Jack White Sells Out with Alicia Keys?

I never really liked Run DMC’s remake, if that’s what you can call it, of Aerosmith’s hit “Walk this Way”. Depending on how you look at it, it may not have been a remake as much as a legitimate new creative product. I doubt the latter, as the guitar riff is unmistakably Aerosmith, and for it to be a legit new product, entire and easily recognizable portions of a “song” –if you can refer to rap as “song”– can’t be mirrored in other songs. It can be reminiscent, but not a copy paste scenario.

Setting aside issues of legitimate authorship and musical taste, the remake did have some good effects. It salvaged Aerosmith’s butts, whose career was on its way to being relegated as a “goodies oldies bar band” –whose prospects were probably only seedy truck stops and corresponding bars.

Also in the process, Run DMC introduced good ol’ rock and roll to kids that probably had never seen, heard, and probably hadn’t conceptualized an electric guitar. They also introduced rap to rhythmicly challenged white folks. This might be called a market cross-over ploy.

On the part of Run DMC, I’m not sure if this was a thought out market plan. This might be giving them too much credit. If anything, they got people that would have never bothered to listen to rap to do so –if only to satisfy (morbid?) curiosity.

Having said that, as I’m sit here listening to the White Stripes singer Jack White perform a duet with a R&B female singer named Alicia Keys, I wonder about this obvious marketing ploy. I usually hate these marketing tactics, finding them cheap, predicable, even morally decadent.

Now I have to admit, I think this single actually pulls it off, barring a few questionable notes on the part of Alicia. To be honest, I don’t think Jack steps out of his comfort zone, and this may be –in part– why it works. I doubt the inverse scenario of having Jack do his bit on a R&B duet would work. Alicia also does an “ok” job with her vocals, despite the previously mentioned bum notes.

Without going into a flown blown musical critique, Jack uses some interesting “call and response” work between his guitar and Alicia’s voice –which brings to mind the the Plant/Page work within Led Zeppelin. The piano is a nice touch too, showing Alicia in more of an active participant role, rather than just a vocal guest. It would be interesting to see the song credits to verify Alicia’s exact composition and studio recording involvement.

See it for yourself, on You Tube.

Maurice Cepeda

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3 thoughts on “Jack White Sells Out with Alicia Keys?

  1. Um, okay—I don’t see how Run DMC could have introduced anyone to rock guitar riffs, considering their heyday was the 1980’s, the decade that introduced ‘hair band’ metal and ‘rap’ into the mainstream. Run DMC’s second album was called “King of Rock” using guitar riffs and feedback and that preceded the “Raising Hell” album by two years so, your biases make for lazy opinions.

    Also, musicians from radically different backgrounds always find ways to compliment each other and respect each others accomplishments. I don’t see Stevie Wonder complaining about Red Hot Chili Peppers’ (inferior) version of his “Higher Ground.” Is he a ‘sellout’ for letting them cover his tune?

    I’m not the biggest Alicia Keyes fan, but I can see why Jack White would want to perform with her—she’s a talented performer and her vocal style is an interesting contrast to his own. Somehow I think both of these artists deserve more credit than your throwaway ‘marketing ploy’ line suggests.

  2. Do you seriously think that 70s bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath –which are responsible for establishing hard driving guitar riff oriented rock music– are to be over looked for disposable 80s hair bands? Clearly, the 80s are not the guitar riff heydays. Plus, there’s tons of 80s music that is not guitar orientated (ie., the electronic New Wave movement with which many associate the 80s).

    I think comparing King of Rock and Raising Hell is a mistake. Do you think that TIME’s listing of Raising Hell among 100 best albums little? … or Rolling Stone’s among the 500 greatest albums little? I don’t think so; King of Rock is NOT comparable. But it really doesn’t matter all that much because what matters is that the single, “Walk this Way”, entered social consciousness like few other songs, and I feel relatively sure –being the lazy writer that you say I am– that not one of the singles on the album you mention from King of Rock can match, despite your (over) reliance on quantitative data. I don’t know how old you are, but I don’t have to resort to quantitative information because I lived though this “era”, actually … I grew up while this was all entering pop culture.

    What I mean by introducing guitar riffs to a group of people is that RunDMC brought attention to guitar riffs from within the black community –whose contemporary popular music largely ignores the guitar and which to this day remains quite removed culturally –including musically from the rest of society [something you can’t deny]. To say otherwise, I think, would be quite foolish –to put it nicely. But to the point, don’t you think that having music played all over the radios and on tv (the sort that a hit such as “Walk this way” was played) might reach a marginalized ethnic group? Think about it.

    As far as I know, performers and authors can’t stop others from covering their tunes; I mean that’s why they get royalties –maybe law differs from one part of the world to another on this. Even if this weren’t so, why should Stevie Wonder complain about his songs being “covered” since he’s probably making a bundle off of the generated royalties –especially if it’s a large grossing band such as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers?

    As for accusing one artist of selling out because another artist does their song, that analogy makes about as much sense as accusing a knife manufacturer of murder because a customer kills with their knife. To correct your logic, you could justly accuse the customer with murder (after all it’s the customer doing the deed), just like I accuse White and Keys for doing a duet for marketing purposes. Think about that, too.

    As for not giving credit where it is due, I did say White and Keys pull it off, didn’t I?

  3. Other than the above, I think my articles always have a certain degree of a facetious tone to them, although the subject matter and what I’m conveying may be serious. Maybe you’re partially reacting to that.

    ie., Saying that Aerosmith was geared towards being a goodies oldies band before RunDMC is probably accurate, that certainly was the impression in Canada pre-RunDMC, but it’s also humorous to bring it up in such way.

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