Revisionist History Vol 1: 1984


As it turns out, that whole “singer or the song?” conundrum is more complicated—and intriguing—than anyone had thought. To wit: What happens when a perfectly formed pop song is kidnapped, undressed, whisked through a time machine, and given a fully convincing disguise? The happy geniuses of Music for Picture got to thinking that very thing late one night: Wouldn’t it be cool if…? The answer: Revisionist History Vol 1, in which Music for Picture’s Kinda-Wayback Machine rescues a dozen of 1984’s finest tunes (known and less so) from their certain fate and gives them vibrant new life. (Bonus points to those who spot the one track that’s actually from 1971; double bonus points to anyone who knows how to tune up a time machine.)

If Music for Picture’s day-to-day efforts can be called a labor of love (they’ve provided the crisply tailored music behind instantly recognizable ad campaigns for Volkswagen, Bridgestone, Northwest Airlines and others), then Revisionist History Vol I finds that amour in the ascendant. It was a simple matter of creatively combining the producers’ Rolodex of artists and musicians (deep) with their knowledge of music history (deeper)—which, okay, sure, they do every day. But think of it this way: You’re standing an inch from a painting (more a Warhol than a Van Gogh), studying its textures and contours…then you step back to take in the full view. Revisionist History Vol I pushes craft ever closer to art; it’s what you might hear if ads didn’t have to be 30 seconds. Also, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The disc can be understood via the simplest of math. For example: Torch Singer + Strings + Violent Femmes = Track 1, a.k.a. “Please Do Not Go” (if you lived in a dorm in the ’80s, you’ve heard it), in which rootsy chanteuse Kelli Rae Powell replaces the original’s twitchy plea with the full-bodied sultriness it now seems to have always wanted. Or: Samba + Ska + Stevie Wonder = Track 3, “I Just Called To Say I Love You” (if you breathe, you’ve heard it).

If Revisionist History Vol I was built on basic arithmetic, it also employs the sort of instrumental alchemy that Music for Picture specializes in. The arrangements retain just enough of a familiar, “Wait, is this…?” kick to raise eyebrows at your next party. Dwight Twilley reinterpreted as synth-pop; John Waite reinvented as not being annoying; and of course Stevie Wonder—well, that one you’ve got to hear for yourself. If you don’t know all of the originals, fear not: When Music for Picture revisits 1984, it’s less about Big Brother and more like that big brother with the cool record collection…and a remixing machine from the future.