There’s at least one obsessive geek hiding inside all of us. I think I probably have several, but one that comes out around here every now and then is fascinated with 45rpm remixes and how they compare to album versions. When AM radio ruled, what sounded good coming down off an AM wave into a one-speaker radio in your house or car was different from what would sound good coming straight off the vinyl through your big home speakers. Motown was famous for being especially cognizant of this, and mixed its singles for maximum lo-fi punch, but other labels did it, too. I’ve written about some of my favorite examples here—the singles from Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 album and nearly every Three Dog Night single. The remix rationale was partly artistic, yeah, but also financial—if you could make your record jump off the radio, it was more likely to sell.
Here’s a familiar record. Click it and listen here, or download it below.
Sounds fine, right? Well, yeah, until you hear the version that was released on 45—the one that rose to Number 14 on the Hot 100 that fall. The highs are cranked up generally, which give the guitars more bite throughout. The hi-hat cymbal is cranked up especially. There’s a rhythm guitar audible beginning eight seconds in and continuing throughout that you can’t hear on the album version. The drums are placed a bit farther back in the 45 mix—the biggest difference is at the 15-second mark. On the album version, the snare comes banging in too loud, but on the 45, it sounds just right.
The farther along the record goes, the more drastic the differences become. I am guessing that the guitar solo, which begins at about the 1:37 mark, is not just a remix, but a different performance. But the biggest differences are yet to come. Listen right after the solo, starting at around the 2:00 mark. For the next 20 seconds, the album version emphasizes the bass guitar, but the single emphasizes the electronic whoosh that’s confined to the background on the album version. Then notice when the singers come back in. On the album version, they’re in the same harmony they were when they sang the same lines earlier in the song—on the single, the harmony is different. Plus, the vocal goes on just a bit longer than on the album version.
“Free Ride” is one of the most striking examples I know of the difference remixing could make. The 45 captures the reckless abandon inherent in the idea of a free ride. The album version sounds much less free.
“Free Ride” (album version)/Edgar Winter Group (buy They Only Come Out at Night here)
“Free Ride” (45 version)/Edgar Winter Group (Finding this particular version probably isn’t going to be easy. Mine comes from an out-of-print compilation called Cleveland Rocks: Music from The Drew Carey Show. I don’t know if it was ever released on one of Winter’s own compilations.)