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Whether pitched up, down or at the wrong rpm entirely, sometimes the wrong speed on a turntable can completely transform a song — for the better.
You’re well aware of what the speed controls on a turntable are, but real quick: A record player usually has 2-3 speeds: 33 1/3 rotations-per-minute for LPs, 45 rpm for 7-inch and 12-inch singles and, if it’s from before 1950 or so, a 78 rpm setting. Artists and labels can break tradition and press a 12-inch at 33 or an LP at 45 and when that happens unprepared DJs have to deal with the consequences — or experiment on the fly.
Most often, record selectors forget to switch to the correct speed and in the process change what would be a normal song with vocals into either a psychotically fast Alvin and the Chipmunks cover or a painfully slow Isaac Hayes rendition.
Whether by happy accident or not, adventurous DJs like Daniele Baldelli and Larry Levan — and eventually vinyl culture as a whole — caught on to the trick and began tinkering with wrong speeds. In the process, they discovered entirely new songs within them. In some cases, these experiments spawned completely new genres.
Here is a list of some classic “wrong-speed” records and a few of our personal favorites.
ESG – UFO (1981)
An absolute B-Boy classic, early NYC Hip Hop heads clung to the funky breakbeat rhythms of Bronx outfit ESG and found gold when they played their UFO single at 33. It caught the ears of RZA, who made it a live Wu-Tang staple. In doing so, they tapped a sound that predates the sluggy, bass-driven DJ Screw chopped-and-screwed motifs to come. UFO eventually became one of the most sampled songs in hip hop — and was even pressed at the wrong speed when it appeared on the classic 90s “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” comp series. Thanks Daniel T for the recommendation!
The pioneering creator of the “Cosmic Disco” sound, DJ Daniele Baldelli led the mid-’80s Italian club scene and was famous for his adventurous and experimental approach to the booth. He was full of surprises, creatively blending wildly divergent genre and adding strange effects. But he was most known for searching out wrong speed records. Most famously, he had a golden ear for finding uptempo Hi-NRG disco tunes and modulating them to create slow-burning, chuggy, cosmic groovers. Here are four of his noted favorites.
Harry Thumann – Underwater (1979)
The late ‘70s NYC disco scene made an ample supply of tempo elastic cuts, especially those featuring rapid, Moroder-style sequenced synthesizers. Baldelli pitched them down to create downtempo heaven, like this epic orchestral number from 1979.
Mythos – Terra Incognita (1978)
Few songs work better pitched up, but this German prog song works excellent at both speeds. Baldelli accelerated it to 45 for his nights at Cosmic.
Sandy Steel – Mind Your Own Business (1980)
A cover of Delta 5’s great post-punk single!
Azymuth – Jazz Carnival (1979)
This ‘79 Azymuth hit was a worldwide club favorite, especially at Chicago house and UK dance parties. Only in Italy would you hear it played at 33, where Baldelli had a knack for playing what was hot at the time in a new and clever way. It often resulted in a full-blown freakout on the dance floor.
Linda Law – All the Night (1978)
Rub N’ Tug was a seminal dance party in the late ’90s promoted by Thomas Bullock (a DJ Harvey affiliate) and Eric Duncan. In 2005, they resurrected a forgotten disco tune on their compilation “Rub N’ Tug Present Campfire” by pressing “All the Night” at 33 instead of 45. In turning it into a sultry and sensual gem, many fans recognized guitar similarities with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
New Beat was an explosive Belgian electronic dance movement in the late 1980s that combined hard, hammering beats with elements of dance, EBM, new wave, house, and electro. And it was all discovered via a wrong speed record. Whether by accident or not, in 1987 Brussels DJ Dikke Ronny (translated to “Fat Ronny”) played the A Split Second single “Flesh” at 33 and ignited a whole new sound.
The historic moment in the Belgian music scene led to the short-lived club motto, “Nothing higher than 120 bpm!” Here is that big-bang record “Flesh” at 33, and another New Beat wrong-speed favorite, “Dead Eyes Open” by Severed Heads.
Dolly Parton – Jolene (1974)
With 11 million-plus views on YouTube, it’s hard not to mention this Dolly Parton classic. How did this slow version of Jolene take off? It could be an algorithmic occurrence, but there’s no denying the version’s revealing quality. Revealing Dolly’s artistic precision as a vocalist, especially her vibrato and harmonizing, the version confirmed that her iconic high-pitched soprano is a wonder as a male-sounding baritone, as well.
Wanda Jackson – Funnel of Love (1961)
Another classic that has found a large fanbase in its exotica-sounding slow version, the video was uploaded in 2010. It apparently caught the attention of Rockabilly aficionado Jim Jarmusch, who featured this slow version in his 2013 film “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Denice Williams – Free (1976)
This might be too slow for some, but Denice’s harmonies are so beautiful and lush at 33. Also worth noting is that when you pitch anything down, a song’s low end will get heavier and heavier, making the bass really smack on a good sound system.
Instrumental and dubs have always been the most pliable for being toyed with in the record world. In DJing, speed isn’t an issue since there’s no worry for awkward or distorted vocals, and sampling is made ridiculously easy when there are no vocalists to worry about. Best, most 12-inches come with one. Here are a few favorites.