Friday, June 4, 2010

In Which Harry Nilsson Invents the Mashup

Old School.

These days, producers with computers strip vocals from one song, add beats, take samples from another song, add new vocals, and come up with something "new" (or at least new-ish).

(And if you're not sure you understand what a mashup is, listen to this. I'll wait.)

Harry Nilsson did the same thing. In 1967. With no computers or studio tricks.

Instead, Nilsson took a single Beatle song as a spine and wrapped around it vocal and instrumental licks from more than a dozen other songs. With no producers with computers to fix all his shitty tracks. The result was different from lame TV-show medleys and was fun and memorable (and a great way to respond to John Lennon's statement that Nilsson was his "favorite American band"). Not bad for a guy who was doing computer work for a bank and trying to peddle his songs to established acts. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Thirteen years later, Ringo Starr was in the middle of recording an album that would ultimately be retitled Stop and Smell the Roses. (John Lennon, 12 days before he was killed, gave Ringo demos of 2 new songs Lennon wrote for Ringo, including "Nobody Told Me." They made arrangements for Lennon to produce a session for Ringo to record the songs in early January 1981. When Lennon was killed in December 1980, Ringo couldn't bring himself to record the songs. An enhanced version of Lennon's demo would surface a few years later on the posthumous Milk and Honey album.)

For Stop and Smell the Roses, Harry Nilsson decided to revisit the technique he'd used for "You Can't Do That": with Nilsson producing (and singing background vocals) Ringo re-recorded his 1972 hit "Back Off Boogaloo" (now featuring the intro from "It Don't Come Easy" and more of a funk feel). Nilsson used "Back Off Boogaloo" as a structure from which he hung sections from a half-dozen other songs by Ringo and the Beatles. The result was mixed; mostly it worked, but it felt like it probably should have gone a lot farther. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

So offering these examples from the years before Pro Tools and sophisticated music software, I put forth this simple idea:

Harry Nilsson invented the mashup.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool! I'd never heard either of those before.