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Since homesickness for any era begins about two decades afterwards the fact, early-2000s look-backs accept accustomed appropriate on schedule. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s Super Bowl takeover alternate us to their end-of-the-century breakouts; Bernie Sanders couldn’t accept best a added circa-2001 bedrock bandage for a assemblage than the Strokes; Jessica Simpson, already a civic punchline afterwards her Chicken of the Sea confusion, has a account at the top of the New York Times bestseller list; and aback anybody is re-examining Mandy Moore’s pre–This Is Us pop career. All that’s bare now are awakening Napster T-shirts.
In befitting with the new beachcomber of 2000s longing, it’s time to attending aback 16 years, to the day aback one of the best belled but able albums in pop history was fabricated accessible online for free. Abnormally now that absorb law weighs heavily on the minds of so abounding in the music business, Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album feels like the blazon of activity that alone could accept happened afresh — and may never booty abode again.
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In the thriving, post-Napster apple of online music, mash-ups were never as all-over as they were in 2004. Best were novelties that accept already been abandoned — bethink “A Stroke of Genie-us,” which laid Christina Aguilera’s articulate from “Genie in a Bottle” aloft the Strokes’ “Hard to Explain”? — but The Grey Album was a different, added ambitious, and added adventurous undertaking. Afresh in his mid-twenties and appetite to accomplish his mark as a producer, remixer and DJ, Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton, had an aggressive idea: amalgamate Jay-Z’s abandoned rhymes from The Black Album (which had already been appear as a abstracted almanac alleged Acappella) with articulate and agreeable genitalia from the Beatles’ White Album. It would be the ultimate mash-up, accelerated by advances in technology.
After piecing the anthology calm in his bedchamber flat in a few abbreviate weeks, Burton apprenticed up 3,000 CDs. He alleged his computer files “The Black-White Album,” so artlessly the almanac came to be accepted as The Grey Album.
By the aurora of this century, the Wild West canicule of sampling were appealing abundant over, acknowledgment to battleground cases like the Turtles suing De La Soul for the crooked use of a baby bit of their accessory hit “You Showed Me” on 3 Feet High and Rising. Clearing samples has become an industry unto itself, with armies of attorneys allowance songwriters amount out if they’d adopt a lump-sum acquittal or a co-writing acclaim for the assimilation of their sampled song.
In that context, The Grey Anthology seemed abnormally brazen. Burton would accept he hadn’t acquired acknowledged clearances for the Beatles tracks, but he additionally acquainted he didn’t accept to: He argued that he wasn’t activity to advertise the album, but aloof accord abroad copies to adolescent producers and sample-obsessed audiophiles. He accepted there were “questions and issues” about the album, but that he didn’t “know the answers to abounding of them.” Defenders of the anthology fabricated the case that it was actual abundant in befitting with hip-hop’s attitude of music as collage art.
But some copies did end up for auction on eBay, amid added outlets, and others popped up online. Jay-Z and Paul McCartney both acutely had no issues with The Grey Album; Damon Dash, afresh alive for Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella label, enthused about the way it brought “two abundant legends together.” But EMI, which controls the publishing rights for the Beatles’ records, was not so affectionate and beatific Burton a cease-and-desist order, afterwards which he yanked it from his website.
To beef EMI’s action, about 200 websites offered chargeless downloads of the anthology on February 24, 2004 — “Grey Tuesday,” it was called. Those sites were additionally hit with acknowledged letters, but that day, added than a actor copies of The Grey Album were allegedly downloaded. Had it been an official, acknowledged release, The Grey Anthology would accept been one of the acknowledged albums of that year.
Next to the seamless samples of avant-garde pop, The Grey Album sounds about primitive; the agreeable stitches are easier to spot, and at times it feels a little forced. But the anthology charcoal amazing and able (and actually bigger than best of the beastly rap-rock admixture that preceded it). The alloy of Jay-Z’s anecdotal of his activity in “December 4th” with the acoustic guitar bend from “Mother Nature’s Son” works on agreeable and agreeable levels, as does the aggregate of Jay’s anti-media tirades in “99 Problems” with the antagonistic riff from “Helter Skelter.” I still adulation the way John Lennon’s “Oh, yeah!” exclamations and George Harrison’s aged guitar in “Glass Onion” advance forth “Encore,” and how the august piano from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” propels Jay-Z’s call of his career adventure in “What Added Can I Say” (even if the band “I’m at the Trump International, ask for me” now all-overs out, and not in the best way). The anthology charcoal what it consistently was — a lively, affective agreement that doesn’t abate either of the aboriginal albums and, in fact, reminds you of some the glories of each.
Would we get to apprehend such an agreement now? To be sure, the anthology formed wonders for Burton, who fabricated a name for himself with it and went on to aftermath annal for U2, the Black Keys, Norah Jones, Beck, and others, and become bisected of Gnarls Barkley. But far added so than in the post-Napster canicule of 2004, the music business is on bend about absorb infringement. In the deathwatch of cases like the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, so abounding songwriters are actuality abject into cloister that, as Rolling Stone appear aftermost month, some accept taken out errors-and-omissions allowance in case they charge advice advantageous for absorb lawsuits. If anyone had the angle of creating article affiliated to The Grey Album now, those thoughts would be bound extinguished, advised not account the accident and cost.
For those who appetite to coursing it down, The Grey Anthology survives, on YouTube and eBay, area afresh printed vinyl copies are for sale. In whatever form, they’re reminders of a added innocent, beneath litigious, and added freewheeling time — one that, in the calmly ashamed music apple of 2020, seems anytime added aback in the rearview mirror.
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