Why Artists Are Re-Recording Their Classic Songs

Why Artists Are Re-Recording Their Classic Songs
January 4, 2013 | By More

Why Artists Are Re-Recording Their Classic Songs

Over the last couple of years there has been an increasing trend in artists re-recording some of their older, classic songs. The reasons for doing so vary depending on the situation, but we’ve seen bands of various genres taking part in this. Often times when a band does this it kind of confuses their fan base. Your favorite band brought out that album that made you fall in love with them almost fifteen years ago. As it edges closer to the anniversary of that impactful album’s release they wind up announcing that they are re-recording the entire album in celebration of the anniversary. There are some fans who will think it’s pretty cool to hear their favorite musician revisit one of the albums that helped them to connect with them. Then there are the majority of the fans who will think, “I already own that album.”

So what reason is there for an artist to justify taking the time from their schedule to re-record their classic songs? The reasons can be as different as the artists’ personalities themselves. Kid Rock is planning on going back into the studio to re-record his smash hit album “Devil without a Cause.” The album, released in 1998, went platinum eleven times and was one of those records that seems like a veritable soundtrack for the late nineties. It is an album that you would expect Kid to celebrate in some fashion. In an interview with Billboard, Kid Rock said that many of the songs will not be very different at all when compared to their original counterparts. There are some that he plans on tweaking and using what he’s learned over the last fifteen years as a musician to improve. Of particular note is the fact that he wants to take advantage of the way some of the songs are played live to breathe new life into certain tracks like “Wasting Time.” Although celebration and improvement are a part of his intent when it comes to re-recording, he also admits that part of the reason for wanting to re-record the songs is so that he will own the rights to the new versions.

Rights issues may be the most prevalent of all the reasons for artists re-visiting their old albums. Years ago the record industry was entirely different as most anyone knows. The deals that these artists had with their record labels may not have been favorable for them when it comes to royalties. Some bands are taking advantage of their ability to go back into the studio to re-record songs as a means to take back a chunk of change that they feel is rightfully theirs. Def Leppard is a good example of this. The boys in Def Leppard have been re-recording all of their old singles as they thumb their noses at their record label. They had been feuding with the Universal Music Group over digital downloads compensation for a good while. Def Leppard didn’t feel that they were getting a big enough piece of the pie when it came to the revenue stream that was coming in from iTunes and such. They decided that re-recording the biggest hits that they had would allow them to fight back. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, these re-recordings were dubbed “forgeries” by the band themselves. With the originals now side-by-side on iTunes along with these new re-recorded versions, Def Leppard will steal away at least some of the digital download revenue from the record label.

Def Leppard- “Rock Of Ages 2012”

Although wanting to own more of the rights to classic, successful songs is the most common reason for artists re-recording these days, there is another prevalent reason that needs mentioning. Some artists tend to go back into the studio to re-record albums when their line-up changes. Bands have members come and go. We all know this and sometimes it just doesn’t feel right when so many of the original members leave a band. Other times, a band can have a revolving line-up and it doesn’t really make much of a difference at all. It really just depends on whether the creative core of the band remains intact. When bands go through line-up changes, sometimes they decide to revisit certain songs or even whole albums with their new members. This is more often done when the band has added a new vocalist to the line-up. A different singer really changes the feel of a band to a high degree, and to reflect that new direction they are taking, an old hit might wind up being given a new coat of paint. Fan reactions to such things are usually a mixed bag.

One of the more famous instances of this in recent memory is Journey re-recording many of their classics with their new singer Arnel Pineda. Pineda’s voice has a very similar feel to Steve Perry’s, and the re-recordings done with more modern studio technology were a hit with many. They released these re-recorded classics alongside an album of new material, shipping the package with two discs. Many old school fans didn’t like the fact that they did new versions of the songs though. The thinking of some was that the classic versions are renowned and loved for a reason so there was no reason to re-record them. There are fans that take this as a slap in the face, feeling like it’s an attempt from the band to rewrite history, or subtly erase an era. That line of thinking may be a bit melodramatic, but if you really loved a particular old lead singer, then it can be understandably frustrating when a band tries to get their fan base to forget about the old and embrace the new. KISS is another artist who has re-recorded their “Klassics”.  In 2008, KISS re-recorded alot of their classic songs with current band members Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer.   Judging from reactions throughout the internet at the time of these re-releases, KISS fans were not happy with these new recordings.   Arch Enemy is another example of a band that wanted to redo things with a new singer. Back in 2009 they decided to take many of their favorite tracks from their first three albums and have them redone with Angela Gossow taking up the singing duties. They released this selection of rerecording’s as “The Root of All Evil.” Once again, people who were fans of those original three albums seemed to shake their heads at them going back into the studio to make new versions of these songs. Fans that discovered Arch Enemy during the Gossow-era were much more receptive and were really interested to hear the songs which were new to them.

Kiss ReRecord Compare Old-New

The best and most practical reason for a band to rerecord their old material is because there was something wrong with the master copies of the original recordings. If you have these beloved songs that deserve to be preserved and the current version of the studio recording doesn’t do it justice, then it makes sense to go back and do a new version of it in the studio. Sometimes a band also needs to re-record something so that it will work with a new medium. Third Eye Blind went back into the studio in 2009 to re-record several of their biggest hits for inclusion in the video game Rock Band. Something about the original master tracks didn’t mesh well with getting the songs to work well with the gameplay. Because of this the members of the band agreed to do new versions of “Jumper,” Semi-Charmed Life” and others. When it comes to things like this, and a practical reason is given for the re-recording, fans seem to universally be behind it.

Regardless of how you feel about artists revisiting their old material and putting out new versions of songs, it seems that it is a trend that isn’t going away. Sometimes it’s done as a celebration of something classic and other times it is more of an attempt to squeeze some money out of diehard fans. Re-recording material is something that should be viewed as a double-edged sword. Some bands may keep revisiting and remixing their old stuff instead of focusing on creativity and moving forward with new musical ventures. Others may be re-recording these old songs for more noble reasons such as making a better mix because the old one wasn’t up to snuff. The best part of it all is that we get to vote as consumers. If you like your favorite band or singer going back into the old days and making new versions of a hit, then you can vote with your dollars by buying a download off of iTunes or whatever your favorite music provider is. If you’d prefer for bands to focus on new music then avoid the re-releases. Money talks and what music is going to speak to you is entirely your choice. – Robert Porter


Even the best intentioned re-record projects usually end up going wrong in my opinion.  Or, at the very least, as Robert says, they almost always confuse the fanbase.  As with most things it generally comes down to dollars and cents.  If it’s bringing something new to the table or done for creative purposes like Anthrax re-recording their original Joey-era material with John Bush then it can be a very cool and unique thing.  Testament re-recorded some of their very early material just to try and do the sound quality justice and did a good job but that still doesn’t change the fact that most people are going to identify with and enjoy the original recordings more.  A band like KISS could easily make a case for re-recording some of their very early material, particularly “Hotter Than Hell” but again, there would most likely be a small portion of the current diehards insisting it was better with Tommy and Eric while the vast majority screamed blasphemy.  KISS did re-record a lot of their classic hits for a Japanese release, Jigoku Retsuden (later issued as a bonus disc with Sonic Boom)  and it mostly came down to not wanting to pay the old record company for usage of their material use in commercials.

When I hear a band’s re-recorded hits pop up on satellite radio it is almost instinctual for me to immediately change the channel.  I don’t need to hear a re-recorded version of “Sex Action” that sounds completely limp wristed and weak, next.  Thank god a band like Motley Crue was wise enough to secure their masters, most bands weren’t so lucky.  When I spoke to Don Dokken he lamented the old contracts he and many other artists signed.  It might not have occurred to many of the bands when they were receiving nice advance checks from the record company and touring arenas but now that most of the business of running a band falls upon the musicians themselves it is all too clear.  Either they find a way to capitalize on their songwriting and legacy or they get little or nothing in which case it makes it hard to justify forging on.  The honest to god worst part of it all is that it often puts a band at odds with its own fanbase when they go in and re-record a hits album since the sound and feel of the original recordings is sometimes completely changed.  I don’t like it and I suspect most fans don’t, but I get where the bands are coming from.  The best thing you can do as a consumer is to be an educated fan and know which CD’s or downloads are the original recordings or do like I do, take care of your vinyl! – John Parks


If you have any thoughts or opinions on this issue, please comment below.



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Comments (5)

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  1. Allister says:

    Nothing like a good Black Sabbath recording cranked up to 11!!!

  2. Dave says:

    I was one of the few KISS fans who really liked the re-recordings. Although there is something to be said for the cold, eerie, and compressed sound of the ’74 version of Hotter Than Hell, the re-recorded version kicks ass. As a die-hard fan, I’d like to hear some lesser known cuts re-recorded from production-poor albums like Unmasked, but obviously that will never happen because there is no money in it. But who can blame them. In 2012, only 10 albums went platinum and only 43 went gold. So if a band has to re-record hits to hang onto vanishing royalties, then consider it a commentary on the sad state of the music business.

  3. Jack says:

    Well for me, i dig alot of the re recordings…. and the labels screwed alot of musicians back then, even though the musicians had a hand in getting screwed as well, just to have a label backing them…. what ever helps the bands so they will continue to tour and write… sure i like the memories of the first time i bought the album, but i will by a new one for new memories as well… just my thoughts….

  4. Willie Toro says:

    I’m uaually if y about these re=recording of classic song and albums. Forme persoanlly, I prefer the originals because it was the soundtrack to my life in that particuakr period. If they can improve on the original (which most of them can’t anyway) then I can deal with it!! ( times out of 10, they usually suck and they lose the magic of the original!! So basically, I feel that they shouldn’t fuck with the original.

  5. Vintage Rock says:

    There’s a very simple reason why certain artists re-record their classic songs: The creative well has apparently run dry. If an artist got screwed over by his label, that’s a pretty sad reason to go out and re-record a song that’s already a hit. You can’t recapture the magic or spirit of the original record because when it was cut, the time was right and everything was aligned. For an artist, a record company or anyone else to think they can replicate the mood, groove and atmosphere of the original is a ridiculous notion. That’s like asking da Vinci to re-paint the Mona Lisa…