Expecting our favourite artists to consistently recreate your favourite song isn’t respecting one of the greatest values in modern music: reinvention and creation.
We’ll often celebrate the craftsmanship of artists that do what they want, when they want: David Bowie, Prince, even Lady Gaga. Often those sonic changes are unexpected and strange.
These are some of those songs.
BEASTIE BOYS – COUNTRY MIKE’S THEME
Somewhere between recording the frantic jazz and intergalactic bass loops for Hello Nasty, the Beastie brothers found themselves experimenting with slide guitars and milk jugs. In their 1998 MuchMusic television interview with the Beastie Boys prior to their performance in Barrie, Mike D jokingly hinted that the possibility of a country album. Shortly after, they released Country Mike’s Greatest Hits to family and friends, never available in record stores. Findings of this album are up there with Bigfoot and Abominable Snowman encounters.
THE BEATLES – REVOLUTION #9
The Liverpudlian boys were no strangers to experimentation, especially on their friendship testing, genre-ranging masterwork that was the White Album. Nothing reached as far into the unknown as Lennon’s “Revolution #9” that combined tape loops and wild instrumentation. It was also featured in the “Paul is Dead” myth, after discovering that number nine, when played backwards, sounds like “Turn me on, dead man.”
NEIL YOUNG – TRANSFORMER MAN
Neil Young sat down his guitar and picked up a vocoder to transform (yes) into someone virtually unrecognizable, heavily influenced by Kraftwerk. At the time, it was a commercial flop, but like most of his works, it has become appreciated as a bold shift by a mainstream artist. It has been argued as one of his most personal albums, created after his son Ben was born with severe cerebral palsy, quadriplegic and non-verbal – so Neil made an album where the listener can’t understand the singer’s words, as he declares in the chorus: ““Every morning when I look in your eyes, I feel electrified by you.”
WEEZER – CAN’T STOP PARTYING (FEAT. LIL WAYNE)
Weezer and Weezy came together. There might be a hint of lyrical satire here, and in the post-Pinkerton Weezer world, fans are often not surprised with the bizarre musical shifts from Rivers and company. There are moments when rock and rap have worked (see: Aerosmith & RUN-DMC, Anthrax & Public Enemy), but this one is debatable.
BILLY JOEL – WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE
The Piano Man rapid-fired news headlines that he felt his generation were not for, inspired by a conversation with John Lennon’s son Sean. Due to its questionable lyrical choices, such as mentioning Tiananmen Square massacre in the same line as Rock and Roller cola wars, it has been critically panned and described as “a term paper scribbled the night before it’s due.”