The Best Remixes: 1952-97

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 10.05.11 in Lists

Who invented the remix? Lots of people – and people are still reinventing it all the time. That’s the point of remixing: proof that a piece of music is never finished as long as someone can tweak the parts till they shine brighter, move differently, or resemble something else altogether.

When a remix really flies, it can take on the patina of an original work. Who thinks of Primal Scream’s “I’m Losing More Than I Ever Had,” Jacob Miller’s “Baby I Love You So,” Suzanne Vega’s original a cappella “Tom’s Diner,” or Everything But the Girl’s folky “Missing”? We remember instead the remixes by Andrew Weatherall (“Loaded”), King Tubby (Augustus Pablo’s “King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown”), DNA, and Todd Terry, respectively. When a remix really flies, it can take on the patina of an original work.

They were also crucial to hip-hop’s early-to-mid-’90s golden age: “The Choice is Yours, “Flava In Ya Ear, “Shut ‘Em Down” and “Nappy Heads” are all better known (because they’re better records) as remixes. Remixes reach every corner of studio-based music: A hip-hop remix is different from a dance remix is different from an R&B remix is different from a pop remix, ad infinitum. The 50 examples we chose take in a fair amount of remixing’s breadth. Not all of it – eMusic’s catalog is huge, but it’s not limitless. Still, think of this as a kind of shadow history, as much as a roundup of our favorites. Either way, there’s a lot of great music here, however far removed from its original sources. – Michaelangelo Matos

John Cage, “Williams Mix” (1952)

The making of John Cage's "Williams Mix," a seminal piece for magnetic tape, entailed cutting up bits of reel-to-reel tape and splicing them back together in a partly random, partly uncannily collage-like fashion. Next time you hear a remix banged out by some kid on a computer on a whim, consider this: The score for "Williams Mix," which takes up as much time as any number of pop songs, is 192 pages long. Andy Battaglia

Terry Riley, “You’re No Good” (1967)

The birth of disco was still a few years away when, in 1967 or 1968, the minimalist composer Terry Riley sliced up a three-minute soul single by the Harvey Averne Dozen, "You're No Good," into 20 minutes of panning, whirling, psychedelic delirium. Juggling loops on a reel-to-reel recorder, with spliced phrases careening dangerously out of phase, it wasn't meant for the dance floor, but it established the template for everything that followed. Philip Sherburne

Ultra High Frequency, “We’re on the Right Track (A Tom Moulton Mix)” (1973)

Philly Re-Grooved - The Tom Moulton Philly Groove Remixes

Various Artists

The inventor of both the extended disco mix and the 12-inch single itself, Tom Moulton's early work vibrates with possibility. This is a classic example: The thrilling string rushes and more-crisp-than-mellow vibraphone riff aren't too different than the shorter original. Moulton simply likes to wring all the juice out of an arrangement he can, and the more cleanly articulated the percussion, the better. Michaelangelo Matos

Augustus Pablo, “King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown” (1975)

King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown

Augustus Pablo

Dub mixes had graced the B-sides of Jamaican singles for a few years by the time King Tubby's astonishing reconstruction of Jacob Miller's tough-edged ballad "Baby I Love You So" appeared in 1975. But no one had heard anything like it, and to this day no one has equaled it: a shifting canvas constantly revealing new details, breaking every inch of ground around it, the mixing-board equivalent of "Like a Rolling Stone." Michaelangelo Matos

Gladys Knight & the Pips, “It’s a Better Than Good Time (Walter Gibbons Mix)” (1978)

"Mixed with love by Walter Gibbons" read the credits on hundreds of 12-inches. For good reason, too: Gibbons liked his grooves curvaceous, and he liked those curves to go on for a while. Not only does he clarify the mix, with a luxurious opening and breakdown that feel as inevitable as the lyric's getting-back-together scenario, he pairs two takes of Gladys Knight's chorus, making this great singer sound stronger. Michaelangelo Matos

Taana Gardner, “Heartbeat (Club Version)” (1981)

Larry Levans Classic West End Records Remixes Made Famous At The Legendary Paradise Garage


A faint tick-tocking thud, and then POW! The greatest opening downbeat in recorded history kicks off the all-time early-'80s R&B jam. That's how you launch a record, and Larry Levan knew how to launch records. He made hits of favorites from the booth of the Paradise Garage, and he restructured dance classics by everyone from Gwen Guthrie to Instant Funk. But this sullen groove remains his greatest studio moment. Michaelangelo Matos

Double Dee & Steinski, “The Payoff Mix” (1984)

Responding to a mid-'80s Tommy Boy remix contest, thirty-something NYC ad men Douglas DiFranco and Steve Stein's version of G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid's "Play That Beat Mr. DJ" rendered the original a footnote. Their weekend with a crate, a reel-to-reel, razor, and tape remade hip-hop as an even more in-your-face audio collage than even Grandmaster Flash's "Wheels of Steel," spawning everyone from Coldcut to Prince Paul to Negativland. Michaelangelo Matos

New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle (Shep Pettibone 12″ Remix)” (1986)

Brotherhood [Collector's Edition]

New Order

Along with Arthur Baker, no mid-'80s figure did as much as Shep Pettibone to make remixes vital to pop: Just ask Madonna, Pet Shop Boys and especially New Order. This gizmo-festooned masterpiece does for thin-and-brittle synth tones what Astaire and Rogers did for each other add class and sex appeal. It's the Citizen Kane of remixes: unpredictable from one listen to the next, equally breathtaking every time. Michaelangelo Matos

Eric B. & Rakim, “Paid in Full (Coldcut’s Seven Minutes of Madness Remix)” (1988)

Paid In Full

Eric B. & Rakim

In which the author of "I Ain't No Joke" meets SNL's Don Pardo, Israeli siren Ofra Haza and a wispy woman murmuring, "The music just turns me on," all courtesy of a pair of British B-boys who countered Rakim's steel with a baggy looseness. Yet Coldcut weren't joking, either: The canniest move on this epoch-defining remix is the slow-mo scratches during Rakim's "stick-up kid" lyric, amplifying its gravity. Michaelangelo Matos

DNA ft. Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner” (1990)

RetroSpective: The Best Of Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega

A remixer's next hit might come from anywhere say, an a cappella track from an NYC folk-rocker. British production duo DNA grabbed Vega's "doo-doo-doo" outro and made it an indelible chorus, then set it to the timeless "Ashley's Roachclip" break, airy string samples and laconic horn hits. Vega heard the bootleg 12-inch and liked it so much she released it for real, hitting No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 5 in the U.S. Michaelangelo Matos

Primal Scream, “Loaded” (1990)


Primal Scream

They started shambling and twee, discovered Ecstasy, and asked Andrew Weatherall just what it was he might want to do with their song "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have." He wanted to have a good time, and did: As Simon Reynolds put it, "Loaded" is the equivalent of "Sympathy of the Devil" in dub, except that it's airy and free of dread, befitting an English post-rave euphoria no recording calls up better. Michaelangelo Matos

Black Sheep, “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” (1992)

A Wolf In Sheep\'s Clothing

Black Sheep

Black Sheep's self-produced original "The Choice Is Yours" ambled along nicely enough, riding a slippery Bar-Kays organ break. Greg "Mutha-Funkin" Mann heard things differently, putting Dres and Mista Lawnge against a hurtling, Timberland-boot-tough break and stinging blues-funk guitar picking and a long-limbed upright-bass line that linked Cypress Hill's first album with A Tribe Called Quest's second, with both rappers' flow fits the contours of each track with equal facility. Michaelangelo Matos

Nasty Habits, “Here Come the Drumz (Remix)” (1992)

The alias of Doc Scott, Nasty Habits' original "Here Come the Drumz" is a prototype proto-drum & bass roller constantly pulsing sub-bass, endlessly shaking tambourine, looped breakbeats. The remix followed in no time, but the sound changed utterly: the breaks far more sophisticated and detailed, the b-line more counterweight than rush generator, the arrangement more spacious and more sinister. If hardcore didn't give way to jungle here, it might as well have. Michaelangelo Matos

Public Enemy, “Shut ‘Em Down (Pete Rock Remix)” (1992)

Def Jam Music Group Tenth Year Anniversary Box Set

Various Artists

It would have seemed impossible to beat the Bomb Squad at its own game only a year earlier. And Public Enemy's original "Shut 'Em Down" is one of the group's biggest-sounding recordings. But the deep scratches that powered it were on their way out by '92, and when Pete Rock replaced them with clattering horns and a sparse, grimy drum loop, its jazzier, train-over-the-yard feel became the classic version. Michaelangelo Matos

Robert Armani, “Circus Bells (Hardfloor Remix)” (1993)

No recording brings back the dirty warehouses of mid-'90s Midwestern raves more acutely than this one. Chicago producer Robert Armani had crafted a straightforward track focused on a hypnotically fuzzy, not-quite-resolved, one-bar bell loop, but it took German acid kings Hardfloor to crank a 303 underneath and send it to the moon. In the early '90s, house and techno seemed divided, but this was the seamless, still-exciting sound of unification. Michaelangelo Matos

Black Moon, “Buck ‘Em Down (Da Beatminerz Remix)” (1994)

Diggin\' In Dah Vaults

Black Moon

Wherein the Beatminerz allowed themselves a do-over. Built around a dark, rugged bass-stretch from Donald Byrd's "Wind Parade," the original was a sparse mash-out anthem. For the remix, the Beatminerz returned to Byrd's jazz-funk classic and found the pieces for this new, shockingly breezy take. Buckshot switched up his style, too, reciting his pugnacious verses in a welcoming singsong. The Beatminerz were their own favorite remixers, revisiting Black Moon's "I Got Cha Opin" to similar effect. Hua Hsu

De’Lacy, “Hideaway (Deep Dish Remix)” (1994)

New Jersey duo Blaze's original production of De'Lacy's "Hideaway" delivered the mid-'90s East Coast traditionalist house goods: piano and organ, a diva belting out self-help dogma, but not too big-sounding. D.C.'s Deep Dish took care of that. Their spacious remix unhurried string pads, crisp, tetchy, deeply layered percussion, and groaning bass primary among the additions recast the track as an epic, the early apex of what would come to be called "big room." Michaelangelo Matos

Fugees, “Nappy Heads (Remix)” (1994)

Greatest Hits


Rap fans weren't wrong to be wary of the stuff marketed to them as "alternative," which is part of why the Fugees tanked at first. Another: The original "Nappy Heads" was frantic '70s funk, all wrong for the group's laidback appeal. Salaam Remi slowed it (and them) down, spotlighted vibraphones and a small, crucial trumpet lick, and gave the group a new lease on life, setting the stage for The Score. Michaelangelo Matos

Craig Mack ft. the Notorious B.I.G., L.L. Cool J & Busta Rhymes, “Flava in Your Ear (Remix)” [by Puff Daddy] (1994)

Bad Boy's 10th Anniversary- The Hits

Bad Boys

That teasing, Warriors-style welcome from Diddy. Biggie at his very best calm, gangster gusto and slick brags making all rivals seem suddenly irrelevant. (Lest you worry, "U.P.S. is hiring.") Craig Mack, enlivened: "Your album couldn't fuck with one line," somewhat ironic given that his spotlight has been bum-rushed. Rampage rampages, instantly forgotten, L.L. licks his lips seductively, and it all ends with Busta going absolutely nuclear. The apex of '90s posse cuts. Hua Hsu

The Chemical Brothers, “Life Is Sweet (Daft Punk Remix)” (1995)

Life Is Sweet

Chemical Brothers

The Chemical Brothers' career is based on reimagining rock aesthetics as big, head-banger beats, and "Life is Sweet," featuring blissful vocals from Tim Burgess of the Charlatans, was Britpop with squelches and synths. While Daft Punk were lapsed rockers as well, their remix was completely different, give or take a few overlapping bass notes. Instead of Burgess's faux-mysticism, there's a haunting, dubby keyboard riff and eight minutes of glorious, relentless dance-floor catharsis. Hua Hsu

Everything But the Girl, “Missing (Todd Terry Remix)” (1995)

Amplified Heart + Extra Track

Everything But The Girl

Well before Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt began flirting seriously with dance music on 1996's Walking Wounded Watt now runs the house label Buzzin' Fly they wrote "Missing" with clubs in mind. But even then, they knew enough to nab New York house pioneer Todd Terry for the remix. His beeping synth hook is what everyone remembers, but it's Terry's curling string pads that haunt as much as the words. Michaelangelo Matos

Intelligent Hoodlum ft. Havoc of Mobb Deep, “Funk Mode (Large Professor Remix)” (1995)

"Funk Mode" hails from an era when the meanest rapper could threaten to "open your head like a sandal" or take a cleaver to non-believers over hopped-up, deeply non-threatening soul jazz like Lou Donaldson's "It's Your Thing." Large Professor's remix is a raucous, survival-of-the-fittest affair, loping with cacophonous drums and bubbling guitars razored off Gwen McCrae. Queens brethren Havoc volunteers to rock you to sleep, and not in a comforting way. Hua Hsu

Moby, “Bring Back My Happiness (Wink’s Acid Interpretation)” (1995)

Bring Back My Happiness


Both of these men are adept at remixing themselves the famous version of Moby's "Go" is the "Woodtick Mix," while Wink's "Higher State of Consciousness" is best known in its "Tweekin' Acid Funk Version." But this showdown from a peak year for both sets Moby's diva samples against Wink's whining, jabbering 303, which basically plays out like "Higher State, Pt. 2." That's not a complaint. Michaelangelo Matos

Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor, “Radiation Ruling the Nation (Protection)” (1996)

No Protection

Massive Attack

Dub is remixing's not-so-secret root, so the mid-'90s remix boom necessitated dub's parallel surge not least because then-recent styles like jungle and trip-hop owed so much to Jamaican engineering tricks. The ripest fruit was No Protection, veteran dub mixer Mad Professor's do-over of Massive Attack's entire Protection album, beginning with this ghost version of the title track, Tracey Thorn's hollow croon reduced to a ghost trail over a creeping groove. Michaelangelo Matos

DJ Shadow, “The Number Song (Cut Chemist Remix)” (1997)


DJ Shadow

Where DJ Shadow's original was a murky riot of drums-atop-drums and string-dirges, Cut Chemist's remix is a sunnier, more playful affair. Respectful of his cut-and-paste kin, Cut actually ends up out-collaging Shadow, retaining the original's rough structure but rebuilding it around a festive, jamboree-style drum-break from the Byrds, a snatch of the crowd-rousing Furious Five, and an interlude of horn riffs and game-show funk. Hua Hsu

Indo, “R U Sleeping (Bump ‘n’ Flex Remix)” (1997)

Originally released in 1993 by the short-lived, wonderfully named Chicago house label Af-Rhyth-Mix, Indo's "Are U Sleeping" lost a couple of nouns in its title when it went to London a few years later, gaining a new lease as part of the bubbly late-'90s two-step garage wave. The prize remix came from Grant Nelson, a.k.a. Bump 'n' Flex, who chops Indo's vocal till it's lean and sharp as his hi-hats. Michaelangelo Matos