Brandi Carlile decided to honor Joni Mitchell with a concert. A fan of Mitchell, Carlile decided to cover Mitchell’s entire “Blue” album.
Carlile has performed Mitchell’s songs on tour in recent years, such as “River” and “A Case of You.” She performed the latter with Kris Kristofferson at a 75th birthday celebration for Mitchell in 2018.
“I met her and I told her in very brief terms how much she meant to me,” Carlile told Rolling Stone about Mitchell. “She said, ‘Right on, man! You did a great job.’ I’ll never forget that Joni Mitchell called me ‘man.’ It was awesome.”
It’s a unique moment in musical culture. Carlile took an already legendary and influential album and performed it in a new way, experts said. Carlile rebooted an entire album.
But rebooting albums isn’t common. Covers — where artists redo a song from an artists — are common. But a true reboot — where artists redo an entire album, line for line, with the exact same sound — are wildly rare. And there are plenty of reasons why artists don’t do them, experts told me.
Hollywood is packed with reboots. Disney brought back the “Star Wars” franchise after a major hiatus. Universal spawned the “Jurassic World” series, a sequel series to the “Jurassic Park” films. On TV, shows like “Will and Grace” and “Roseanne” both saw short stints of reboots. Rumors have hovered for years about a reboot of “The Office” and other famous TV programs.
But when it comes to music, reboots are a little harder to pull off. You can’t cast new band members. You can’t embrace authentic lyrics the way an original writer can. Artists can cover their favorite songs or albums. But that’s mostly done to honor the artist and pay tribute to a specific type of sound, rather than bring the original songs back into the spotlight, experts said.
So why don’t we reboot music the way we do movies? Why can we bring back bell-bottoms and fashion trends, but disco music stays hidden in the ’70s?
And, much like Ian Malcolm suggests in “Jurassic Park,” just because we can reboot music, does that mean we should?
Why we don’t reboot music
What would rebooting music look like? You’d have to gather artists in one room. Rerecord the music note for note. Sing the exact same lyrics. Create a dynamic that’s close to the original. There are so many factors. On top of that, could you create a second version of a classic album? Eminem and Jay-Z remade some of their classics (“The Marshall Mathers LP” and “The Blueprint,” respectively, saw sequels). But would Drake ever record a reboot to “The Blueprint” titled “The Blueprint: Reboot”? Probably not.
There’s a reason — albums are incredibly unique and are oftentimes something that can’t be reworked, according to Jeremy Wallach, a professor in the department of popular culture at Bowling Green State University.
Drake smiles as he watches the Toronto Raptors take on the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Toronto. Frank Gunn, The Canadian Press via Associated Press
“An album represents a snapshot in time and place, but also the precise feelings of the artists at the time,” he said. “It’s supposed to be an authentic self expression. That would make classic albums classic.”
Rebooting a classic album would be inauthentic because it’s not an artist’s true self-expression he said. You’re expressing someone else’s expressions.
If original artists reboot an album, it’s a “nostalgia trip,” he said.
If a new artist does it, “it would be someone else’s self-expression. It would be sort of by rote. So it wouldn’t work and that’s why it’s not done.”
Music relies on a personal relationship between listener and artist, Wallach said. It can’t be replicated easily by another artists.
Movies can be redone because they’re often made for the masses. Showing off dinosaurs on screen in “Jurassic World” isn’t always as intimate as, say, Taylor Swift’s “RED” album, which was reportedly centered around her breakup with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Movies are collaborative, he said. Insiders know movies and music are created with producers, editors, artists, directors and an entire staff of people who know how to put it all together.
Hollywood will reboot “The Great Gatsby,” “The Manchurian Candidate” or “Psycho” and it will turn into a major media event. Nothing like that exists in the music industry, Wallach said.
Bryce Dallas Howard stars in “Jurassic World.”Chuck Zlotnick, Universal
People don’t see it that way, though. The common perception is that music is created by a few people in a room. Music is “lightning in a bottle” to most people, Wallach said.
“And if it was redone in a convincing way, that would throw the whole enterprise into question, and that’s an uncomfortable truth,” he said.
“The music industry wants you to believe that a classic album can only come out once.”
Of course, music can be redone. There are examples of people redoing albums and reworking old works of music for the modern times. For example, in 2005, Kanye West and Jamie Foxx sampled Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” for the song “Gold Digger.” Though West and Foxx simply used the chorus, it was one way of reimagining an older song for the modern day.
Another example — “The Nightmare Before Christmas” rerecorded its entire album of songs for its rerelease in 2008. New versions of “This Is Halloween” now exist from Panic! at the Disco and Marilyn Manson.
The Flaming Lips and Les Claypool remade Pink Floyd’s albums “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Animals,” respectively. But these were more about appreciation and tributes, Wallach said. They weren’t trying to remake an exact album word for word.
Jack Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”Disney Enterprises Inc.
Bands and artists will also rework their own music. They will perform their hits for compilation albums. They will rerelease their favorite songs for “greatest hit” albums. But these aren’t exact reboots. They don’t capture the original feel.
“All these things are seen as kind of commentaries are or tributes or parodies,” Wallach said. “They’re not seen as reboots. They’re not seen as really borrowing from the original.”
Movies inspire fan films and recreations. “Star Wars” fans will create fan films that use the Jedi robes, lightsabers and other props to make it seems like a “Star Wars” movie. Music can be similar in that way. You have tribute bands who will play old classics, relying on the hits.
Bands can improve the pop culture standing of a song, too. Consider “Landslide” from Fleetwood Mac. Dixie Chicks — er, sorry, The Chicks — made that song and “made it a hit,” said Gage Averill, dean of the faculty of arts at the University of British Columbia.
“I think people would cover songs in order to eternalize them and reproduce them in their own style. That’s the most difficult cover gesture.”
And it’s more different than you believe.
Why don’t we reboot the genres?
Rebooting genres doesn’t happen all too easily, either. Disco music doesn’t make a comeback in the same way bell-bottoms do. Rock music from Johnny Crash likely wouldn’t hit the radio waves in 2020.
According to Wallach, songs from older generations were made using different equipment. Modern technology changes the music is made today. Auto-tune, production sounds and more come from the new equipment.
The music industry has shifted in a number of ways over the last few decades, too. Albums don’t have as much meaning as they used to, according to Averill.
People will open an album on Spotify so they can check out a song or two. Maybe they cruise through the entire album and pick out a song or two they enjoy.
“You’ll have someone drop an album and then it’s an internet sensation for a week and that’s it, and then it’s just whatever is streaming at the time,” he said.
But the sounds from an older generation trickle down and still influence those new songs. Guitar work from “Johnny B. Goode” influences The Beach Boys, who influenced The Ramones, who influenced modern punk music.
“You can trace the influence of things,” Wallach said. “Anything laid down on wax and you can still listen to is going to influence somebody.”
The personal connections
People draw personal connections to their favorite songs. We’ll listen to a song or album we like and then listen to it again 10 years later. In a way, a classic album can be rebooted in modern times when we listen to it again, Averill said.
Songs are original to people because they have hit people emotionally, for whatever reason. It’s that light groove that just sort of captured that summer. “It’s a song that, you know, you’ve kind of fallen in love with somebody and that thing was on the radio, and you’ll never forget that association,” Averill said. “Those kinds of really powerful emotional connections to music really influence how people consume.”
Fans can reboot music if they avoid being passive consumers. Sometimes it’s inserting a song into a video. Sometimes it’s a television show inserting a song into a specific scene. Fans can run away with it and promote the song, Averill said.
Sometimes it is fans talking with artists and being apart of the creative process, Averill said. Creatively repurposing music can be an interesting way to see songs outlive their expiration date.
“The message is not trying to necessarily capture the original, but to do something very different with it, to take it as something plastic and it can be cracked open,” he said.