In today’s inherently social music landscape, a metric more important than how many times a song has been replayed is the number of times that it has been reinterpreted. While replays grow a song’s popularity within a given fan base, reinterpretations branch a song out into an entirely new audiences. The impact of replays is linear, while reinterpretations are exponential.
I’ve written previously about how the reverberations of reinterpretations helped propel Adele. And now the same seems to be happening with Bruce Springsteen.
Most notable is this selection from John Legend and The Roots, who are establishing quite a track record of collaborative covers.
And a far stranger (and much less musically successful) example comes from a Canadian DJ who thought it might be fun to meld The Boss with the Bawse (Springsteen and Rick Ross). As with all failed mash-ups, the result is intellectually interesting but ultimately unlistenable once the novelty wears off. But the very creation of it placed Springsteen on nearly every rap blog of note.
Is digital technology decimating our attention spans? With anything (literally, anything) just a few clicks away, it would seem quite logical to conclude that our collective cultural focus is destined to flit about at ever more fickle speeds.
Yet, intriguingly, the evidence stacks up to the contrary. If you check the top rated TV shows, few titles are new. And, amidst the rubble of what once was the music industry, Adele proved that even today you can freeze the world in a musical Medusa gaze for months upon months upon months.
Of the many important factors that propelled her gravity-defying ubiquity, remixes and covers played an unheralded but central role. It was not Adele alone who kept “Rolling in the Deep” on replay. Rather, a lengthy roster of artists who are superstars in their own right jumped on board to do their part to keep the bandwagon rolling. Here are two of the better remixes/covers that give even the most familiar song a bit of fresh life.
When an artist sells 13 million copies of an album, it’s bound to draw a follower or two. Though there’s good reason why you haven’t heard much of the many Adele-ites that have developed a sudden fascination with soul, a soulful voice that’s worth watching is Cold Specks. Though she hails from Canada and currently lives in London, Cold Specks (nee Al Spx) sounds as if she were plucked from an antebellum choir. Such songs don’t exactly scream “pop hit,” but one might have said the same of Adele. Take a listen.
Most great DJs and producers who do remixes are known for either a signature sound or a particular genre. As much respect as I have for them, you’re not going to see Girl Talk come forward with anything other than his cultural cuisinart, and Swizz Beatz isn’t going to stray into folk anytime soon.
These dominant type casts are what make RAC stand out as much as they do. This collective has put unique twists on dozens of songs ranging from John Legend to Edward Sharpe to The Kings of Leon and beyond– all to great effect. Each of their tracks is more of a reinterpretation than a remix: instead of just dropping a club beat and calling it a day, they’ll create an entirely new mood for a song, often taking tracks I didn’t like the first time around and turning them into favorites.
The end result is a rare breed: a group of producers who you want to follow just as closely as you would the artists that craft the originals.
In today’s digital music landscape, what’s a good bellwether for the real cultural resonance of song?
I’d suggest that, as we can see now with Adele, the metric of the moment is the number of remixes and remakes a song sparks.
“Rolling in the Deep” is, in itself a good song. Maybe a great song (maybe). But the number of headline-worthy acts that have been inspired (or encouraged) to reinterpret the song is striking. And, as is the case with many markers of popularity, these homages don’t just serve to identify this song as hot; they in turn serve to further the song’s popularity. In this music landscape fueled by what’s hot this very moment, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd of constantly new takes on a hit.
Here are three of the better ones. The first, a soulful a capella take from John Legend.
To take this meta for a moment, here is someone by the name of Copycat who is re-mixing the John Legend re-make of the Adele hit. Phew. I think this version sort of sucks, but it sure does make the point doesn’t it?
There is one fact, among many, that proves that the designers of the iPod were not much for hip-hop. Apple’s user interface, while rightly lauded, freezes when faced with four little letters: “feat.”
The marking “feat.” has nothing to do with marking and everything to do with symbolizing the free-flowing collaboration that defines the spirit and the composition of modern music. If you glance the back of any hip-hop record, I’d guess that at least a third of those songs “feat(ure)” some other artist. Featuring someone isn’t the sign of some side project, but rather emblematic of the fact that from its early days hip-hop culture has come up with a spirit of dynamic intermingling that sets it clearly apart from its one-band-per-record rock brethren.
A terrific new example of this is the following song, “Hard Times.” Originally by Baby Huey and the Babysitters (here’s to awesome band names), this track is now performed by John Legend and The Roots– incredibly successful individual artists/bands in their own right. But wait, there’s more– while John Legend takes lead lyrical duties, it features Black Thought– the vocal lead of The Roots.
Got that? Your iPod won’t. You see, anytime one artist features another, the iPod is trained to recognize that combination as an entirely new artist– linked only by alphabetic proximity. Scrolling through the artist tab is to ramble through an endless series of permutations, and to be reminded of the many different ways that cultural perspective shapes all sorts of little experiences.
While we’re on the topic of the iPod-baffling alchemy at the heart of so much great music, here’s one more track off of Wake Up!: the new record from John Legend and The Roots. It’s the song that John Legend was born to sing, Continue reading →
With back-to-back dinner parties this weekend, I of course had to spend a good chunk of time obsessing about the proper soundtrack for said soirees. The answer I came up with is the collection presented here: 19 food and family friendly tracks you probably haven’t heard but will want to.
For loyal readers of this blog, this CD will serve as a nostalgic tour through the mellower tracks that have emerged as my favorites over the last year or so. For the newbies out there, feel free to search the artists’ names on the blog so that you can learn more about them. And do track down their commercial releases: there’s not a band on here that’s not worth the price of admission.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the track list and the link to the music. Continue reading →
When a 35 year-old social protest song leaps out of your speakers with immediacy and inspiration, is that the sign of timeless writing or stagnated social progress?
Wake up everybody no more sleepin in bed
No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be so
there is so much hatred, war and poverty
Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children teach em the very best you can.
The world won’t get no better if we just let it be
The world won’t get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.
Originally performed by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, with Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals, this soul classic has been covered many times over the years. But none greater than the most recent, done by the OkayPlayer supergroup of The Roots, John Legend, Common, and Melanie Fiona.
Here at the casa, I’m constantly floating new songs into our collective air space. And, when I find my better half immediately over at the stereo to replay a new track, it’s a pretty good sign of a hit. It’s been on repeat around these parts over the last few days, and has gotten me thinking about a lot. Hope you enjoy it just as much.