I logged thousands of hours as a college radio DJ in the early 1980s, and have spun in clubs every once in a while since. House mixing is alien to me. I don’t like to extend songs, or blend them seamlessly. I want to slam different things together and mix them up, but still make sense. I want dynamics, not sameness.
To my ’60s pop sensibilities, songs are oftentimes too long, in need of shrinking rather than lengthening. A lot of bands could use an editor. This mix is of songs that I’ve taken the liberty of shortening. I try to stay true to the original song in my edits, but do what I am hearing needs to be done. To wit:
1. SONIC YOUTH Silver Rocket (1988)
Original version: 3:48. My edit: 2:59.
Sonic Youth is one of the bands most in need of an editor. Their noise side can be as self-indulgent as any long-winded prog band. It’s not like they don’t know this; one of their best early songs, “Starpower,” was released on a 12-inch that neatly excised the noisy, sludge-y middle section. On the EVOL album it’s a draggy 4:48, but on the 12” version it’s a fleet 2:50, and a vast improvement.
The middle section of Silver Rocket” from Daydream Nation isn’t as stinky a turd as the one in “Starpower,” but its listenability quotient is upped considerably by my edit. In the early ‘90s I made a cassette of Daydream Nation, knocking its 68 minutes down to a concise 54 (losing a couple songs along the way,) by hitting the pause button on my tape deck whenever a superfluous section appeared. This made it a car cassette classic in the process. I didn’t play my LP for years after that. I’d stick on the tape instead.
2. ROXY MUSIC Take A Chance With Me (1982)
Original version: 4:41. My edit: 2:51.
Though I’ve loved this song since I first heard Avalon in 1982, it has always cried out for an edit. There was actually a U.S. promo single that had one, but it was a clumsy, unsatisfying edit. My edit is longer. I clipped the atmospheric intro, condensed the instrumental section at the end, repeated the last line of the chorus one more time, and faded it out. Voila, perfect!
3. BRITISH SEA POWER Atom (2008)
Original version: 7:08. My edit: 3:45.
This great song has a long, noisy buildup in its intro. It’s so much louder than the rest of the song that I find it obnoxious. So that was the first thing to go. Then, the song takes over, but it dissipates into a long gooey feedback-laden trail-out that’s unresolved and unsatisfying. A simple quick fade was boring, so I chopped it up a bit and gave a sharp, quick ending.
4. THE WHO Drowned (1974)
Original version: 5:27. My edit: 4:45.
A couple of years ago I was looking through my LPs and asked myself, “If I love Quadrophenia, why don’t I ever play it?” A quick spin reminded me why.
Even though it’s the last great album The Who made (not to mention the last great one Keith Moon made,) the overarching concept nearly ruins it. Each member of the band has a musical “theme” which crops up during and between other songs. You also get a lot of crashing waves and other sound effects. You’re sitting there enjoying one song, when it’s invaded by part of another one.
These indulgences undermine the great songwriting Pete Townshend did on this album. When I was unemployed two years ago, I spent the better part of a week whittling down the whole album from 84 minutes down to 58, dropping both of the long instrumentals and all of the segues and links Townshend is probably so proud of. I included this particular song because it’s a great, highly underrated Who track.
5. RED KRAYOLA Hurricane Fighter Plane
Original version: 7:24. My edit: 3:52.
A true psychedelic freakout, from 1967. The core of this song is encased between a sandwich of noise which needlessly doubles the song’s length. I’ve simply excavated the song from the muck. On recent CD reissues, the noisy parts are given their own track numbers, freeing this and other songs on the fine The Parable of Arable Land LP from their noisy cocoons.
6. DEREK & THE DOMINOS Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad (1970)
Original version: 4:45. My edit: 3:26.
I am not an Eric Clapton fan. (Well, I like him in The Yardbirds.) I liked Layla until I heard it for the 10,000th time. I listened to Clapton a lot in the 1970s, because he was supposed to be God or something, until he was overthrown and blown away by punk. But this is the one song that seems as intense as his reputation would warrant. However, it goes on long enough to run out of gas towards the end. In this case an early fade saves it. Great song title too.
7. TITUS ANDRONICUS The Battle of Hampton Roads (2010)
Original version: 14:02. My edit: 4:13.
I’ve tried being a fan of this band. I like their overall sound, but they can’t write songs. Titus Andronicus go on forever and ever, without structure or direction. They are a product of our era where it doesn’t really matter if you can make your songs concise because there’s no pressure to rein them in. You’ve got an 80 minute CD to fill, so fill it!
I thought their debut album was pretty decent. However, their follow-up, The Monitor, exhausted me. So I started hacking away at it, and got this 70-minute double LP chopped down to 35 minutes! But even then, the songs wouldn’t stick—they sound too much alike. Does emo mean never having to say you’re sorry for singing off-key? I think the bearded fucker with the microphone might be good if he actually gave a shit. I mean, come on, TRY a little bit. Or is this laziness just “indie realness” in the era of autotune?
This unpretentious little song is called “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” I’ve done my best with it. The edits aren’t as smooth as on the others songs here, but it’s greatly improved from the FOURTEEN FUCKING MINUTES I spent listening to it for the one and only time. Editing can’t salvage everything, surely. But it can certainly come close.
Sonic Youth portrait by Michael Schmelling, courtesy of Matador Records.