The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 972: The history of remixes

When humans first started making audio recordings of music, we were limited to how long those recordings could be. An original Edison cylinder–the first recorded music format–could hold maybe two minutes of music. That mean that any songs committed to the format had to be two minutes or shorter, otherwise you’d run out of space.

When Emile Berliner came along with his flat rotating disc that spun at 78 RPM, capacity increased a little bit. We now had three whole minutes before you ran out of room. That meant that everyone who wanted to put a recording on disc had to once again adapt to the limitations of the technology. And that more than anything else, standardized the length of songs in popular music to around three minutes, something that persists to this day.

Another thing: In the olden days, there was just one version of a song. You wrote it, recorded it, manufactured it, and sent it to stores. Done. But in the 1960s, this began to change with the rise of the album. Radio stations loved their three-minute songs because it meant they could play more songs per hour. But with the extra space provided by albums, songs were allowed to grow longer than the standard length.

But what if you had a long song that you wanted to get on the radio? Well, you had to make that song shorter. This gave birth to the first radio edits. There was the shorter single version for AM radio and the longer original album version which was played on FM. Sometimes there was serious butchery involved, but what Top 40 wanted, Top 40 radio got.

But why stop at the radio edit? Couldn’t you have multiple versions of the same song that could be used in multiple ways? Why, for example, couldn’t a short song be made longer? Or made more interesting with different mixes, arrangements, and instrumentation? The DNA of the song is the same. It’s just that you could add or subject or re-arrange that original recording into something else, release it and perhaps expand the market and reach for the song and the artist.

This gave birth to the remix, an artistic and technological development that took what was once finished static songs and turn them into many different things. This is the history of the remix.

Songs heard on this show:

  • Lo-Fidelity Allstars, Battleflag
  • Augustus Pablo, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
  • The Smiths, This Charming Man (New York Vocal)
  • Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Relax (12-inch)
  • The Cure, Close to Me (Mixed Up Version)
  • Depeche Mode, Personal Jesus (Pump Mix)
  • Nine Inch Nails, Head Like a Hole (Opal Mix)
  • The Killers, Mr. Brightside (Two Friends Mix)

Eric’s Wilhite’s playlist looks like this.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s, and anywhere else with a transmitter and I’ll see what I can do.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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