It’s been called “bastard pop” and “bootleg remixes,” but since it’s been appropriated to describe any kind of combination of media, the most common term we have for it is “mashup.” Originally, it was used to describe unauthorized mixes where the vocal track from one song is laid over the instrumental track of another (or more than one) song to create a new tune.
You can get into all sorts of arguments over where this began or what was the first mashup record, but a pretty good educated guess traces it to computer/electronics wizard Mark Gunderson, who founded the group Evolution Control Committee in 1987. Four years later, a landmark legal case, where dreary singer/songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan’s publishing company successfully sued rapper Biz Markie’s label over a sample of GOS’s 1972 hit “Alone Again Naturually,” drove the hardcore art of sampling (especially the unauthorized kind) underground, which is where ECC comes into the picture again.
Around ’93/’94, Gunderson put out his totally unauthorized “Whipped Cream Mixes,” combining vocals from Public Enemy with the music from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, especially potent on “Rebel Without A Pause,” which combined the same-named PE song with Alpert’s “Bittersweet Samba.” Though mashup records wouldn’t explode on the scene until later, circa 2001 with Freelance Hellraiser (Roy Kerr) and Soulwax (Belgium DJ’s/producers/siblings David Dewaele and Stephen Dewaele), ECC’s revolutionary single was an opening salvo in the style.
But what were the origins of the mashup, even before the early-’90s ECC mix? Let’s start out with the general idea behind it, which is using bits of more than one song to create yet another song. If we run with that idea, we can find plenty of ancestors to the mash-up in music. How many of these songs are there? Thousands, probably, but we’ve narrowed the list down to 21, ranging from a variety of styles and eras. Let us know about your favorite before-their-time mashups in the comments.
Frank Cloutier & The Victoria Cafe Orchestra — “The Moonshiner’s Dance” (1927)
OK, so we’re going really old school here, courtesy of Harry Smith’s fabled Anthology of American Folk Music (originally released in 1952) and a wonderfully obsessive blog that covers this box set. Cloutier’s piece was part of the “dance” section of Smith’s set, but little is known of him except that he played around Minnesota. Thanks to the insanely detailed blog The Old Weird America, we also know that “The Moonshiner’s Dance” (filled with laughter and more “1-2-3-4” count-offs than the Ramones) is also culled from several other songs. There’s drinking classic “How Dry I Am,” square dance standard “Turkey in the Straw” among them, along with various folk, gospel, polka, jazz, and pop tunes. Cloutier threaded them all together in a style that folkie Peter Stampfel links onward to Spike Jones. Guitarist/folklorist John Fahey also called it his favorite song on Anthology, and you can see why — whoever Cloutier was, he expertly combined a slew of styles into a shorthand lesson on American roots music, all in the space of two minutes.
Stream “The Moonshiner’s Dance” here.