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Merged music creates mash-up hits

Geoff Boucher Los Angeles Times

You flip the radio dial and hear a blurry wash of rock guitars. Ah, it’s one of the season’s signature rock songs, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day.

No, wait – isn’t that Liam Gallagher’s wavering, nasal voice? The song must be the Brit-pop classic “Wonderwall” by Oasis.

Hold on – now it sounds like Travis and, uh, can that really be Aerosmith?

Don’t adjust your radio or bother trying to sing along. You’re caught in a mash-up. We live in a culture of reruns, recycling and “re-imaginings” and the example of the moment is the song described above, one of several “mash-ups” that are being played on progressive radio stations in Los Angeles.

They are also catching the attention of MTV (in a big way, with a key series devoted to mash-ups) and the world’s largest record company, Universal Music Group (in a small way, with the first commercially released single of a mash-up song).

The mash-up in some form or another has been around for a decade, but the scene crystallized for outsiders last year when Danger Mouse, a record producer, completed his aptly named “The Grey Album” – a mashing of the Beatles’ so-called “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album.”

It was an underground sensation, but a legal sore spot: the custodians of Beatles music quashed its widespread release as a CD. So “Grey” never made it to stores, but it percolated far enough into the mainstream that Entertainment Weekly named it the best album of 2004.

The blending, blurring, banging or stitching together of two or more songs has been a core move for hip-hop and electronic dance DJs since they first put together two turntables and a microphone. What’s changed is that now the urge to merge is catching on in a big way in the rock scene.

There are bazaars of mash-ups on the Internet, where file sharing gives a wealth of source material and the blog culture dovetails with the mash-up tenets of digesting, personalizing and posting that source material.

Tom Calderone, executive vice president of MTV’s music and talent programming, said the allure is why MTV banked on mash-up magic last year with “Collision Course,” which left the mashing not to a DJ but to the artists. The music station brought New York rap sultan Jay-Z to L.A. to meld his hits with the wail of Linkin Park.

The resulting live CD debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts. MTV is in discussions to follow up with shows this year that include proposals that would pair Green Day and Ludacris, Missy Elliott and Maroon 5, and Coldplay and Justin Timberlake. The station is also in talks with 50 Cent to see which artist he might see as a meld candidate.

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