Thursday, 12 June 2014

Silver Sea Song (New York Mix)

A radically different reworking of the original, in fact on reflection I wonder if it was an entirely different piece of music that evolved to have a similar structure. Recorded back in 2007 or so, with a deliberately minimal orchestration (almost entirely Korg's VST Polysix).

Why "New York Mix"? Frankie Goes to Hollywood, of course. Remixes hit the mainstream in the UK in 1984, 1985 or so, with "Relax (Sex Mix)" and "Two Tribes (Annihilation)", and later Paul Hardcastle's "19 (The Final Story)" and so forth; before long every single had a second single of remixes, although it was often just a cynical way of selling a few more records. I will always remember the CD single of Future Sound of London's "Papua New Guinea", which had the timeless original track followed by forty minutes of boring filler, which was silly because I'd already bought the single. They should have put the remixes on a second CD, so that I would buy that as well.

Waxing philosophical, folk music had always been passed down from generation to generation, with singers adding bits and removing bits and changing things to suit contemporary mores; the remixes of the 1980s were conceptually similar but executed at lightning speed. The ZTT version of "Relax" was itself greatly reworked from the spartan funk-rock track the band had performed on The Tube and periodically since 1984 ZTT has sent out the master tapes (presumably now a .zip file with lots of samples of Holly Johnson) in order to keep Frankie alive. Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson worked extremely hard to transform the unpromising demos of "Relax" into an eight-minute dancefloor filler, and I'm still awed that they managed to turn such a tiny musical core into a consistently entertaining record. Lipson's work on Propaganda's A Secret Wish suggests that Horn was not the sole genius being Frankie's sound, which is still massive and maximalist even today.

As I kid (I was nine in 1985) it seemed to me that if you had a strong enough melody you could separate it from the production and simply upgrade the production every few years, and you'd never need to write more than one song. Easy enough with Propaganda's "Duel" (or "Jewel", the rock version), but with something like "19" the song is entirely production. A sufficiently advanced remix would be an entirely new piece of music. And then it struck me; what if all the music we have today is derived from one fundamental piece of music that existed at at the dawn of human history? And that Howard Jones' "What is Love" and Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie" were derived from a common source. What would that sound like? What did those two records have in common? It would have to be something fundamental and simple. If only I had explored this idea more thoroughly.

I mention Howard Jones because his second album was a collection of remixes. Jones is mocked nowadays as a kind of eager, happy-clappy primary school teacher who was all flash but no substance, with none of the smarts of nuance of (say) Thomas Dolby, and as a kid I continually got him mixed up with Nik Kershaw. But "Pearl in the Shell", "What is Love" and "Like to Get To Know you Well" are solid mid-80s synthpop singles. "Shell" reveals that he had a decent white soul voice and "Know you Well" ushed in a new age of world peace, so we have to thank him for that. And there is the GTA factor, which has brought the music of my youth back into the public eye.

There's an irony to the GTA retro music phenomenon. When I was a kid I didn't buy pop singles; I bought computer games (some of which had pretty good music) and thus pop music died. And now computer games have pop singles in them and pop music lives again. As if computer games were headcrabs who had taken over the host and given it new life, and now pop music is a headcrab zombie, but a nice headcrab zombie.