Before "mashups" were "Stuff To Do To Google Maps": a primer

"For he is Ishi--the last of his tribe"
"Couldn't help noticing your aftershave"
The mind that takes this in its stride
is yours and mine, and it is late

--Anselm Hollo

As a kid, I loved both the Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. version of "Walk This Way" and the club scene in "Xanadu" where the young guy's bad '80s rock vision ("Lover, I won't take a backseat...") melds with the older guy's '40s vision ("I want to dance with you
til the sun comes creepin' thru-u") (see it on YouTube)--two songs that, along with a bunch of Charles Ives' work, seem like natural precursors to mashups. Mashups (music, not app) may be my favorite form of "user-created content"--definitely what I'd be most itching to make if I had the tech.

If you're not familiar, a mashup is a new song created from two or more songs. Mashups got a lot of press 2-4 years ago (remember Danger Mouse's Jay-Z/Beatles mashup "The Grey Album"--or at least the hype around it?), but big media fascination seems to have died fairly quickly. I haven't heard many--okay, any--people talking about mashups offline for years.

I still love them, love the little disoriented feeling some give me upon first listen, the slightly chaotic position they put my brain in: two songs! at once! Holding two songs equally in your head is like thinking while driving in fast-but-thick traffic. Or, as the Hollo poem above has it, living in the 20th or 21st century. The most dissonant mashups make excellent morning commute music.

Many mashups are not at all dissonant, but seamless--sounding as though entirely original, the parts fit together so well (see "Sexual High" below). (Note: "seamless" loses value [for me] if the mash isn't a little clever--Go Home Productions has a mash of "We Will Rock You" with "Back In Black" that's entirely smooth, but a no-brainer, a puzzle anyone could have figured out). Many mashups are successful mainly as experiments (things you might want to listen to and admire once or twice--like the mashes of Eminem's "Without Me" and Glenn Miller's "In The Mood" or the Benny Hill Theme and 50 Cent's "In Da Club") ; many aren't even successful that way (There's a difference between "interestingly dissonant" and "violently clashing"). The following, a handful of my favorites, are, I think, wildly successful (even revelatory--see "Sexual High" again) as songs in their own right, and I highly recommend them to anyone just encountering this form.

Oh, yeah: I highly recommend encountering this form. If you decide to download only one of these, make it the already-much-mentioned "Sexual High." Only three? Add "Callin' On Sunday" and "Making Plans for Vinyl." The rest, as you see fit. They're especially fun to listen to when you're familiar with both (or all) of the source songs--and when the source songs are from very different genres. I've arranged them by mashup artist.

Mark Vidler/Go Home Productions
Vidler is currently offering a retrospective of his mashups for free download (click link), including those below. If you're at all interested, don't miss it--availability will expire soon.

"Making Plans for Vinyl"--XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel" and Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)"
--I used to love "Making Plans for Nigel." This is better.

"The Weather Episode"--Crowded House's "The Weather With You"/Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre

"Karma in the Life"-- Beatles' "In the Life"/Radiohead's "Karma Police"

"Sexual High"--Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing"/Radiohead's "High and Dry" (not available on site, try here)
--I love Marvin Gaye, but I've always found "Sexual Healing" creepy ("Wake up, wake up" my ass, you old perv). Stripped of its bumbling electronic bassline and accompanied by Radiohead's gentle guitar riff, it finally becomes for me a song about what it really is about--longing, not just sidling up and trying to get some.

"Shannon Stone" --Shannon's "Let the Music Play" and the Rolling Stones

"Rapture Riders"--Blondie's "Rapture" and the Doors' "Riders On The Storm"
--really kicks when Debbie Harry comes in with the "Fab Five Freddy" rap towards the end

Party Ben (all available on site for free download)
"Callin' On Sunday" --a mash of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and Lyric's Born's "Callin' Out"
--Sublime. I was surprised at how nice it was to NOT hear Bono's vocal.

"Galvanize the Empire"--The Chemical Brothers' "Galvanize" and John Williams' Stormtrooper March
--Kitschy as it is, this somehow moves beyond being one of those "mere experiments"...I'm not a big Star Wars fan, but I can imagine the blast this was on the dance floor when it debuted (Party Ben, like many mashup artists, is a DJ). Hear it on YouTube, without having to download anything, here (might have to close your eyes to concentrate [grin]).

Irn Mnky
"J.C.R.E.A.M. [Johnny Cash Rules Everything Around Me]"--Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm" and Wu Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M."
--Extra credit for only having to change one word in the title. Hear it instantly here on YouTube (NOTE: there's no visual--someone just posted it so we could listen).

Dangerous Orange
"Hurts Like Teen Spirit" --Johnny Cash's "Hurt," Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper" and something by New Order.
--There's no improving on the original Cash track, but this is a good example of a masher handling more than two tracks deftly, and I like the way the Blue Oyster Cult vocals seem to rise and swirl through the song, like past ghosts haunting Cash's persona.

"Like I Love Your Generation"--Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You"/Bob Sinclar's "Love Generation"
--This sounds a little off at first. I think Sinclar's chord progressions are in tune with Timberlake's vocal, but they're not the same as those used in the original "Like I Love You"--a shift my brain has a hard time accepting. A minute into the track, when Sinclar's vocals are added into the mix, all doubts are erased--this is skillful, even beautiful.

"Twilight Back"--Timberlake's "Sexy Back"/2 Unlimited's "Twilight Zone"
--Like an energy drink mixed with an energy drink. Hear it now, without downloading, in this YouTube video.

Norwegian Recycling
"How Six Songs Collide"--Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," Howie Day's "Collide," Five for Fighting's "Superman," Angela Ammons' "Always Getting Over You," something from Boyzone and...?
--A little light for my taste, but lovely and well-done--almost makes hearing Howie Day palatable. Hear it immediately, without downloading, on YouTube here [I'm starting to realize that YouTube is as much a listening station as a video site].

DJ Clivester
"Am I Undone?"--Erasure's "Am I Right?"/Korn's "Coming Undone"/Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice"
--I love Chorus-era Erasure, but "Am I Right?" is undoubtedly the suckiest song they ever recorded. I'm amazed that anyone picked it up, brushed it off, and tried to make something of it. More amazed that he did a good job. Click on the link to hear it without having to download.

Robotic Intergalactic Astro-Artists (RIAA)
"Intergalactic Centerfold" (scroll down to #16 to play, without having to download)--Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic Planetary"/J. Geils Band "Centerfold"
--I haven't heard the rest of "Sounds for the Space-Set" yet, but can't wait: how can you not love a song called "Head Like a Moog"? (NOTE: Beastie Boys mashups are practically their own genre, and no mention would be complete without The Beastles--dj BC's mashups of the Beasties and the Beatles. I've not yet heard them.)

Some mashup sites for finding more:
Mashup Industries
goodblimey (currently down, back on 9/9/07)


gary barwin said...

Interesting post.

I always liked Medieval French motets which often are composed of "mashups" of different songs in different languages, and sometimes different tunes operating at different speeds all interwoven with a fragment of Gregorian chant text. The sophisticated court listeners would (evidently) get much delight in this correspondences of associations of the texts and the clever way the composer was able to make a coherent musical structure out of the courtly mash.

Emily Lloyd said...

[responding to Peter who commented on this post in the below post]:

I haven't heard that one yet, Peter--I'm not sure exactly where mashup artists draw the line between mashups and songs that heavily sample--is MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" a mashup? Hmm--I guess the main reason not is that "U Can't Touch This" was never a song without the Rick James riff; it didn't exist previously in any other form.

I've thought about poetry mashups, too--it occurs to me now that that's basically what centos are: poems made up entirely of phrases from preexisting poems. For example, this by RS Gwynn:

Approaching a Significant Birthday, He Peruses the Norton Anthology of Poetry

All human things are subject to decay.
Beauty is momentary in the mind.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
And somewhat of a sad perplexity.
Here take my picture, though I bid farewell;
In a dark time the eye begins to see

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall--
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet bird sang.
What but design of darkness to appall?
An aged man is but a paltry thing.

If I should die, think only this of me:
Crass casualty obstructs the sun and rain
When I have fears that I may cease to be,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain

And hear the spectral singing of the moon
And strictly meditate the thankless muse.
The world is too much with us, late and soon
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil.
Again he raised the jug up to the light:
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Downward to darkness on extended wings,
Break, break, break on thy cold gray stones, O Sea,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

--okay, now I want to go write a cento (but I'll call it a mashup in my head)

Emily Lloyd said...

Wow, Gary, I would love to get my hands on those! I hadn't heard about them--thank you.

Very tangentially relatedly, I was interested in the idea of classical mashups: say, a couple of Bach's Goldberg variations (as played by Glenn Gould, of course) at once--I searched Google and apparently many have shown interest in this idea, but no actual pieces seem accessible (yet).

Do you know of any recordings of those motets?

Peter said...

E, G: Yes, the French motets thing sounds fascinating. I didn't know they were mashups (Pastiche?).

E: Centos. Yes. All made from lines of other poems. I like the one you've posted. Kathleen Ossip has one in The Search Engine, made from dueling lines from Sexton and Plath only, "Ballade Confessionelle.".

Emily Lloyd said...

Peter--yes! I love that Ossip book, the cento and all--recommended it in a post a while back.

gary barwin said...


You could check out an isorhythmic motet by Phillip de Vitry. There's one Garrus Gallit (or something like that.) It's in the readily available Norton Anthology of Western Music and is discussed in the Norton History of Western Music by Grout. But you'd find these motets in any book about Medieval music.

I wonder how they were listened to at the time. Probably not very differently to contemporary mash ups.