Seth Godin is a marketing expert whose blog I’ve been following for years. He is focused on the areas of creating and shipping creative outputs, like art, hand-made goods or music. Every so often he publishes a post that hits the nail right on the head. A few days ago, it was this (I’m putting in his complete text. I know it’s long, but do read the whole thing.):
In which case, now what?
I was particularly struck by the statement: “Because the world has changed, original isn’t original anymore. It can’t be, even if we want it to, because now it’s out of place. Just as we can’t step in the same river twice, each innovation in media forces us to walk away from fidelity to honor what’s possible.”
This is because I am currently writing remixes and dubs of songs that have been stuck in my head for years: “Ashokan Farewell”, a theme song from a war documentary; “Yellow Bird”, a simple little tune from Haiti, Liquido’s “Narcotic”, etc. I love these songs, but I always felt that they could be something more, or different, or better, with the use of todays DAWs and sound engineering capabilities. This is a personal itch I want to scratch, definitely not recordings that I’d put up for sale. I just want to perform these songs my way.
The funny thing was, each time I started (re-)writing a song from scratch, I felt like reproducing it exactly just didn’t work. It was as though the new media and the genre I was working in (EDM/Trance/Dance) were pushing the development into a new state. I could not maintain the fidelity of the song. It was like trying to run new software on outdated hardware. The final sound did not gel with the original sound.
I could maintain the song’s core, the main theme or melody, but not much else. Each song ended up becoming a new thing, which had an echo of the original in it. All of them got new choruses and bridges, new instruments, new interpretations.
The deal with dubbing “Narcotic”
The creators of dubs, covers and remixes often submit to the Hobgoblin of Fidelity, as Godin calls it, resulting in odious comparisons of their versions with the original song. Very odious, usually. Trying to recreate a song that is well-known will lead to comparisons with the original – and people will realize again how good the original actually was.
An example of this is the club hit “Narcotic” of German band Liquido. It was the band’s debut single and their only notable international hit. “Narcotic” was first released on a demo in 1996 and sold over 700,000 units when Virgin Records re-released it in 1998 – 24 years ago. “Narcotic” reached the peak chart positions of 3 in Germany, 1 in Austria, 5 in Belgium, 7 in the Netherlands, 15 in Sweden and 2 in Switzerland. The band, and this particular song, has gained a cult following over the years. This is despite, or some say because of, the strange lyrics that have led to many misinterpretations. The band broke up in January 2009.
Warning: Earworm below
The YouNotUs version
The group YouNotUs (you, not us) is one of the many bands and singers who have done covers, dubs, or remixes, or used samples from “Narcotic”. (I have even heard a raging but very effective Metal version of the song.) Their cover features artists Wolfgang Schrödl, the original lead vocalist of Liquido, reprising his vocals; the two band members and singers of YouNotUs, Tobias Bogdon and Gregor Sahm; and musician and DJ Janieck Devy. The song is on the YouNotUs album “Narcotic (Club Mixes)”, released in 2019. The remix became a hit for YouNotUs. It went viral probably because the young guys of YouNotUs roped in Wolfgang Schrödl, which was a bit like looking at a glitch in the matrix. And also because there are all those old fogeys like me who like hearing remixes of their favourite songs from way back when.
The official YouNotUs music video has had a surprisingly high number of 17,032,049 views to date, since its publication on YouTube on June 14, 2019.
By comparison, the video of the original version by Liquido on YouTube has had 34,789,328 views to date, since Aug. 19, 2015, posted 17 years after the song came out (remember that in 1998, social media was not a thing – it was MTV or bust.) It seems like people still listen to, and like, the original “Narcotic”. Despite the lyrics, “Narcotic” was (still is?) the official anthem of the soccer clubs Girondins de Bordeaux in France, and UFC Eferding in Upper Austria. I mean, can you imagine stands full of fans singing those words? Or even trying to la-la-la their way through the Intro?
The remix by YouNotUs keeps quite close to the original, but their sound is Pop and peppy and sharp, and quite danceable. It’s got some excellent guitar work in it. However, it’s not far enough removed from the original to avoid comparisons. The original was Alt. Rock, heavy on the beat and slowish, like 102 bpm, not to mention lyrics that would be seen as questionable these days. I have to smile every time I see the video of YouNotUs. with the two singers trying to deliver those daft but ominous lines with sincerity while lusting after girls (as opposed to drugs) on a sunny beach. Good effort, guys, but no cigar.
EuroPop peaked in global popularity in the early 2000s and this song was a prime example of the genre, strange lyrics and all. Whereas other songs of the late 1990s and early 2000s disappeared, “Narcotic” became a club hit and has stayed right up there in people’s heads, like a really annoying ear-worm.
While I was working on my own dub/remix of “Narcotic”, Godin’s words struck a chord (sorry for the pun!) with me – so I relaxed and just totally reinvented the song. The original core melodies of the Intro and the Verse are discernible in my version, but it has become something new in just about every aspect.
Ha! I will not be defeated by the Hobgoblin of Fidelity.
Lyrics – Liquido “Narcotic”
Lyrics by Wolfgang Schrödl and Tim Eiermann
Original lyrics shown – though that includes lines that don’t make sense or else can mean whatever you make of them.
(Instrumental Intro) So you face it with a smile There is no need to cry For a trifle's more than this Will you still recall my name? And the month it all began? Will you release me with a kiss? (Refrain) I never took my bill against my will There was a void I had to fill You I thought would understand That there's nothing in this world that's coming first The only road I know is curved But I keep walking straight ahead Now you shaped that liquid wax Fit it out with crater cracks Sweet devotion, my delight Oh, you're such a pretty one And the naked thrills of flesh and skin Would tease me through the night Well I hate to leave you bare If you need me, I'll be there Don't you ever let me down Dazed by careless words Cozy in my mind (Refrain) And I touched your face Narcotic mind of lazed, Mary-Jane And I called your name Like an addicted to cocaine Calls for the stuff he'd rather blame And I touched your face Narcotic mind of lazed, Mary-Jane And I called your name My cocaine I don't mind it, I think so I will let you go I don't mind it, I think so I will let you go I don't mind it, I think so I will let you go