Katy Perry just earned her 5th #1 single from her Teenage Dream album, tying a record set by Michael Jackson in the late 80s as the album with the most #1 Hot 100 singles for Bad. And she did this with the help of a few remixes. One was released as the main version for E.T. while the other was released for Last Friday Night as that song hovered at #2, essentially released to give it that extra push to #1. A cheap move? Perhaps. Should it be disqualified? Maybe not…
Remixes have been around in music for decades offering up alternate studio versions of songs from the perspective of different producers and mixers. Often commonly associated with dance music but not limited to just that, a remix is essentially what its name says. A re-mix. A producer will take the recorded portions of a song and mix them how he or she thinks will make it sound the best. Often times, it can be something subtle, increase the vocal track, increase guitars and drums while decreasing horns and strings or change the effects on the recording. Sometimes, it’s slightly more obvious. Add in a more distinct beat, add an vocal track, replace the drum tracks with another recorded drum.
A remix isn’t a mere radio edit, which is when a recorded song is shortened for length for radio/video play or has portions taken out for various reasons such as for censorship. A remix also isn’t a cover. A cover is when someone else is performing or recording a song previously recorded by someone else. And a mashup is when someone takes a bunch of songs and intertwines them into one such as the fun DJ Earworm mixes.
Remixes serve many purposes and have done so through time. In the early 80s, remixes began to arise in clubs when songs would be re-released with “extended mixes”, which would lengthen the songs to allow DJs to place them amongst other dance songs by laying one on top of the other. This typically meant having a lengthy instrumental section at the beginning and end to give the DJs some room to work with. Since then, dance remixes often contain large portions of which have no vocals and can range from four to over ten minutes in length. By the mid-90s, a large number of pop songs had remixed versions of them. CDs known as maxi-singles would contain three or more dance remixes by different DJs and producers.
Many of Madonna‘s singles from the 80s onwards would have dance remixes suited for the clubs. Sometimes a slower song would be sped up and have heavy beats added to it to give it a shot at club airplay. Even country songs began to have dance remixes released for them. Essentially, dance remixes tended to stay exclusive to the clubs and didn’t really help with the overall success of the song.
Remixes also include redone versions of songs for the purposes of a radio release. These typically weren’t dance remixes but just updated versions of songs that, for one reason or another, didn’t suit the current radio climate when it came time for these songs to be released. I remember by the mid-90s and into the 2000s, it was increasingly common to have a song that was played on the radio sound different when I bought the CD and heard it on that. Usually it was with minor hits by artists like Natalie Merchant, Natalie Imbruglia, Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch. Perhaps these songs were remixed because the original album versions sounded pretty plain in comparison to the major hits they were suddenly faced with having to match the success of. But sometimes, a remix could make or break a song.
One of the biggest hits of the 90s was with a remix. Missing by Everything But The Girl. And of course, a majority of Jewel‘s singles were remixed for radio. You Were Meant For Me, Foolish Games, Jupiter, Break Me and This Way. It was also common for songs to get remixes for different formats simultaneously in order to achieve a crossover hit. And pretty much every country crossover hit of the last 15 years was due to a pop remix. Amazed by Lonestar, most Shania Twain and Faith Hill hits and many Taylor Swift ones as well. Even songs that were originally dance recordings were remixed in reverse. Given downtempo basic versions. Covers of Heaven by DJ Sammy and Listen To Your Heart by D.H.T, plus some Cascada songs were given what became known as Candlelight Remixes. Remixes can help break an artist or song out of one genre and into another.
Most recently, remixes have been released to include guests, typically rappers, that didn’t appear on the original versions of the songs. It’s not exactly a new thing. In the mid-90s, Janet Jackson had MC Lyte rap on a remix of You Want This, though Sinead O’Connor had her as early as 1988. Five years ago, a remix of Buttons by the Pussycat Dolls brought in Snoop Dogg and Nelly Furtado invited Missy Elliott in for a remix of Do It. Ten years ago, Ricky Martin reached out to Christina Aguilera for a remix of Nobody Wants To Be Lonely. By that time, he was on a downward spiral and she was the hottest new pop star. It became a hit.
In this age of digital downloads and albums having a longer shelf life than they used to, it’s become more important to think of ways to ensure a song becomes a hit. Record labels have made a habit (and a bad one, in my opinion) of re-releasing albums long after their original release to contain a few new tracks and remixes. If they don’t do that, they still may release a remix of a new single and use that as the main version they choose to promote, such as with E.T. by Katy Perry, with featured guest Kanye West. The difference is basically a few lines from Kanye. Otherwise, the music is mostly the same and Katy had to do nothing at all. What they get is a new version that nobody has but will buy, whether they already have the CD or not. And when it hits #1 (and it did!), it will still count as a song released from the album despite not being the version on the album.
That’s no big deal. It’s also nothing new. Jewel had three Top 10 hits from her first album by 1997 and only one of them actually came from it. Two were remixed. Two of Jennifer Lopez‘ #1s from her ‘J-Lo’ album were remixes as well, neither of which were even the same song. They were simply given the same title with “Remix” in it. After that, Billboard were forced to create a rule stating remixes had to actually be the same song to be counted.
This year, a new trend has started where a song is high on the charts a new remix is unleashed. Not for the purpose of getting radio play, or to even promote at all. It’s released as a secondary version with a high-profile featured artist to sell at digital stores and put the numbers higher. Twice, it resulted in the songs reaching #1. Rihanna‘s remix of S&M featuring Britney Spears and Katy Perry‘s Last Friday Night remix with Missy Elliott. These remixes tend to be poorly put together and contain a re-recorded verse by the featured guest. In Britney’s case for S&M, she sounded like she had a cold while Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj on the remix for Britney’s own Till The World Ends didn’t sound much better.
Are these legitimate? Personally, I’ve always enjoyed hearing remixes of songs. Not really the hard and heavy dance remixes but alternate pop or rock versions of songs. They typically do give new life to an already familiar and potentially played-out song. But something as blatantly cheap as the new tactics of labels trying to get #1 kind of leaves a sour taste in my mouth though I still like hearing what they can come up with. I expect there to be a new rule in the future that somehow combats this but I think my opinion is, as long as the interest is there for people to want to buy the new versions, it’s legitimate. It’s cheap but it works. As long as there are added footnotes stating that #1 was attained with the help of a remix, either from the beginning or halfway through.
This is the remix and keep ’em coming!