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.


  1. I agree with all of this. I can understand the contractual reasons why a band might re-record their big hits but to me it doesn't work. You can never replace that original recording and expect a new one to become the "go to" one. It's like when you go on Spotify and search out a track - you know within a few seconds if it's a re-record. Squeeze did a similar thing a year or so ago. The new versions were fine but they lacked the feel of the originals and they were not something I would buy. I'll pay to see them re-create the songs on stage...but not on record.

  2. Yes I agree with both of you. Indeed, I think re-recordings only work when they are totally *different* versions, though none spring to mind right now.

  3. I completely agree. Fans know every nuance of every vocal and instrument line so well that, as Mike Church suggests, only *different* versions work. People really *do* know Beatles songs inside out and want to examine that creative process. This explains the appetite for the Anthology and the 'Let It Be Naked' album. But these were *different* versions (remixes and out-takes); they weren't re-records. Closer inspection of the new Def Leppard recordings will surely reveal differences. It's simply not possible for Joe Elliott to sing with the same voice he had back in 1987.

  4. I once had an argument with somebody about the pros and cons of Hank Marvin employing a digital version of the Vox AC30 amp that he was famous for using. The other guy said it was an exact digital copy, therefore acceptable, and I said that it didn't matter - I could just 'tell'. It really does get right down to that level - accept no substitutes.