Have you ever accidentally played a record at the wrong speed and enjoyed the slow version more than the original? Tempo is one of the most important factors in setting the mood of a song. Want people to go nuts on the dancefloor? Speed it up. Want people to relax and melt into their seats? Slow that thing right down. The following are great examples of songs that get re-invented simply by changing their speed.
Dolly Parton – Jolene
One of the most popular examples of slowing a song down to reveal something new is Dolly Parton’s country classic, “Jolene”. The song appeared all over the internet when a YouTube user discovered that turning the record down to 33.3 rpm turned the song into an even more painful, emotional plea. That video went viral, and the slowed-down version was even used on the TV series The Blacklist.
It seems that Jack White might have known about this little hidden gem 10 years earlier though, as the White Stripes used to cover Jolene in a style very similar to the slowed-down version.
Gary Low – I Want You
Never heard of this one? Well you may have heard it without realizing.
The song was sampled by Washed Out in his song “Feel It All Around”, which is also used as the opening theme in Portlandia. He took the original beat and all its 80s hokeyness, slowed it way down, and turned it into one of the chillest songs ever.
The Beatles – Because
This one is a bit different as it’s not simply slowed-down, but rather is stretched to 800% of its original length. The vocal harmonies of the original become even more beautiful, ethereal, and abstract ambient textures. It’s a perfect combination of beauty and terror.
Edith Piaf – Non, Je ne regrette rien
Maybe you think you have never heard of this song, or even of Edith Piaf. But if you’ve ever seen the movie Inception, you’d be wrong.
The song was used within the story of the film as a signal to the characters within a dream to “kick” them into another reality, but that’s not the cool part. Written by the legendary composer Hans Zimmer, the entire score of the film (including those signature horn blasts) originates from the late Edith Piaf’s song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”.
Playing off the concept of time-dilation used in the film, Zimmer explained how he constructed the score in an interview with The New York Times:
“All the music in the score is subdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Édith Piaf track. So I could slip into half-time; I could slip into a third of a time. Anything could go anywhere. At any moment I could drop into a different level of time.” (Source)
Mind = blown.
Nicki Minaj – Super Bass
Seriously, don’t be so quick to skip this one. It seems ridiculous at first but some of these tunes are actually really intricately crafted pop/electronic songs, and slowing them down helps to distinguish all the layers within them. And to make things even weirder, she kind of sounds just like Jay-Z.
Back in ’96, Richard D. James explained in an interview that a lot of his music is meant to be played slower than it appears on his records.
“Many of my tracks are better if you play them at 33 rpm. I have never denied that. That’s also why my pieces are so short: you can only press them onto maxi singles if they are short at 45 rpm. If they go for too long, then they don’t fit onto the vinyl—and then you can’t play them slower. That’s also the real reason why my album ended up so short. Buy it on vinyl. Instead of 33 minutes, you actually get 45, you understand? And there you have it, an album of standard length.” (Source)
Aphex Twin records are incredibly complex, multi-layered, rule-breaking and mind-shattering; and slowing them down not only changes the feel of the song, it actually allows your brain to more easily pick out and process each layer. Slowing these songs down can be a fun exercise in trying to figure out how James composes a song, or otherwise just a new way to appreciate his music.
Madeon – Icarus
This young French producer has a gift for creating some of the catchiest and dance-inducing electronic beats. But if you slow down his song “Icarus”, you get a nice little chilled-out electronic track perfect for those moments when your feet need a break.
The Breeders – Cannonball
This song’s minimalism makes it inherently fairly chill. But if you play the record at 33.3 speed, it reaches a whole new level of lazy.
Mr. Flagio – Take a Chance
According to the internet, this obscure Italian disco track was a big hit back in the 80s.
Take that record and slow it down though, and you get this incredible dark, demonic, Daft Punk style song that proves that hell is real.
Take one of the most relentlessly fast and thrashy records in Metallica’s discography and play it at 33.3 rpm and you’re treated to some of the sludgiest and heaviest riffs you’ll ever hear.
Take one of their heaviest songs and slow it down, and you will truly believe the end of the world is coming.