While I’ve been listening to – and occasionally tweaking – the rather pleasing continuous mixes of music I’ve been creating for myself (so far, I have a day playlist and a night playlist), I’ve noticed some interesting things.
First – the concept of resting music, particularly music that I would categorise as ‘Classic’ (or, in radio parlance, ‘Gold’), is an important one.
Nothing makes a playlist seem repetitive quite like encountering a song that you haven’t heard in years and thinking “Oh my god – I LOVE this! I haven’t heard it in years!” only to hear it again a couple of times over the next day or two. I had no problem hearing other stuff more than once – but I think the Gold tracks need to appear in the playlist, surprise me, let me have my moment – and then go away for a bit. Easily fixed.
But the other thing that I thought was interesting – and I became a bit fascinated with it – was the realisation that the phenomenon of ‘Extended Mixes’ appears to be a uniquely 80s thing. In other words, they’re a big part of my teenage years, and not something we really have any more.
A few examples have come up in my recent listening – including the 12″ version of Alison Moyet’s ‘All Cried Out’ – a song I really rather love, and was happy for it to stick around for nearly 7 minutes, twice the duration of the single we know from the radio.
It was more or less exactly the same song, only longer.
We have remixes today, of course – bucketloads of them – but they tend to be substantially different reworks and interpretations based on the stems of the original tune. They are not simply ‘the same, only longer’.
Paul Lamere of The Echo Nest has created The Infinite Jukebox, which automatically extends indefinitely the duration of songs you know and, in some cases, love. The real life ‘song that never ends’. It’s a clever hack and a nice gimmick.
But the 12″ extended version is interesting to me because it’s a product of a particular technological environment and it was pretty much universally applied across all popular music of the time – meaning, you name a famous song of the 80s, and there’s likely to be a 12″ extended mix of it out there somewhere. Tempted to start collecting them…
Let’s take a song like Scritti Politti’s ‘Wood Beez (version)’ (1985) which comes in at 5:56 rather than the shorter album version, which is 4:48. The remix does use several devices and effects to substantially distinguish itself from the original – but essentially, the arrangements, mix and instrumentation – even the structure – is very similar.
And there’s a reason for that. It was made in the same studio, using the same personnel, working from the same analogue 2-inch 24-track master tape.
The reason to make a longer version? The format.
The 12″ single or ‘Maxi-Disc’ (remember that marketing term?) was both the nightclub DJ format and an additional physical product that record labels could, at the time, successfully sell to consumers (particularly collectors and fans). As a product line, it’s harder to get away with these days. In fact, where there are vinyl 12″ EPs in popular music today they tend to be very nearly whole albums or collections of substantial remixes. Not just one long song on each side.
What the extended version didn’t do was introduce whole new audiences to a band like Scritti Politti in the way that a remix today might.
It hadn’t really occurred to me before – but that ‘extended mix’ (and there were extended mixes of everything) happened because of new technologies that arose within the context of the analogue multitrack studio, and was made possible because of the 12″ single format, the emerging trend of different versions for nightclubs.
In addition, around that time, there was a growing expectation that a nightclub DJ would beatmatch from one song to another (yes, I can remember that seeming like a new thing), and so having longer versions of songs with ‘bonus beats’ at the end was a helpful tool.
At the same time, albums available on cassette often included bonus content – and, later, the compact disc could hold up to 74 minutes of music, so there was a bit of extra room there for something to stretch out.
But with the advent of digital multitrack recording – suddenly it became easier for an entirely different set of production and post-production practices to shape remix culture. Another person with an entirely different musical vision in another studio in another part of the world could take the individual pieces of the music and make something that may or may not be longer, but which would almost sound like an entirely different song.
So there’s something about hearing an ‘extended mix’ that feels like returning to a simpler time. A time when you could buy versions of songs that simply last longer. It’s a weird thing to be nostalgic about, but there you go.