Rest in Peace? The Perils of Posthumous Pop


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Often the artists vision is ignored in music released after their death. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and John Lennon have all had music released after their deaths and the music has been tampered with in ways the artists might not have approved.

When the Beatles recorded Buddy Hollys Crying, Waiting, Hoping at their audition for Decca Records in 1962, they were recreating an arrangement that Holly himself had never approved, much less heard. The version of Crying, Waiting, Hoping the Beatles were familiar with was created after Hollys death by producer Jack Hansen, who added additional instruments and vocals to Hollys home recording.

Around 30 years later, the Beatles and producer Jeff Lynne did something similar when they added their own overdubbed instruments and vocals to two songs left unfinished by the late John Lennon, Free as a Bird and Real Love.

Holly and Lennon are not the only musicians whose work has been altered after theyve passed on. Modifications have also been made to the work of such deceased artists as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.

Toying with the music of dead artists is one of pops oddest traditions and one of its most controversial. For casual listeners, these recordings might seem like harmless posthumous pop.

But for purists, tampering with an artists work can seem somewhat sacrilegious. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, for example, described saxophonist Kenny Gs collaboration with the late Louis Armstrong as musical necrophilia.

Debates about this practice will probably be reignited in the coming months, since news broke that Michael Jackson left behind two unfinished albums. Theres also news the surviving Beatles may release another Lennon demo they worked on, I Dont Want to Lose You. Additionally, Paste magazine reported that Lynne will now help complete unfinished recordings by late Beatle George Harrison.

A double-edged sword

Veteran music writer Gillian G. Gaar remembers liking the way the Beatles had beefed up Lennons Real Love when she first heard it as part of the Anthology 2 CD. Yet she revised that opinion after she heard the original demo on a Lennon box set.

It just sounded so nice and gentle and I thought They shouldnt have really added stuff, should they have? says Gaar who for years wrote the Beatle Beat column for the record collectors magazine Goldmine.

Still, Gaar says she realizes that sweetening Lennons work broadened its appeal: With instrumentation, its more like a complete song, and maybe more people would be interested.

Reworked recordings can be a double-edged sword says music writer Chris M. Junior, who has written extensively on Buddy Holly. He notes that the unfinished Holly recordings that were revised after the singers death probably wouldnt have been what the artist wanted. But they brought in more listeners including the Fab Four, who liked Crying, Waiting, Hoping enough to cover it.

On the one hand, when these records first come out, it keeps the artist in the public eye, Junior says. But I think over time, these types of releases lose their value because people can see through them. With hindsight, they look back and say OK, that may have been a smart move from a commercial standpoint, but artistically I dont think they added all that much to the artists legacy.

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