Norman Cook got to it; it became a huge hit in 1998. Cook’s techniques and expertise gave the song a crozier, energetic quality the original lacked. One can see that remix as one of the best of the lot. It helped bring that song to the masses and, with it, renewed interest in the album. Norman Cook is a prolific remixer – someone who knows how to take a great song and make it world-class. Some epic remixes of 2017 include Chromeo’s take on Green Light (Lorde); Kendrick Lamar's talents on Mask Off (Future); Soulwax’s take on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Deadly Valentine – the list goes on. Throw in some classics like Armand’s Dark Garage Mix (1996) of Sneaker Pimps’ Spin Spin Sugar; Ben Liebrand Rough ‘N Ready Mix of Ram Jam’s Black Betty (1989); Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness – The Coldcut Remix) and the Andrew Weatherall Mix of My Blood Valentine’s Soon. Toss in the Professional Widow remix from Armand’s Star Trunk Funkin’ and The xx’s take on Florence + The Machine’s (cover of) You’ve Got the Love – so many to choose from!
I have not even mentioned Portishead remixing Paul Weller’s Wild Wood; DFA taking in M.I.A.’s Paper Planes; the Dave Angel Nightmare Mix of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams; Todd Terry owning Everything But the Girl’s Missing…and so forth. I am seeing a lot of new artists have their songs remixed by a range of producers and D.J.s. Some will release an E.P. of remixes – taking from their catalogue and having others rework their music. It can be fascinating seeing what others do and what direction they take songs in. Not only might one hear a Folk song given Jazz or Latin edges; a Pop song made to sound grittier and more dangerous – it can get the music to a larger audience and a new crowd. Clubs are open to pretty much anything and it is a great chance for D.J.s to spin something to catch club-goers out. I have heard about modern artists make their way to clubs through the medium of the remix. It is not only modern songs being remixed and making their way into new settings. Stone-cold epics like Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (by Kygo) have been remixed; The Doors’ Riders on the Storm (Infected Mushroom Remix) have been redone; Aerosmith’s Dream On has been remixed by GRiz – The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter has been remixed by Zeds Dead.
There is endless scope for talented producers, artists and D.J.s to take something older and make it sound new. Whether that is a song from The Beatles or Toni Braxton’s You’re Makin’ Me High – there is so much to work with! One of the reasons I love a remix is because it is almost like a new song. Most of the ones I encounter are Electronic/Club versions of tracks: something a little more intense or, perhaps, moodier than the original. You forget about the original song, for a minute, and it is a completely new experience. As we have seen with remixes of Brimful of Asha and People Everyday – it takes a well-known song from the basement and turns into a huge hit! Those who dislike music from the 1980s, for instance, might learn to love it if songs were given a remix. That might sound like cheating but adding a modern spin on older sounds can ensure it survives and inspires. Many are reluctant to dip further back into the annals of music: the assumption is it’s a bit crusty and irrelevant. If a hotshot sees a new perspective and potential then, before you know it, they have added shine and new direction to that song. That updating and reimagining gets people interested and looking at the music in a new light. There is no denying you can make a song worse by remixing it. I shall not mention failed attempts but they are there – it is not that easy taking a fantastic song, adding your own voice and ensuring it remains appealing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Getting music to as many people as possible is vital – remixing is a way of doing this. I feel there is a lot happening in the current time: so many artists have their tracks reworked and love the results. To my mind, there is a gap in the market: going back and reworking older songs. Maybe there is not enough currency in that; people feel there is a lack of appeal and need right now – maybe, a wasted venture and commercial gamble. I know there are bands are artists whose music either sounds dated or ignored. If someone were to come along and spend time on that work…perhaps it could gain a new lease and be a big hit. There are ample ventures and possibilities for any song. I listen to classic club songs like Back to Life (Soul II Soul and Caron Wheeler) and can hear a mix of old and new. That song came out in the late-1980s but, in a way, it sounds right up-to-date and fresh. Perhaps we could witness a similarly behemoth song come along now: take a promising song from yesteryear and give it a modern spit. It is exciting to think what could happen if busy and curious minds dipped back into music’s past. I love a remix and know it can take a song somewhere really special. It happens a lot in the current climate but, perhaps, not as often as one would hope! I guess artists are nervous seeing their song put in other people’s hands; maybe they want to keep it pure and straight. I am not sure but my advice would be this: take a gamble and you will be amazed! As we have seen, looking back at music’s past; a wonderful remix can take a good or great song and make it…
SOMETHING beyond the realms of simple imagination.