Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

(The Beatles + Jay-Z) x Dangermouse = Musical Genius / Legal Trouble

Today I want to recommend an album that you may have some trouble laying your hands on. You may well have heard of it because it was a big deal at the time and there was a legal battle and press coverage. Here’s what it is. In 2004, one of my favorite producers/performers, Dangermouse, took just the vocals from Jay-Z’s powerful “Black Album” and mashed it up with unauthorized samples from The Beatles’ psychedelic “The Beatles”  (popularly known as “The White Album”) to create an entirely new project: “The Grey Album.”

I got 99 problems and a cease and desist order due to copyright infringement is one.

The idea is pure genius and it is as cool as you think it is. Sadly, EMI, who holds the rights to “The White Album,” didn’t see it that way. Jay-Z had commercially released an a capella version of his “Black Album” for this exact purpose, hoping artists would take his raps and create mashups and remixes. EMI, on the other hand, had no such plans for their tightly held and valuable Beatles music. They had never given permission nor were they paid for use of the material so they served Dangermouse and retailers with a cease and desist order. Distribution was halted.

Copies are still available. You can get actual copies of the CD from Amazon for $50 and up, if you’re a purist. Or you can still find BitTorrent links or scan news groups. A protest called Grey Tuesday was organized on February 24, 2004 on which hundreds of websites hosted the album for free download as a form of electronic civil disobedience. Over 100,000 copies were downloaded that day and so there are still many copies floating around. You can find it if you really want it.

As for the music itself, it is unbelievable. Check out these 10 of the 12 on the album.

  • Public Service Announcement – Beautiful samples from ‘Long, Long, Long’ behind track #10 from “The Black Album.” Great opener.
  • What More Can I Say – Dangermouse slows down ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and makes it sound like it was written to back Jay-Z. Amazing.
  • Encore – Someone (not Dangermouse, I think) put together a video for this one using footage of The Beatles and Jay-Z. It’s kind of cool, but the song is better.
  • Lucifer 9 – What else are you going to do with samples of ‘Revolution #9’ but make the weirdest song on your own album?
  • December 4th – Again, Dangermouse makes the sample – this time the acoustic lick from ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ –  sound like it was written for this rap.
  • 99 Problems – So how’s this for random? The rest of the links to this album work just fine, but there is a note at the bottom of this one on YouTube that says, “This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by all copyright holders. The audio has been disabled.” It’s too bad, too, because this might be my favorite track on the release. Samples from ‘Helter Skelter’ back Jay-Z as he tells us “If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one.” It’s not about a relationship that went south, but rather it’s about not being a pussy.
  • Dirt Off Your Shoulder – This is the hardest ‘Julia’ has ever rocked. I don’t like the rap all that much, but the song is undeniably cool.
  • Moment of Clarity – This one uses ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun,’ but the genius of Dangermouse’s use of the sample renders it hard to recognize. He creates a new rhythm with the muddy guitar and a new melody with the vocals.
  • Change Clothes – Here some George Harrison weirdness – ‘Piggies’ – and a little bit of ‘Dear Prudence’ is turned into a great groove.
  • My 1st Song – The main Beatles sample is the “Can you take me back where I came from?” end of ‘Cry Baby Cry.’ Dangermouse also uses ‘Savoy Truffle’ and ‘Helter Skelter,’ but I’m not sure I hear them.

I can see both sides of this argument. This mashup is almost an entirely new project and people want art like this to be made available on the grounds of free speech and freedom of artistic expression. This puts us on a slippery slope, though. What Dangermouse did here is complete deconstruction. He broke The Beatles’ music down to building blocks and made something new with them. Not everyone would, though. How close does it have to be to the original before it is simply ripping off an artist’s work?

Stephen Colbert appears to be on the side of the free speechers. In 2006, on the Colbert Report, he called for a mashup of “The White Album” and Christmas songs to be called “The White Christmas Album” and added, “Dangermouse, I know you’re watching.”

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December 23, 2009 - Posted by | Classic Rock, Hip Hop, Popular, Rock

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