In theory, Johnny Cash Remixed is supposed to make Johnny Cash’s iconic songbook from the ‘50s and ‘60s palatable to these youngsters with baggy pants who are always quoting some dude named Jay-Z. Problem is, even despite his death, Johnny Cash has always been palatable to new generations, because his songs cover universal subjects like trying to get a woman to love you, hating being locked-up (even metaphorically), and changing your ways for your significant other.
But apparently, a group of producers (Johnny’s son, John Carter Cash, Snoop Dogg, and Beyonce’s papa, Mathew Knowles) think that what Johnny’s music is missing is heavy bass, guest raps from Snoop, and new mixes from Pete Rock as well as some no-name producers and bands that have no business even getting near Cash’s master tapes. You can almost hear the conversation take place:
John Carter Cash: Hey, Snoop and Mathew. I’m calling because I want to find a new royalty stream for my dad’s estate. I think we should take my dad’s original songs and turn them into terrible “hip-hop” versions. I’m hoping you guys can help get some producers on board.
Snoop: I’m getting paid, right?
Cash: Of course. I’m thinking we find no-name producers who will just be excited by the prospect of being on the album in the first place, so then we can tell them not to mess with my dad’s voice, just add heavier bass, and maybe hop in and steal a few lines from him. They’ll have no choice but to just make the remixes simple, so that they’re basically just faster and louder versions of the original. Basically, I want them to be exactly like those horrible remixes of tracks from Thriller that will.i.am did this year.
Snoop: I’m getting paid, right?
Carter Cash: Of course. Who do you think we can get to produce some tracks? Is that Pharrell guy available?
Mathew Knowles: We can’t afford him. How about the Heavy? I hear they’re a big band in the U.K. or something.
Cash: What, the Kooks aren’t available?
Knowles: No. And we’ll get the guy who did the same hack job on Frank Sinatra’s catalog to destroy “Get Rhythm.” And Alabama 3, the band that did the theme song for The Sopranos — they’d be perfect to do this project. What else are they doing? We’ll give them “Leave That Junk Alone.” Hopefully they make it sound as close as possible to that theme song.
Snoop: Then where do I come in? I’m getting paid, right?
Knowles: Of course. We’ll have you do a mailed-in verse on “Walk the Line,” during which you mostly just repeat what Johnny says, and constantly defer to him. It’ll be awesome. This album will totally get young kids excited about Johnny Cash. They probably haven’t heard his songs on commercials, seen his biopic, or heard any of those albums he did with Rick Rubin. We are going to sell so many copies. Kids today will eat this up…
End of conversation.
It makes sense that John Carter Cash would consent to this defacement of his dad’s work — his livelihood depends on how much money he can wring out of his dad’s estate. Knowles’ desire for riches is well known (firing his daughter’s friends to make the group “better”), and Snoop gave up on credible artistic statements sometime between beating his murder rap and having a series on E!.
But it’s hard trying to figure out what the motivation is here. It’s not like people who own original copies of Cash’s records on vinyl are dying for a chance to hear what “Sugartime” sounds like as a dance track. And if new listeners are trying to figure out Cash’s importance for themselves, I venture to say that Johnny Cash Remixed isn’t even in the top 30 for albums by Cash they’d pick up.
The main problem isn’t even that the remixes are utterly terrible (with the exception of Pete Rock’s merely OK mix of “Folsom Prison Blues”); it’s that they’re so unnecessary. Johnny Cash Remixed is like having Frank Miller paint a Marv from Sin City on to the Mona Lisa. Is the painting more exciting for art fans of today? Sure it is. But is it better? No, it’s a sin against the original artistic motive, a deliberate disfigurement of someone’s art for more profit. George Lucas probably thinks these guys went over the line.