Back in February, we were chatting with veteran DJ/Producer Strobe about the various aspects of a great remix. What is a remix, anyway? What is its purpose? What are the qualities that make one great? What makes one stand out over another? Strobe has over 20 #1 remixes for the Billboard Dance Chart under his belt. He knows the history and is very opinionated. So, naturally, the discussion brought up numerous examples, tracks spread out across decades. It sparked an idea for a story: a list of the best-ever remixes.
Clearly, such a project is a tall order, and our initial curation yielded over 50 titles. We argued for days, trying to deliver a list worthy of its headline, so the long list was pared down to 30 tracks. But this was still too many and we had to endure the agonizing process of narrowing it down even further, cutting some excellent selections in the process, until we finally arrived at The 15 Greatest Remixes of All-Time.
We put the list out there and it struck a nerve. It was shared thousands of times. A debate ensued, at times a heated one. "How could you possibly leave ____ off?!" "This list is GREAT!" "This list SUCKS!" As expected, trolls came out of the woodwork. And, truth be known, although we liked the list, we did feel a bit remiss that some essential remixes were left out.
So here you go. These are the "Other 15" that didn't make the first cut. The "B-Sides," if you like. Let the debate resume.
Tori Amos | "Professional Widow" (Armand’s Star Trunk Funkin’ Mix) | 1995
Strobe: Does anyone know what the original sounds like? Anyone? Bueller??? Armand Van Helden was a force to be reckoned with in the mid-90s, commanding insane amounts of money to remix records and delivering mixes that often contained very little recognizable from the original. I heard a rumor that he was once paid close to $20,000 for a remix and only used the snare from the original! This mix (for which he was paid around $10,000) ushered in something new to the remixing world – a “no recall” clause in the contract, basically stating that whatever he turned in was final. Contrasting the rock-meets-harpsichord original, this funk-laden dub that Armand birthed into the world became a major touchstone in the Disco House trend of the era. It features two carefully selected and provocative vocal snippets: “honey, bring it close to my lips” and “it's gotta be big," which dancefloors routinely chanted. The iconic funky bassline was constructed from the stem of the original, which you can pick out if you listen to the original around three minutes in.
Stone Roses | "Fools Gold (Rabbit In The Moon's Message To The Majors)" | 1999
I have fond memories of hearing the original 1989 version at Metropol (Pittsburgh) in the early-90s. I actually have it on clear gold vinyl which, sped-up, makes a great drum & bass remix ... but I digress ... I also have fond memories of Rabbit In the Moon from my rave days. They are renowned for their live stage show performances, but they didn't produce too many remixes. The ones they did do, though, were exceptional, including work for Golide and Sarah McLaughlin. But, for my ears, nothing tops their mix of this Stone Roses classic. They have taken a seminal Acid House (not Chicago, the UK kind) track and turned it into a funky club reinterpretation that sounds less like a remix and more like an infusion of life. Even though the original and the remix are only 10 BPMs apart, the production and addition of the four-on-the-floor groove transform what was a laid-back, head-bopper into a mix that makes your whole body move. It has a great, DJ-friendly intro and outro as well. The funky guitars and bass translate perfectly into this mix. It’s not until the middle that it even harkens back to the original, with that tasty drum loop that screams MANCHESTER! I used to play the last third of this record almost as a dub. It does its own thing for the last few minutes and ends cold, which was perfect for switching genres up. Just the perfect handling of an already timeless track, punching it up a bit to live forever on a dancefloor.
Double Exposure | "Ten Percent" (Walter Gibbons Remix) | 1976
It is the record that gave birth to the commercial 12-inch single, proving that there was a viable purpose in producing multiple versions of a song specifically for DJs. Walter Gibbons is one of the pioneers of the New York disco scene. Many credit him with laying the foundation for what would later become House music. He was known for his early mastery of working a dancefloor, creating seamless mixes and taking records apart on-the-fly, performing live "edits" with double vinyl copies. In fact, the reason this remix even came about was because the record company wanted to see if he could recreate his dancefloor magic in a studio, on record. Walter took the three-minute original and turned it into an almost ten-minute disco stomper. This remix is less about the vocals and all about the extended instrumental parts, which have been sampled countless times in other records. The mix was crafted so beautifully – and with all live instruments – that you don’t even consider the amount of work that went into cutting the original master tapes. Walter disassembled the tapes and put them back together as if it was recorded that way, with edits that most DJs at the time couldn’t even comprehend. He was able to find parts that were buried or underused and push them to the forefront, making them shine. And he was paid under $200 for it since there was no precedent yet for the art.
Kraftwerk | "Tour De France (François Kevorkian Remix)" | 1984
Welp, I'm sure I don't need to sing Kraftwerk's praises to you. They are obviously architects of this music and extremely rare birds; their tracks from the '70s still sound light years ahead of us. So you've got that going for you when you sit down to remix them. Enter New York legend Françios Kevorkian. Now, if you quickly scanned both the 1983 original and his 1984 remix, you might find yourself scratching your head, looking for the big differences. But that is the genius of the remix game in the early-80s. Remixers mostly used the original analog tape and, working at the same tempo, just cut, spliced and rearranged the record. From the opening use of the syncopated breaths to the sparse use of the vocals, this remix just feels different. François wisely focused on subtle editing – taking parts out, extending others, creating an arrangement that makes the track sound more cohesive than the original. That is, after all, kind of the point of a remix.
Kid Cudi | "Day ’N’ Nite" (Crookers Remix) | 2009
To me, the idea of a remix is to marry the best of the original with something new in a way that makes you forget that it’s a remix. I first heard about this record from the blogs and when I did a YouTube search, the first clip I found happened to be for this mix, even though it did not mention Crookers anywhere in the title. So for a while, I thought this was the original. When I discovered it wasn't, the first thing I did was go back and listen to the original. For the first and probably last time. It was a cool track, with the slo-mo vibe of a 138 BPM flow over a 69 BPM beat, but it just didn’t have much movement. The Italian duo Crookers breathed new life into it from start to finish. They strip the song down to its catchy top melody and vocals, then build it back up like they were doing it live in a packed dance club. The song dips and twists into seemingly new directions at every transition. After the verse when it drops into that chopped-up, familiar rave breakbeat for the chorus you’re like “Whoa, that's ballsy! But it works!” The track lulls you into a false sense of breakdown security, then kicks back with that chunky fidget baseline and the steady club beats that never fail to whip any crowd into a frenzy. Even though it’s a good 10 BPMs slower, it feels 100 BPMs faster. It’s creative, fun, and it exemplifies what a remix is capable of in the right hands.
SWV | "Right Here" (Teddy Riley’s Human Nature Remix) | 1993
Most people didn’t even know that this remix wasn’t the original. Honestly, I DIDN'T KNOW! And that, my friends, is a powerful remix. The original version of "Right Here" was released in 1992 and never cracked the Top 10. But this treatment by Teddy Riley, dubbed the “Human Nature Remix," samples the Michael Jackson classic of the same name and propelled the record to #1. It was SWV's biggest hit. It follows the landmark 1991 court decision (Gilbert O'Sullivan vs. Biz Markie) requiring producers to get permission before using digital samples, and is one of the earliest examples in popular music of a song sampling a highly recognizable hook from another hit to great effect.
DEBATE: Florence + The Machine | "You’ve Got The Love" (Mark Knight vs. Jamie XX Remix)" | 2011
Since the dawn of the opinion, debates and discussions over conflicting points of view have raged. (CAVEMAN: "Fire too hot!" CAVEWOMAN: "Fire just right!") While numerous covers and remixes of “You Got The Love” exist, two of the Florence + The Machine versions stand out. I personally love the Mark Knight remix while my compatriot [Ed.: He means "Editor."] in this piece prefers the Jamie XX remix. [Ed.: Because it's better.] As we bantered back-and-forth, I suggested maybe we should include both. While I have my reasons for liking one version over another, I am a remixer at heart and can see the merits of a mix that I am not entirely fond of. [Ed.: How noble.]
The original Florence song is a 110 BPM Indie Rock track, a cool cover of the Candi Staton song from 1986. The only thing similar between the Mark Knight and the Jamie XX mixes is the BPM. The vibe and direction of the two mixes isn't even apples-and-oranges; it's apples-and-watermelons. Mark Knight’s remix took it in a direction that landed it on the playlists of pretty much every club and festival DJ in 2011, and a simple search of the remix title into 1001tracklists.com confirms just that.
While less vocal-centric than the Jamie XX mix (it’s not until Knight’s mix breaks down halfway through that you get some real vocals), it has so much energy and vocal teases that, by the time they do come in, you’re already in a frenzy. The track builds with a pulsating bassline and sawtooth synth blips that drive it through to the breakdown. When the break comes, you’re treated to two minutes of a verse and chorus and some repeated filtered vocal chops chanting “sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air.” The beat kicks back in and from that point on it's pretty much winding down through the outro. Just a stellar club remix.
The Jamie XX rework presents a unique twist. He takes the concept of Florence + The Machine’s version and basically says “Nah, let's hijack it and make an XX record." It's really more of a cover version with a few elements from the original chopped and thrown in than a true remix. Other than slowing down the harp, which was buried in the original, and the MK-ish chopped-up vocals that filter up midway through, the reference to the Florence original is so vague you might not even know it's her record. Hardly looking to preserve the energy of the original, Jamie opted for an intimate, boy-meets-girl vocal between XX bandmates Oliver and Romy with glitchy drums, a filtered xylophone, and grimy sub-bassline. It sounds more like it’s made for a smoky lounge than a club. [Ed.: But in 10 years I'll be in a smoky lounge and I will still hear it. I doubt you will hear your version in the club.]
Alphaville | "Forever Young (Special Dance Mix)" | 1985
Here is an example of "Which came first – the chicken or the egg?" Few people probably know that the original version of “Forever Young” was a dance track, which is why the vocals sound so fast. It was released, however, as a ballad on the album. In a sense, this remix was an attempt to return the track to the way it was originally intended, only with new production behind it. The BPM of the track is the same on both the album and the remix, (which made laying the Album Version over dubs at parties so much fun). In context, it’s not so much that the remix is spectacular – it mainly put some electronic drums and a bassline under the original – but with the drums double-timed it totally changes the feel of the parts, especially the trumpet melody, turning a ballad into a New Wave dancefloor smash. That's why it belongs on this list. Many great remixes are nothing more than the exploitation of the lack of rhythm in the original versions; in this case, it was putting the rhythm back into the original that made it gold.
Bjork | "Human Behavior (Dimitri From Paris Le French Touch Remix)" | 1994
When Bjork isn’t explaining how a TV works, she makes music, or art, or artful music. The original version of “Human Behavior” is a mid-tempo composition from the "either you get it or you don’t" category. It's definitely not one for your workout playlist. There have been several remixes of this record, including Speedy J and Underworld, but the Dimitri From Paris "Le French Touch" mix takes the cake (or, in his case, "crème brûlée"). It was one of the biggest projects of his early career, his first remix of an international artist remix. Upon first listen, when that soulful piano and bass kicks in, you might find yourself looking at the name “Bjork” in the title and wondering if this was tagged wrong. Dim takes a track made for coffee shops and '90s spy movies, bumps up the BPM, and turns it into a super funky, soulful House track. When the vocal appears, it is a “wait, whaaaat???" kind of moment. Never has a Bjork vocal been draped in such luxurious wrappings, to the point where it becomes more than just another instrument in the mix; her voice is actually a feature and, although awash in delay and reverb, sits perfectly atop the track. Never have I wanted to figure out what Bjork was talking about more than when I hear this mix. An interesting footnote to this is that Bjork reportedly hated the mix, so it was never commercially released. As a result, it's very rare. Only 500 vinyl copies are known to exist. Two major fans of it, however, were David Morales and Frankie Knuckles. They played the hell out of it in the New York clubs and their support helped launch Dimitri's career outside of France.
Wee Papa Girl Rappers | "Heat It Up (Detroit House Mix)" | 1988
This is a historic record. As I mentioned previously, in the early days most remixes were extended versions, alternate mixdowns, or edits from the original tape with maybe some added percussion or parts. But with this remix, Kevin Saunderson, one of Detroit's "Holy Trinity" architects of techno, ushered in a new era where remixers would take only the acapella vocal of a record and add entirely original music, production, and arrangements behind it. While this mix is pretty sparse, relying on Roland drum machines, a 303 top line with a solid bass underneath for most of the track, it is classic Saunderson mixed with Acid House and works perfectly with the acapella. Reportedly, he hated the original and decided to completely deconstruct it. He stripped away the Post-Freestyle Piano House vibe and took it in a much darker direction that feels right at home with a lot of the DJ International Hip-House records (like Fast Eddie and Tyree) that were happening at the time. Both the label, Jive Records, and the artists were shocked by what Saunderson handed in. But they decided to take a chance on it and the record blew up, making this the first major commercial remix to employ totally original music production. It created a new chapter in remixing, an approach to the work which became increasingly more common moving into the '90s and remains the standard today.
Prince | "Gett Off (Steve "Silk" Hurley Flutestrumental)" | 1992
[Sample Not Available]
There aren’t a lot of official remixes of Prince records. But when you get one by house pioneer Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, you know it’s bound to be timeless. In 1992, mind you, Hurley took a 100 BPM Pop/R&B track and flipped it to a 110 BPM House track that still sounds bumping today. While it’s more of a dub than a true instrumental – matching chunky house organs with jazz flute and bits of the Prince vocals – who’s really splitting hairs here? I mean, you pair one of the greatest artists ever with one of the greatest house pioneers and it’s like peanut butter-and-chocolate.
Storm Queen | "Look Right Through (MK Dub III)" | 2013
I won’t lie; this is one of my favorite records in decades. It’s a perfect Marc Kinchen production and I literally work it into every set I play. The vocals, from subway and street performer Damon C. Scott, tell his tale of singing for people that don’t even notice him. They "look right through" him. There is a video around about the whole process of him working with Morgan Geist who produced the original. But it’s the MK mix that makes this record shine. While the vocal mixes are stellar, personally I love this Dub III. It's got the perfect blend of MK's trademark vocal chopping, drum programming, and, of course, that classic M1 organ sound.
Deee-lite | "How Do You Say... Love (A Delicious Pal Joey Dub Mix)" | 1990
This is a weird one. It appears on a few releases alongside “Groove Is In The Heart." As much as it is a remix of "What Is Love?," it's also an original of sorts. Instead of any actual Deee-lite stems, it curiously relies on a sample of “Falling in Love” by Surface, and combines it with bits of Lady Kier's "What Is Love?" acapella. What's unique about it as a remix is that you don’t even have to know the parts from the original to fall in love with it. It stands on its own.
Jungle Brothers | "I'll House You (Club Mix)" | 1988
This remix is genius in a few ways. Besides being the greatest Hip-House track of all time, the record is also one of the best sleight of hand tricks I’ve ever seen. "While you’re looking at that over there, I’m going to make this appear over here!" Because Jungle Brothers "I'll House You" is actually Todd Terry – under the pseudonym Royal House –“Can U Party.” Both records came out in 1988; the JBs simply took Todd's track, jacked the beat, and rhymed over the top. Today, this idea sounds trite; we might call it a "mashup." But this was a cavalier move for back then. The track, itself, is classic "Todd the God," with the pivotal drum programming and samples that made him a pioneer of the New York house sound. The Jungle Brothers, who were just getting into house music, heard “Can You Party,” loved it, and wanted to drop a vocal on it. In those days, Todd was doing both house and hip hop tracks, and the idea of merging the two seemed bizarre. But – out of nowhere – this record happened, and man did it work! It helped bridge the gap between rap and dance music, and through the years it's been one of the most sampled acapellas of all time. "House music all night long."
MGMT | "Electric Feel (Justice Remix)" | 2008
The original is one of the freshest singles of the last decade. It still sounds great. MGMT describe the sound of it as "the Brothers Johnson go to the Peruvian Rainforest." There are two especially striking things about it. First is the swing, the funky pocket they create with the rhythm section. And then, of course, the soulful backing vocals, soaked in reverb, on the chorus. They're just epic. For their remix, French electro hipsters Justice wisely left these elements intact, crafting a groove featuring that grimy bass sound (probably a sampled slap bass layered with a synth bass – all run through tons of compression and distortion) they are so famous for. They spiced up the dynamics with some big modulated horns, giving their treatment a live funk band feel. Justice took a chilled-out pop record and made it rock the main stage. It won them a Grammy for Best Remixed Recording in 2009 and remains their sickest remix to date.
You Might Also Like: The 15 Greatest Remixes Of All Time, the prequel to this piece.