I get it, I understand Taylor Swift’s struggle. She recorded six albums for one record label, then she left for another label. But the first label still held the rights to all her music. And they sold those rights to a person she didn’t like or trust. So now this person holds all of Tay Tay’s back catalog, and can do with it as he sees fit – maybe insert “Love Story” into a Viagra commercial, or use “Shake It Off” for a documentary on wet dogs, f’rinstance.
Well, Taylor Swift may have an idea. She says she will go back into the studio and re-record every single one of her earlier songs – and release them under her new label. This way, she can still control part of her catalog and could devalue the use of the original tracks.
Folks, this is not an original tactic. T-Sizzle may think she’s come up with this new concept … but in reality, artists have done this kind of tactic for years. And it’s usually for one reason or another – whether it involves leaving one record company for another, or to take a musician’s parts OUT of one pressing and release the record with NEW orchestrations – competing versions of songs have existed for as long as recorded music existed.
Perfect example here.
The Prisoner’s Song
Country singer Vernon Dalhart recorded this woeful ballad, “The Prisoner’s Song,” in 1924. He recorded it for over a dozen record labels, including the big ones – Victor, Edison, Columbia – and many small ones. The track reportedly sold over a million copies, if you added up all the different versions that were committed to shellac … or to blue amberol stearine … or to …
Carolina In My Mind
James Taylor recorded the first version for Apple Records – yes, THAT Apple Records – in 1970, and it was released as a single. Later on, when he moved to Warner Bros., he re-recorded the track into the version that we all know and love today.
Early Morning Rain
When Gordon Lightfoot released his first recordings in 1966, this track – “Early Morning Rain” – would be a popular cover song, as Elvis Presley and Peter Paul & Mary added versions of the song to their catalog. But when Lightfoot moved to another record company, he took his early songs, re-recorded them as “Gord’s Gold,” and these are the versions you know today.
Styx’ first hit is notable for two things that weren’t part of their later hits. First, “Lady” was released on a tiny record label, Wooden Nickel Records (owned by RCA), and Tommy Shaw was not part of the group at that time. When Shaw joined the group, Styx moved to A&M, and had heaps of hits. They re-recorded “Lady” so that the track could be part of their Greatest Hits package, and made sure that Tommy Shaw’s voice was on this version.
She’s Got A Way
Here’s another example of an artist’s re-recording outlasting the original. Billy Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, was poorly mastered (side 1 sounds like it was recorded at the wrong speed), and it wasn’t part of Joel’s catalog when he moved to Columbia Records. But … when Joel recorded a series of early tracks for a live album, Songs in the Attic, the song re-appeared and became a Top 40 hit.
Checker recorded this classic for Parkway Records in 1960. It became a #1 hit in 1960. It then raced back up the charts and hit #1 again in 1962. But … Cameo-Parkway Records didn’t release Chuck Berry’s material on CD or iTunes until the mid-2000’s, forcing Checker and his labelmates (Bobby Rydell, the Orlons, the Dovells, Question Mark and the Mysterians) to re-record their tracks – as closely as possible – to get SOMETHING out to the record stores for CD buyers. Eventually Cameo-Parkway did finally release their catalog on CD, and all became right with the world.
And finally, let’s wind up with …
DEREK AND THE DOMINOS
Tell the Truth
Somehow, the record company thought it would be a great idea to put an uptempo version of the Derek and the Dominos song “Tell the Truth” on a 45 and release it to radio. Eric Clapton said no, and the record company pulled the single back. Instead, the version of “Tell the Truth” that we all know currently exists as an album track on the Layla and Other Love Songs LP.
So, Ms. Swiftie … you may have a great idea to re-record your catalog, but it’s been done before, you weren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.
Heck, you weren’t even the first one to put all your breakups into song lyrics. Carly Simon did that with “You’re So Vain” way back before you were a twinkle in your parents’ eyes.
Don’t worry about these little digs and ribs, Tay Tay … I’m sure you’ll (doing my David Caruso imitation and removing sunglasses) shake it off. (cue CSI: Miami music)