Have you dealt with The Hobgoblin of Fidelity?

Update – March 29, 2023

A year later, to the day, that I wrote the post below, I published my Tropical Trance track, Yellow Bird. It took that long to get away from the original stimulus for the song. I lost count of how many hours I spent writing it – but I deleted the project completely and restarted it twice. The first version was in GarageBand, and 19 versions later, it was in Logic Pro.

I often wondered why I was doing it. I think I wrote it to get it out of my system and finally put the memory of my Dad and the piano lessons with him to rest. To forget rather than to remember is not a good basis for creating a song. After all, music expresses thoughts and feelings that you want to recognize and remember.

I did not feel like my new creation was good enough. It lacked punch. Luckily my sound engineer mixed the song in a way that definitely gives it a punch, and now it punches hard. So that is it for Yellow Bird. Done and dusted.

The hobgoblin of fidelity 

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:

“My first computer game design was in 1977 – I came up with a version of Star Wars. It was almost nothing like the movie, but it was a pretty good game for something running on a mainframe. The Godfather isn’t a perfect retelling of the book. But it’s a better movie as a result.

A really good recording doesn’t sound like a live concert or what you’d hear sitting in the studio. It sounds like a really good record. And when Alan Dean Foster and I turned Shadowkeep from a computer game into a novel, the goal wasn’t to replicate a computer game, it was to create a good novel.

When a medium arrives, or time shifts, it’s sometimes tempting to aim for a complete reconstruction of what came before. Follow the rules, don’t innovate. But that’s a mistake–a safe choice that’s actually a trap.

People desire media that is in and of itself. Each form of media has its own character, and fidelity from one form to another is a compromise that rarely works.”

Seth’s Blog : The hobgoblin of fidelity, March 16, 2022

In which case, now what?

I was particularly struck by Godin’s 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 that I started (re-)writing a song from scratch, I felt that trying to reproduce 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.

The LP cover of the 1999 album by Liquido – No, I don’t understand what this means. A seal? A hallucination? An alien?

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?

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


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

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