Mash-ups meet their mates
Over the past year, mash-up bootlegs — the practice of putting the vocal of one song over the backing track of another — have gone nova. Illegal compilations such as Boom Selection_Issue 01 and The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever have become hot items, while the 2 Many DJ's mix CD As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2 (see Disc Reviews, p. 86) is the hipster party album of the year.
The finest boots are pure alchemy, the pairings creating something entirely different from what the songs' original creators had in mind. Here's a list of the very best:
Freelance Hairdresser, "Marshall's Been Snookered." Eminem's "Without Me" has been subjected to dozens of pile-ups, most notoriously "Marshall's Been Done to Death," which pits the vocal against some 30 backing tracks in rapid succession. But this one's still the most striking, the tune matched to a ragtime piano taken from the theme of the British TV show "Pot Black." With Eminem's vocal sped up until it sounds even more cartoonish than usual, he sounds like a hammy old-time song-and-dance man — or less politely, a minstrel. Its corollary? A mass-cult idol from an earlier age: Al Jolson's "You Made Me Love You."
Soulwax, "The Magnificent Romeo." Basement Jaxx's "Romeo" was already a great swaggering kiss-off with a classic tuff-girl vocal from Kele LeRock. But paired with the funk groove of the Clash's "The Magnificent Seven," it struts even harder. We wouldn't call Benny Goodman and His Orchestra featuring Peggy Lee's "Why Don't You Do Right?" funky exactly, but it's got sass to spare both vocally and rhythmically, making it a crucial forerunner.
Freelance Hellraiser, "A Stroke of Genius." When Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" meets the Strokes' "Hard to Explain," sparks fly — ones that no one knew were there in the first place. The band's deadpan cool gains emotional resonance; the singer's sultry yelp sounds urgent rather than anxious. And instead of coming off like an advertisement for Aguilera's sex appeal the way the original "Genie" did, "Stroke" makes her sound as vulnerable as the lyrics seemingly intended. The result is one of the great teenage "Will I, or won't I?" songs — as jittery and irresistible as Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force's "I Wonder If I Take You Home."
Dsico, "Love Will Freak Us." Missy Elliott has been bootlegged so often that mash-ups are sometimes referred to as "Missys." And no track has been more plundered than 2001's epochal "Get Ur Freak On." Oddly, almost no one seems to have used the song's backing track, going instead for the vocal. Here it's paired with Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," making a funk-meets-new-wave combo plate nearly as tasty as Prince's "When You Were Mine."
Evolution Control Committee, "Rebel Without a Pause." Chuck D and Flavor Flav's stentorian-and-goofball double-act meets the swangin' whipped-cream-delightful trumpets and vibes of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass on this early-'90s boot, which has gained renewed popularity thanks to its inclusion on The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever compilation. (And no, we have no idea where you can find a copy — sorry.) References to Chesimard and "radio suckers" aside, danceable, catchy horn charts with deep-voiced guys yelling instructions on top was an early-'60s dance-craze staple, the greatest example of which is the Ray Bryant Combo's "It's Madison Time."
Osymyso, "Intro Introspection." A hundred or so famous song intros get turned into 12 minutes of concentrated what-the-fuck: You ain't heard nothin' till you've heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Stayin' Alive" strutting down Broadway together, and there's dozens of other moments just like it. Think of it as a pop-music version of Walter Ruttmann's "Weekend," a 1930 commission by Berlin Radio that attempted to condense an entire urban landscape into an 11-minute sound collage.
Playgroup, Party-Mix Vol. One. Originally a promo-only item, this has recently hit shelves in a handsome silver-and-white package. An hour-long mix of some 200 '80s dance classics, each granted between 10 and 20 seconds to prove its mettle, it's a bit like a cross between "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" and the dizzying sample-confetti constructions of house producers Akufen and Todd Edwards.