Friday, April 29, 2011

Proto-Mashups: When You Had to Combine Songs Manually

Nowadays, technology has allowed creative and enterprising DJs to disassemble songs and rebuild them in seemingly endless ways. It's commonplace now, for instance, to take the vocal from one song and meld it to the instrumental backing of another song. Mashups often thrive on the juxtaposition of opposites, creating "fantasy" collaborations between artists whose paths would otherwise never cross. A perfect example is "Party & Bullshit in the USA", which combines tracks by Miley Cyrus and the late Christopher Wallace, a.k.a The Notorious B.I.G.

But during the "analog" era of pop music, artists who wanted to combine two songs had to do so the old-fashioned way: manually. Here's a little tribute to some of those pioneering artists who created mashups before we even had a term for them.

The Trashmen, "Surfin' Bird" (1963)

Back in 1963, a Minneapolis-based garage band called The Trashmen scored a Top 10 hit with this memorable novelty single. What's especially odd about the song is that it combines two mid-sized R&B hits, "The Bird is the Word" and "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" by the Rivingtons. Though the Trashmen would never again reach the upper stratosphere of the pop charts, their biggest hit would live on for decades in movies, television shows, commercials, and oldies radio. In recent years, of course, the song has gained entirely new levels of infamy thanks to an episode of Family Guy.

Alan Copeland, "Mission: Impossible Theme/Norwegian Wood" (1968)

A few years later, bandleader and composer Alan Copeland released this shockingly ahead-of-its-time recording which takes the lyrics and melody of a John Lennon-composed Beatles song and sets it against Lalo Schifrin's unforgettable TV theme song. This is exactly the kind of cut-and-paste job that mashup DJs are doing today, only Copeland was doing it 40 years ahead of schedule and without digital trickery! I won't say that this particular musical marriage is perfectly harmonious, but the fact that Copeland was even trying it in 1968 is remarkable.

Big Daddy, pretty much everything from 1983-1992

When it comes to creating analog mashups, however, a Los Angeles cover band called Big Daddy takes the prize. Their Wikipedia entry even defines them as being "among the first groups to create mashups." Big Daddy existed off and on between 1975 and 2005, but they only released four actual albums -- each one essential, in my opinion -- over the course of a decade. At first, their gimmick could be summarized as: 1980s songs done as if they'd been recorded in the 1950s. But soon enough, Big Daddy toyed with the formula and expanded their horizons. Ultimately, the Big Daddy formula can be best described as: a song covered in the manner of another older song. Among many great Big Daddy songs, I have chosen to highlight a couple which clearly illustrate the concept of mashing up two songs.

First, here is their gorgeous cover of "Sukiyaki," which takes the well-known Kyu Sakamoto song and combines it with "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys. Enjoy.

On a slightly goofier note, here is their version of "Hotel California," which crossbreeds the Eagles hit with "Runaway" by Del Shannon.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. I urge you to dig around a little on YouTube and listen to some more Big Daddy songs. Or better yet, seek out some of the group's full-length albums. Again, there are only four of them, plus a couple of EPs and a (highly-recommended) greatest hits disc.

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