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Other People’s Music

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Welcome back, my friends, to the show that – while may be delayed a week here and there – certainly never ends. Thanks for checking back in. Welcome. And if you’re here from the Seattle Post Intelligencer, big thanks to you for coming out, too.

A little different this week, as there isn’t just one story to get in to. There are two (maybe more, depending on how you want to split hairs), but there’s certainly a common theme to be found. To borrow from Naughty By Nature, today is about OPM – Other People’s Music (a subject, as you can see, is a favorite of mine).

It started earlier this week when Paul McCartney weighed in – finally – on other artists remixing and mashing-up the Beatles music (such as ”The Grey Album”). Paul, being the megalomillionaire that he is, completely surprised me with his take on it (as opposed to what was expected):

“I didn’t mind when something like that happened with the Grey Album, but the thing was the record company minded,” he said. “They didn’t like that and they put up a bit of a fuss. But it was like, take it easy guys, it’s a tribute. There’s so many covers of Beatles songs, whether they are musically good or not, as a composer it’s a tribute. There are certain versions that stand out. Most of the black artists, people like Marvin Gaye (Yesterday) and Ray Charles (Eleanor Rigby). The best thing is having your song regurgitated by someone incredible and thinking, wow, did we write that?”

You could knock me over with a feather. With the certain prevalence of artists like Gene Simmons (although calling him an “artist” is somewhat of a stretch) and executives like Irving Azoff (didn’t think you’d be forgotten, did ya?) railing against the internet every chance they get and how they feel like they’re being ripped off every time someone even mentions them on the world wide web, I would have thought McCartney to be the type to fit that mold. Another one of the old, senile fogies that hate all this new-fangled technology because it allows other people to make a living off of their blood, sweat, and tears.

I have to admit that that was probably a hasty prejudgment. And in a case like this, I have no problem admitting I was wrong. I’d rather be wrong about someone that turns out to be cool than right about someone who turns out to be the sound water and vinegar make when they collide.

I’m really glad McCartney views the world of mash-ups and remixing the way he does, particularly of his own music. What many fail to realize when they chase these remix sites and artists down and slap them with a bombardment of copyright infringement suits is that what these artists do is a tribute. Many are paying homage to the songs, sounds, or work of another by manipulating it in to another lease on life. This goes from remixing and mash-ups to hip-hop sampling.

Just ask Random, whose MegaRan albums earned him a Capcom sponsorship (and whose latest, Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII does the same with its video game namesake. (Review on that one to come early next week). Random paid homage to something he loved, and Capcom rewarded him for it because his work was stellar and Capcom absolutely got what he was doing. Glad to see Paul McCartney is in the same boat; now if the labels would fall in line as well, this would almost be a perfect world.

However, there is another form of tribute the labels can’t do anything about – the cover song. That leads us to story number two – the rash of live covers that have cropped up recently.

I attended a Miranda Cosgrove show with my daughter a little over a week ago (again, to be reviewed this coming week). There was a part of her show where she had put together a medley of 2-3 “songs that were in her iPod” that she thought her audience would want to hear. They were newer tracks; the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got A Feelin’” is the one that stands out. At the time, I chalked it up to a concession made toward her audience – predominantly pre-teen girls. (If there ever were to be a child revolution in my city, this would have been the time to do it, as the children far outnumbered the parents accompanying them to the show.)

However, it would seem I was wrong about that notion as well. Twice in week; I’ll blame it on being busy. Nonetheless, this wasn’t something limited to Miranda Cosgrove, Katy Perry and even Prince have done this lately as well. Perry did another medley including Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” and Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’”. No, she didn’t rap or anything; she simply played the hook on a flute. Which, if Katy Perry’s going to play a flute…no, get your mind out of the gutter. I was going to say I’d rather have heard some Jethro Tull.

In Prince’s case, it was only one track – Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”. And before you think it a little strange that Prince sang a song about wanting a thug in bed, he didn’t. One of Prince’s backup singers actually sang the song while he helped play. Make no mistake, though – if Prince didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t have happened.

All in all, it’s nice seeing the idea of artists getting some love by other artists getting some love. While there is certainly a risk of further cannibalization of music by this becoming a common practice, there is certainly no issue with paying tribute to those who came before or even recognizing those whose work is being enjoyed more currently. So long as a balance is kept between paying respect and blatant theft, all will be well.

And as long as you keep safe, healthy, and happy, the same goes for you. Thanks for reading and see you back soon.

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About Michael Melchor