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Saturday, July 07, 2012

You can't take a record back once you've made it, Def Leppard

Having fallen out with their former record label Universal, Def Leppard have taken a kind of revenge by re-recording their biggest hits. They claim these versions are so close to the hit versions that even the producer of the originals, Mutt Lange, was impressed.

Down the years scores of acts have gone in for this kind of self-plagiarising. It may work for the performer, who's probably quite happy to have the chance to iron out weaknesses in the original performance. It never works for the fans because they know those records better than anyone else possibly can.

What musicians don't understand is that once a record is out there in the world it's no longer theirs. A big pop record is listened to repeatedly and internalised more completely than anything in human history. These listeners aren't aware of what went into the record but they're hyper-aware of what they got out of it. The imprint of their favourite records is something they carry deep inside. One of the reasons Paul McCartney has been able to recreate the sound of the Beatles' records on his recent tours is because his band is made up of people who grew up as Beatle fans and consequently know those records in a different way than he does.

People talk about re-recording "note-for-note" copies as if that meant we would end up with a version that would pass a blindfold test. It's not the notes we're bothered about. We don't even care whether it's the original performers. It's the record we care about. That one, not one quite like it. Our familiarity with these records goes beyond the singer and the song. I know Like A Rolling Stone or Penny Lane better than any piece of prose or any scene from a film. They're inside me. I know them in the same way that I can find my way around my house in the dark.

Def Leppard will argue these are their songs and their performances, which they are. But they're competing against the records, which actually belong to the fans.