Video Vault, Episode 39: Danger Mouse Week – Repurposing Music

To celebrate the upcoming release of the new 33 1/3 on Danger Mouse, author Charles Fairchild discusses five key dynamics responsible for The Grey Album for Danger Mouse Week.

The most important and defining aesthetic feature of The Grey Album is also the feature that got Danger Mouse in trouble, its use of familiar source materials to craft a new work of art. For this Friday Video Vault I thought I’d present a few particularly entertaining songs that took existing music and reused it for new purposes. I’ve tried to choose a range of songs that all use existing music, sounds, recordings or ideas in very different ways.

1. Early in 2014, I was asked to comment in a variety of media outlets on a lawsuit brought against Led Zeppelin. The estate of one of the members of a band called Spirit claimed that the Zep stole the iconic riff of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from them. This simply and very effective video suggest that they don’t really have much of a case. If anything, Spirit have some explaining to do.


2. John Safran is well-known and often jaw-droppingly clever Australian comedian. If you go to 19:00 of this episode you will find a magnificent cover of Mental As Anything’s ‘The Nips Are Getting Bigger.’ This version is beautiful, especially when compared to the original. They have transformed what might otherwise be viewed as a merely enjoyable song about drinking too much to an almost wistful meditation on melancholy cut with a wry smile.


3. In the early 80s, Double Dee and Steinski produced ‘The Lessons.’ As I noted in another post, these were among the first pieces to be created entirely from samples. They still feel like the very start of something.


4. Tenacious D offers us a unique version of repurposing music. Instead of giving us a cover version they take the core elements of rock and carefully give them back to us as a goofy imitation of absolutely dedicated rock fans.


5. Alex Ross, a music critic for The New Yorker, has produced an interesting range of materials on a set of musical materials referred to as The Chacona. This video shows us how a set of common materials can be used is so many different contexts without the slightest hint of ‘infringement’ or theft. This should show us how far off track our own copyright law has gone.


6. This classic piece by the inimitable Axis of Awesome speaks for itself.


– Charles Fairchild

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