"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Beyoncé has been the queen of pop for going on 15 years now, which means she has oodles of hits, even more oodles of fans and somewhat fewer but still significant numbers of fans who want to make mashups out of her hits. Below are some of the best/oddest efforts to turn Bey into the semi-competent musical magpie in someone else’s dream.
DJ Schmolli, “Trooper in Love” (Iron Maiden vs. Beyoncé)
Nearly all Beyoncé mashups sample her vocals, because if you’re making a Beyoncé mashup why wouldn’t you sample Beyoncé? DJ Schmolli’s “Trooper in Love” is an exception, as Paul Di’Anno belts out his cautionary message about war to the incongruously celebratory funk of “Crazy in Love.” ”As I lay there gazing at the sky/my body’s numb and my throat is dry” — is he on the battlefield or in his room staring at a poster of his boyfriend? It all makes sense when Maiden starts to harmonize, though; they were secretly a girl group all along.
BrianPOP, “Crazy Trouper” (Beyoncé vs. ABBA)
Slick soulless pop meets slick soulful pop and the result is a sugared-up mess. Beyoncé and Jay-Z sound like they’re experiencing some sort of hyperactive insulin event; babbling uh-ohs in a desperate effort to drag that ABBA hook out of their back-brains. (And for those of you wondering…there does not appear to be any “Trooper Trouper” mashup of Iron Maiden and ABBA, alas. Someone needs to get on that.)
DJ Lobsterdust, “Always Single” (Beyoncé vs. Lenny Kravitz)
I’m a big fan of DJ Lobsterdust, and this is a high point in his oeuvre. “Single Ladies” is a perennial mashup favorite, but it’s rarely done this seamlessly; she really sounds like she went into the studio with Lenny Kravitz to be a rock star. Which she is, of course.
2ManyDJS, “Smells Like Bootylicious” (Destiny’s Child vs. Nirvana)
Mashups are mostly empty-headed pop fun, and bless them for it. Occasionally the juxtaposition has a bit of bite, though. You could see Nirvana’s Top 40 sneer at Top 40 as satirizing DC and all those shimmering dancers and their vapid commerce. Cobain’s bored moans serving a parody of orgasmic enthusiasm as the girls rap/sing”I wiggle my hips and you slip into a trance.” But the satire works even better the other way, as Nirvana’s too-hip-for-pop pretensions are brutally punctured by the perfect symmetry with which they’re turned into backing musicians for the lascivious shimmy of post-disco.
TheProductionUK, “Count Out” (Tinie Tempah vs. Beyoncé)
“Countdown” is one of Beyoncé’s most idiosyncratic tracks. Putting it behind Tinie Tempah turns him from a current pop act into a retro Native Tongue backpacker weirdo. TheProductionUK seems to have gotten hold of a clean audio track, perhaps because that’s all they could find, but it fits nicely with the overall vibe of innocent goofiness. As, for that matter, do those glasses.
Morten De Martian, “Irreplaceable With You” (Beyoncé vs. Chris Brown)
I can’t say I’m a big Chris Brown fan, and to the extent I’d ever given “With You” a thought, it just registered as another predictably cloying radio ballad. But there’s something about those mournful minor strings under Beyoncé’s voice that slips around maudlin and heads toward transcendent. The line between a good pop song and a bad one is a mysterious thing.
Cheekyboy, “Say My Toxic Name” (Destiny’s Child vs. Britney Spears)
Destiny’s Child and Britney isn’t a shocking juxtaposition or anything, but it works nicely. “Say My Name” gets a jagged electropop edge from Bloodshy and Avant’s backing, and while I personally enjoy Britney’s anonymous I-am-just-a-sound-effect vocals, it’s still nice to hear “Toxic” performed by folks who can actually sing.
RaheemD, “Flawless Girlfriends” (Aaliyah vs. Beyoncé)
A friend commented that the Houston screwed music for Beyoncé’s “Flawless” was designed to alienate everybody over 20. That’s true for this mashup too, as Beyoncé and Aaliyah’s vocals and beats wind around each other in a druggy, ominous lurching slog. As someone (way) over 20, I am duly and rather gloriously alienated.
DJ Earworm, “If I Were a Free Fallin’ Boy” (Beyoncé vs. Tom Petty)
I have a longstanding love/loathe relationship with Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” This mashup almost redeems the song, though, as Beyoncé informs the smug Petty that no, she’s not your good girl, you whiny-wannabe-Dylan schmuck — or, alternately, maybe she’s explaining to him that his bad-boy posturing isn’t cute and edgy, but idiotic and creepy.
DJ RozRoz, “Halo Darling” (Beyoncé vs. The Beatles)
Another of those rare Beyoncé mashups where we don’t hear any Beyoncé. The dreamy psychedelic pop of “Halo” turns Paul’s deliberately self-parodic rocking into a sweeter pop confection. It actually sounds more McCartney-esque than the original.
Cosmic Dawn, “Independent Women Get Lucky In the Sky with Diamonds”
A dance-floor set with a bunch of hits, including Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky, “Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” Destiny’s Child gets a chorus towards the end.
DJ Gunther Schuller, “Single Plague” (Destiny’s Child vs. Murkrat vs. Carter Family)
Despite their Top 40 obsessions, mashups are in a lot of ways the new punk rock: quasi-legal and open to any amateur sufficiently lacking in shame and good taste. As such, it seemed appropriate to end with one of my own mashups, composed with crummy software I don’t really know how to use, from Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” Australian female doom band Murkrat’s “Plague Gestation” and the Carter Family’s “Single Girl, Married Girl.” Enjoy, if that’s the word.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)