Love Story Redo

Shamrock Holdings has nothing to worry about, their investment is safe.

I had a long conversation with Steven Wilson, the famous remixer, known for his redos of everyone from King Crimson to Jethro Tull to Chicago to Yes. And the first thing he said is the remixes were for the FANS! And you can’t change a single note.

Fripp heard what he’d done and wanted to make changes. Wilson said he could not. The fans had listened to these albums for decades, purchased the vinyl, the CD and the remastered CD, they knew the tunes better than the artist himself!

This is the truth. Most artists never ever listen to their albums after they’re done. But these tracks become iconic in the ears of the listener. Change anything, anything at all, and the listener notices and is caught off guard.

This is my main complaint about the Beatles remixes. They don’t sound the way I’ve heard this music for decades, it’s instantly recognizable, they’re a completely different animal. But what is worse is these may become the definitive statement in the future. In the old days, the remix would be released, sold to fans and then disappear. Now, these remixes live forever, and there’s a very good chance they’ll supersede the original mixes, and that’s a tragedy, they’re just not the same.

“Fearless” is Taylor Swift’s best album. When she was still innocent, when she still worked with Liz Rose, before she became an international celebrity suspect to the blowback, when she was something instead of everything. “Fearless” was cut before the arena tours. She was not resting on her laurels, she had something to prove, but really it was about succeeding on country radio. But singing her truth from her heart with catchy melodies ended up endearing her to so many more, the word spread, when the tour cycle was over she became the person she is now.

It’s hard to pick a favorite. But mine is “Tell Me Why,” it’s got all the melodic changes absent from today’s hit parade, you’re immediately engrossed, the fiddle sets the tone, and then you’re off on the roller coaster… Remember the first time you rode one of those? Initially you were apprehensive, but then as the train continued to twist and turn you were filled with glee.

But “Love Story” was the song Taylor decided to recut and release first.

The original is excellent. Intimate, heartfelt, going from zero to sixty like a teenager’s emotions.

Now making a record is not a scientific experience. The goal is to capture lightning in a bottle and not only not mess it up in the mixing and mastering, but to enhance it! It’s an alchemy created on the fly, by instinct and feel more than thought, that’s the creative process. And the final product is set in amber, that’s it. And the truth is so many projects were finished to meet a deadline, the start of a tour… The pressure is felt, it causes you to complete, sometimes to your advantage, sometimes to your disadvantage. But you just cannot re-create this atmosphere. Hell, if you could all those oldsters searching for a hit would have another one. As for repeating yourself… It cannot be done, no matter how hard you try. You’re different, you’re working with different people, and even if it’s the same people they don’t remember exactly how they did it so they cannot repeat it.

The new version of “Love Story” is a bust, from the beginning. The picking is labored, as if the player is trying to get it right. And Swift’s vocal is self-conscious, and the instruments are clearer, and not in a good way. It’s nearly impossible to get through. Truly. If you’re a fan at all I dare you to play it from beginning to end. It’s not a hit, it’s a re-creation, and as established above you just can’t do this. Or to put it another way, you just can’t go home again.

I get it, I get it. Swift is pissed her catalog was sold out from under her. And I don’t want to revisit all the shenanigans, I just want to talk about the music. And the new version just doesn’t have it, that elusive magic. The original was not labored, everything was new, the recut is paint-by-numbers, and you know that the paint-by-numbers version is never as good as the original, never ever. It’s a facsimile at best.

You’ve got to let the past go. Otherwise you become mired in it, it paralyzes you.

The best example is John Fogerty. Getting bad business advice the Creedence assets were sold. Fogerty just couldn’t get over this, how he was ripped-off. And he wrote a song about Saul Zaentz and he ended up getting into legal imbroglios with the man and his Fantasy label and the result was that Fogerty didn’t put out new music that charmed his listeners, he was too hung up about being ripped-off.

The funny thing is the Fantasy assets are now owned by Concord, where Fogerty records, and the company graciously reinstated Fogerty’s royalty stream, demonstrating if you wait long enough, things sometimes work out. Not always, but…

Isn’t that the American spirit? You lift yourself up, write off the past and march forward. Hell, I’ll argue the Sony lawsuits contributed to Steve Popovich’s death. Pop was right, but his battles with Sony consumed his life, to the exclusion of essentially everything else.

It’s not like Taylor Swift no longer gets royalties from those old records. She just doesn’t own them. And rather than spend all that time recutting she’s better off just making new music, forgetting about the hurt from the past.

Then again, this has been Swift’s greatest challenge. She built her career on the past, settling scores, biting back, but that paradigm played out, it’s become a joke that haunts her. She’s now in her thirties, it’s time to pivot. Which to a great degree with her last two albums she has done.

But neither is in the league of “Fearless.”

Maybe it was a time and a place. Maybe the magic cannot be recaptured. Bob Dylan has gone on record multiple times that he can no longer do what he used to, that torrent of words encapsulating the angst of America, so he no longer tries, he’s pushing new boundaries. It’s his footsteps Swift should follow in. Scooter Braun is a businessman. Shamrock is a faceless investment firm.

But Taylor Swift is an artist.

But the recut of “Love Story” is not artistry.

She should punt. Get over it. In truth no one really cares other than her. And people don’t care about business anywhere near as much as they do about art, to the degree they even focus on the business at all.

Swift and her compatriots captured lightning in a bottle once, congratulations, that record will exist for all time.

And it’s time to make a new one. To try to be a new Taylor Swift, somebody she’s never been before. Someone with perspective, who can laugh at herself, who recaptures the intimacy, who does not succumb to Michael Jackson disease, insisting you be the King or Queen of Pop forevermore.

It killed Michael Jackson. And the truth is Taylor Swift didn’t have much of a childhood either. But the point is art is not competitive. There’s always room for someone new, something great. That is the goal, career management is secondary. Swift can tour to a substantial number of fans until she dies. Isn’t that enough?

It is.

Don Henley worked with the Eagles, and when that became intolerable he went solo, found his legs, and made equally legendary music with a whole new set of people. It can be done. As long as you keep trying to push the envelope. And who knows, like Henley with the Eagles, it all might come back together in the future. That’s life, it’s completely unpredictable, you’ve got to live it to find out what happens. And although at times it’s scary, THAT’S WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT IT!

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