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Paula Abdul Proves That Everything Old Is New Again

Jun 8th, 1990

MIXING IT UP!

Paula Abdul Proves That Everything Old Is New Again


By David Browne
Entertainment Weekly - June 8, 1990 

LAST MONTH, record stores across the country were shipped 750,000 copies of Paula Abdul's new album, Shut Up and Dance (The Dance Mixes). 

Actually, "new" is a relative term. You may notice something jarringly
familiar about Shut Up and Dance, namely its song titles: "Cold Hearted," "Straight Up," "The Way That You Love Me," and more from her debut album, Forever Your Girl. 

Welcome to the world of dance remixes, where old and new hits are elongated into bass-heavy rhythm tracks suitable for clubs and parties.

In the case of Shut Up and Dance, seven of the 10 tracks on Abdul's unexpectedly huge Forever Your Girl were stretched-thorough electronic editing, extended instrumental breaks, and other studio wizardry-- so that only 19:54 of the album's 50:02 could be called fresh.

Rip-off? Not necessarily. Madonna, Bobby Brown, and Jody Watley have released dance remix albums. Brown's current Dance!... Ya Know It! has sold 1.5 milliion copies, validating the idea commercially.

That explains why Milli Vanilli have just weighed in with their own offering, The Remix Album, containing dance versions of the five top 10 hits as well as several new tracks.

Extending songs into sleek, continuous dance tracks is a specialized art form, involving creative slicing and dicing, either by hand or on high-tech multi-track recording consoles (complete with DAT tape and computers). 

To create "The Way That You Love Me (Houseafire Edit)," for instance, Las Vegas DJ and remixer Chris Cox used two reel-to-reel tape decks to cut the track up into tiny bits. Then he physically rearranged the song and taped the bits together for a final edit. "Dance-club DJs love [a dance mix], because it gives them more variety to work with," Cox says.

But why isn't there an all-new Abdul album in the racks? For one thing, the ex-LA Laker cheerleader has been too busy the past year-- first choreographing the Oscar telecast and now preparing to do the same for Oliver Stone's film bio of the Doors-- to work on music. More important, Forever Your Girl is still going strong.

Originally released in June 1988, it was a slow seller until its third single ("Straight Up") took off six months later. The album already has sold six million copies making it Virgin's biggest hit to date, and is nearing seven million even though the company has stopped releasing singles from it.

"There's no great rush [to do a new album]," says Gemma Corfield, Virgin's director of artists & repertoire administration and executive producer of Forever Your Girl. The earliest a new work is expected is late 1990.

So until that official follow-up appears, there's "Shut Up and Dance." At first the idea of stretching one album into two and selling the second record to the same public that bought millions of the copies of its predecessor might seem crass, the ultimate in go-for-it product marketing. 

After all, the Madonna, Brown, and Watley dance-mix releases drew their material from two or three albums; Shut Up and Dance is taken from only one. But that attitude overlooks the broader social context.

"Shut Up and Dance," all kidding aside (well maybe not all kidding), is a mirror for our times: 

1. IT IS, IN ITS WAY, A HISTORICAL DOCUMENT

Since Shut Up and Dance contains all four of Abdul's No.1 hits, she becomes the first recording artist ever to release a greatest-hits album after only one record. 

2. IT'S COST-EFFICIENT FOR THE CONSUMER

Now that new releases cost $12 to $15 per CD, it's a shame to experiment with hard-earned dollars on music that's untested and unfamiliar. With Shut Up and Dance, you know these songs, but not like this. "Some people will look at the cover and say, 'Oh, it's the same songs,'" remixer Cox says. "But when you really get into the technical and aesthetic aspects of it, it's not." 

3. IT DOCUMENTS THE INCREASING MECHANIZATION OF THIS CENTURY

A recording artist need not be in the studio-- or even in the country-- for the creation of a dance-mix album. For Shut Up and Dance, Abdul didn't record any new vocals; the one part that may seem new, her "rap" halfway through "Cold Hearted," was first released last year on a 12-inch single. Abdul did come up with the album's title. "She just liked it," Corfield says, adding, "She was involved. She'd be down at the studio. But it's not like you have to record anything else." 

4. IT'S ENVIROMENTALLY CORRECT

Since recycling of paper and cans is now so fashionable, what better way to sharpen environmental awareness than an album of recycled music? Even the record's LP jacket and CD long boxes are printed on 100 percent recyclable paper. As Corfield explains, "It's not just a rehashed version of the same stuff. Well, it is, to some extent, but it isn't."

5. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST HONEST RECORDS EVER MADE

Refreshingly, no one is claiming that Shut Up and Dance is a heartfelt artistic statement. As Abdul herself admitted to Rolling Stone, "I'm no Aretha
Franklin." Explains Corfield, "It's an additional piece to sell, and it also continues the life of the [original] album to some extent."

6. IT UPHOLDS A GRAND BUT UNAPPRECIATED TRADITION IN POP MUSIC: THE SOUVENIR ALBUM

Pop encompasses such outright absurdities as Elvis Presley's Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, an entire album of pieced-together stage patter, and Yes' 90125 Live/The Solos, which collected individual instrument solos from songs recorded in concert.

Shut Up and Dance makes a significant contribution to this legacy with its concluding track: a seven minute medley of all the preceding numbers. "I think the medley is really cool," Corfield says, tongue somewhat in cheek. "Seven different songs and the way they blend into each other-- it's brilliant."

WHAT WITH SHUT Up and Dance and Abdul's recent Diet Coke and Reebok commercials, are her marketers worried about overexposing her? "There was some concern," Jim Swindel, senior vice president and general manager of Virgin, says, but "I'm not totally convinced that we've saturated Paula Abdul for the consumer."

In other words, the phrase "forever your girl" could now be taking on a whole new meaning.

Filed under: Forever Your Girl

 

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