On Feb 24, the mix album The Grey Album that combines The Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album was downloaded over 100,000 times on various websites across the World Wide Web.
An Internet Music Reform Group called The Downhill Group sponsored what they named Grey Tuesday, an online protest of over 170 web sites that hosted the complete version of The Grey Album in response to EMI’s cease and desist order of the dissemination of the mix album.
The Downhill Group is claiming that EMI has no legal right to ban the album, since the mix album creates a new work out of the samples used and it does not interfere with sales of The White Album. Furthermore they claim that there is no federal copyright protection for sound recordings before 1972, although there are state laws. This also complicates issues, because that would mean that The Grey Album cannot be protected under Fair Use Doctrine, though any judge would probably apply the same standards to the case.
The Downhill Group is now claiming that The Grey Album was the number one album in America last week, moving more units then Norah Jones and Kane West, the top two sellers on the Billboard chart that both came in around the 100,000 mark in sales.
While the concept of this movement is groundbreaking and should be utilized by other protests, the album used is nothing of much note. As mix albums go it is fairly sub-par, mostly because of its disjointed nature at times. Danger Mouse uses the samples of such White Album songs as “Dear Prudence”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Blackbird”, “Piggies”, “Helter Skelter”, “Revolution 1″,”Sexie Sadie”,”I Will”, and “Julia” as window dressing underneath a slight mix of The Black Album, though there was hardly much tinkering with Jay-Z’s work at all. Though “Piggie” and “Change Clothes” is fairly amusing and “While My Guitar” combined with “What More Could I Say” does almost work in creating an epic dance floor sound.
Overall however it is important to keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to remix classic tracks and albums. While this might not be on the same level as the Orb’s bootleg electronic remixes of Pink Floyd’s Animals and Wish You Were Here, which are astounding works, especially the 20 minute version of “Pigs” where Robert Mitchum’s love and hate speech from Night of the Hunter is sampled in. Regardless the importance of The Grey Album comes not from its production brilliance but from the way it has been used as a tool for reform. The approach is what is most important here.
Ross Whitsett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.