This is the remix

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!

7 comments

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  • I don’t like the Missy Elliot remix, It is kind of just like she added in her lyrics to the song nothing really spectacular that changed the song. If miss Elliot helped put that song to number one it might be because we haven’t really heard much from her in the past decade . It is exciting to know she is still alive. I am not sure if this song needed help getting to number 1. I do think it is a number one song but I thought it was a number 1 song over a year ago when the album was first released.

    I loved the song . I loved the song so much I couldn’t wait to hear it on the radio but it did take forever to get on the charts. Those of us that buy the cds we hear all the songs and we know which ones are the hits . I was surprised to see ET get released but it did make it to number 1 and I think a part of it has to do with the success of the whole album as well as the hype for Katy Perry.

    I also think that Rebecca Black putting out her song before it made an impact on the marketting of the song as well. Mostly because it is so much better. People who didn’t purchase the album might think Katy came up with the song after the fact.( Well of course I know people download entire albums) but lets assume that for a lot of people they didn’t download the entire album .

    I guess all I am trying to say is that I love the song and I think the number 1 was well deserved. I suppose some people might think that it is just a silly song and maybe it doesn’t deserve a number 1 spot but for me It has a lot more meaning it gives you that feeling of being young and careless because just like in Teenage dream (my favorite song on the album) If you listen to the lyrics sometimes you wonder How many times have you done stuff like skinny dipping or streaking in the park , and not remembering what you did and just being carefree and not worrying about what other people think. When you are an adult that doesn’t happen as much anymore.

    I wish we could stay teenagers and never get old, but I know that things have to change and probably for the better . “We’ll be young forever”

  • For me, remixes should be tracks that do not share the same music as the original. It may have shades of sounds in the original, but not the exact music. Something like Mimi Carey’s “Fantasy” stripped away the Tom Tom Club sample, pretty much, leaving it with a barebones sound and ODB’s kiddie-like rap (“go back like kiddies and pacifiers”? Oy). As mentioned, in terms of rappers, other pop acts had utilized rappers before 1995- and not even on remixes, necessarily: for instance, Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” and Jody Watley’s “Friends” in the 80s. And in the early 90s, Janet Jackson had Heavy D. rap on a remix of “Alright”; Whitney Houston had Monie Love rap on “My Name is Not Susan”; Madonna had Everlast rap on “Waiting” (and had rappers on that nasty “Did You Do It” album track; Janet had Chuck D. on album track “This Time” etc. etc. Mimi Carey ended up tacking rappers onto tracks and more often than any of them, though, which made it seem like she was at the “forefront” of that trend. She also did become known for re-recording vocals for dance mixes, too.

    Something like “Last Friday Night”- except for the Missy Elliott bits, it’s the same track as the original. “S&M” even more so- I don’t recognize any audio changes in the “Rih-mix”- just Spears’ tacked-on parts. Same for “Till the World Ends”- aside from Minaj’s introductory section and Ke$ha’s tacked-on vocals- and perhaps some shades of dubstep- it’s essentially the album version. It’s just that “remix” gets tossed around so much these days, like the word “diva.”

    On another note, it was ridiculous to give the same name to two tracks that bore no resemblance to each other and call one of them a “remix” (i.e. the Jennifer Lopez tracks).

    • And of course, Michael Jackson had rapper L.T.B. on “Black or White.” Other examples abound, but those were the big high-profile acts.

    • Yeah. Having rappers guest on a song that wasn’t a remix goes back a bit further though inviting a guest on an alternate version of a song was a way to expand the audience of the artist by inviting in the audience of the guest rapper. Though I do wonder if the idea of having a rapper on a second version of a song was the idea of a record label to capitalize on the hit potential? I think back then, when a song had a guest rapper, it was more often than not an actual remix rather than an edit with an additional verse like the recent examples.
      I wouldn’t say the Katy Perry examples wouldn’t be called “remixes” but they barely qualify all the same.

      All in all, I never really realized how big the idea of the “remix” really was until I thought about it while writing this blog. There’s a lot that makes up different aspects and purposes for a remix.

  • For the most part, this is an interesting article. But how on earth can you write an article on the history of remixes in popular music without mentioning the queen of remixes, Mariah Carey? She was one of the main forces behind fusing pop and hip hop with her resung remixes of songs like “Fantasy” with O.D.B., “Heartbreaker” with Missy Elliott and Da Brat, and “My All/Stay Awhile” with Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz (to name a very few from her extensive remix collection). Not to mention the incredible and groundbreaking house remixes (once again with resung vocal parts) she did with David Morales and Junior Vazquez. So overall an okay article, but do a bit more research next time.

    • Mariah Carey had little to do with my point. I could have briefly mentioned her as an example in addition to the other examples I listed from the 90s but it wouldn’t really have changed much, I don’t think.
      Though she did become known for being one of the primary artists in the 90s to have remixes for her singles, like Madonna, though unlike Madonna, her remixes were based around hip-hop and urban versions of her poppier singles, including the Fantasy remix with O.D.B, which is one of my favourites from her overall.

      I think the purpose of this particular blog post was just to give an overview on the different types of remixes and their different purposes as either promotional tools for crossing genres or for having a more radio friendly version of a song or, as I closed with above, having a new version for the purposes of gaining more sales to achieve a higher chart position. I think Mariah, along with Janet Jackson and Madonna, helped to make the idea of a remix more appealing to mainstream pop singers. So I should have mentioned her but not doing so doesn’t really change my point.

      I’m a huge fan of remixes, specifically genre-crossing ones. And as I mentioned, whether it’s purpose feels cheap or for promoting a song to radio, I enjoy hearing them.

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