Hip-hop artists have been “chopping and screwing” mixes of their songs for years, which is to say they’ve been slowing them down to a more mellow pace. Recently, a group of vinyl-loving audiophiles have been treating some of their favorite songs the same way and posting them to YouTube. More than just a creepy name akin to a middle-aged dating scene, the 45-to-33 experiment happens when someone takes an old-school seven-inch single (often a well known one, but obscurities work too) and spins it at 33 rpm instead of the standard 45. The best part is that it requires no more technical skill than the ability to flip the speed on your turntable from 45 to 33. What’s so great about hearing songs played at the wrong speed? We’ve cherry-picked a truckload of tunes ideal for answering that very question.
Michael Jackson – “The Way You Make Me Feel”
After achieving solo super-stardom, the King of Pop did his best to sound edgy, yet still a product of his Motown past. But slowing down the a cappella mix of this 1987 hit sends Michael in the opposite direction, amping up the testosterone until you feel like you’re hearing a hot-and-bothered Rick James, albeit backed by the Kraftwerk choir.
Beirut – “East Harlem”
No, you’re not hearing the bottom-of-the-well basso profondo of Michael Gira, frontman for NYC post-punk pioneers Swans – it’s just what happens to the airy tenor of Beirut’s Zach Condon when the latter band’s 45 is dialed down to 33. Although maybe Gira should take note for future endeavors…
Shadows of Knight – “Dark Side”
Welcome to the secret origin story of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Did the attitudinal Aussies base their sound on slowing down a 1966 single by the Midwestern garage rockers famed for their version of “Gloria”? Not really, but this newfound evidence would make for a great alternate backstory.
Starship – “We Built This City”
We’re fully prepared to accept the fact that you probably never wondered what the New York Dolls would sound like produced by Daft Punk, but it still doesn’t hurt to speculate, does it?
Portishead – “The Rip”
Is it a lost Tindersticks track or Antony & The Johnsons, after an evening’s bacchanalia? Actually, it’s a 2008 Portishead track on Valium, somehow maintaining an equal energy level to the tune played at the proper speed.
Aphex Twin – “Windowlicker”
Did you know Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, was a forefather of dubstep? Nobody did until we heard his classic 1999 single slowed to the point where funky becomes foggy.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Fortunate Son”
Everybody knows CCR as the forefathers of roots rock/Americana, but when this ’69 single spins at 33, it suddenly seems like they anticipated metal too, and makes you ponder what could have happened if Metallica’s 2011 team-up with Lou Reed had been with John Fogerty instead.
Beach House – “Lazuli”
Admittedly, Beach House aren’t known for writing the sort of upbeat, energetic calorie burners that would soundtrack a workout video, but the molasses mix of this one makes their signature dream-pop sound more like narcolepsy.
The Beatles – “Paperback Writer”
An earth-shattering piece of rock ‘n’ roll history has been discovered: a lost early-‘70s session between members of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd! OK, it’s really just a 1966 Beatles seven-inch slowed down, but it suggests some interesting ideas about what could have gone down if the Fab Four made it to their Fat Elvis stage.
White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”
Black Sabbath isn’t one of the names that commonly comes up in a discussion of the White Stripes’ influences, but the doominess that descends when playing their “Seven Nation Army” single at 33 is eerily reminiscent of the tune that introduced the former on their 1970 debut album.
Dolly Parton – “Jolene”
Just in case you were wondering, slowing down Dolly Parton’s original recording of “Jolene” results in a vocal significantly more masculine-sounding than that of the White Stripes cover version.
Britney Spears – “Baby One More Time”
Sometimes you can take an experiment too far. On the surface, who wouldn’t be at least a little bit curious about what this song would sound like recorded by Chromeo instead of the notorious teen-popper-turned-trainwreck? Well, let’s just say you should be careful what you wish for, as we label the end result “unsettling.”
Rush – “Tom Sawyer”
Take a brief trip into an alternate universe where TV on the Radio cover every stoner’s favorite classic-rock cut in a goth-metal mode. Then breathe a sigh of relief upon returning to your own dimension.
Justin Bieber – “Baby”
A more extreme version of the 45-to-33 movement is the “800 percent” phenomenon, where the most ubiquitous artists are made unrecognizable by slowing their songs down — you guessed it — by 800 percent. It’s a genre unto itself, deserving of a separate study, but just as a teaser, here’s what we might hear if ambient-pop icon Grimes got around to producing a certain teenage troublemaker.
The Bee Gees – “Staying Alive”
The title of this disco classic takes on a new meaning when played at 33, mostly because Barry Gibb, who sounds more like Barry White here, sings at a notch just above death. But the fact that there was a genuine reggae skank hidden within “Staying Alive” is proof of the 45-to-33 movement’s powers of revelation.