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A Comprehensive Look At The Beatles Self-Titled Double Album Masterpiece

Danger Mouse’s ‘Grey Album’ Spurs Dispute

Producer Danger Mouse took vocals from rapper Jay-Z’s The Black Album, mixed them with instrumentals from The Beatles known as The White Album, and came up with The Grey Album

Weekend Edition Saturday

The Grey Album Spurs Disput - Joel Rose | NPR Play
Original cover art for DJ  Danger Mouse's 2004 release The Grey Album.

Air Date: 28 February 2004
Reporter: Joel Rose | NPR
Time: 00:07:44

It wasn’t made for commercial release, but the mixes got plenty of Internet play. EMI, the label controlling Beatles music, took legal action and various web sites mounted a protest. Joel Rose of member station WHYY reports.

download and listen to the album:

DJ Danger Mouse created The Grey Album as an experimental project intended for a limited 3,000-copy release in February 2004. While Danger Mouse never asked permission to use the Beatles’ material, Jay-Z’s a cappella recordings, though copyrighted, were released commercially for the purpose of encouraging mashups and remixes. A buzz around the album resulted in wider Internet distribution and media attention garnering a glowing review in the February 9, 2004 issue of The New Yorker. The Grey Album was named the best album of 2004 by Entertainment Weekly and ranked #10 in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop critics poll.

Brian Burton (a.k.a. DJ Danger Mouse) is quoted as saying: “A lot of people just assume I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it’s really a deconstruction. It’s not an easy thing to do. I was obsessed with the whole project, that’s all I was trying to do, see if I could do this. Once I got into it, I didn’t think about anything but finishing it. I stuck to those two because I thought it would be more challenging and more fun and more of a statement to what you could do with sample alone. It is an art form. It is music. You can do different things, it doesn’t have to be just what some people call stealing. It can be a lot more than that.” Burton also commented at length on the creation of The Grey Album in the 2007 Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy: A documentary about the current state of copyright and culture.

Original cover art for Danger Mouse's release The Grey Album (2004).

TRACK LISTING:

01 – Public Service Announcement [Long, Long, Long]
02 – What More Can I Say [While My Guitar Gently Weeps]
03 – Encore [Glass Onion]
04 – December 4th [Mother Nature’s Son]
05 – 99 Problems [Helter Skelter]
06 – Dirt Off My Shoulder [Julia]
07 – Moment Of Clarity [Sexy Sadie ?????]
08 – Change Clothes [Piggies]
09 – Allure [Dear Prudence]
10 – Justify My Thing [Rocky Raccoon]
11 – Interlude [Revoultion 9]
12 – My 1st Song [Revolution 9 again/Savoy Truffle]

The hype around The Grey Album caught the attention of Beatles’ copyright holder EMI, who ordered Danger Mouse and retailers carrying the album to cease distribution. Music industry activist group Downhill Battle responded by coordinating Grey Tuesday, an electronic civil disobedience event held on 24 February 2004. Participating websites posted copies of The Grey Album for free download for a 24-hour period in protest of EMI’s attempts to prevent distribution of the mashup on the grounds that sampling is fair use and that a statutory license should be provided in the same manner as if an artist were to perform or record a cover version of a song. Hundreds of web sites publicized the event with 170 hosting the album for download. Over 100,000 copies were downloaded on that day alone. The legal repercussions of the protest were minimal; a number of the participants received cease and desist letters from EMI, but no charges were filed in connection with the event.

It was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.

~ Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse)
on The Grey Album

Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is quoted as saying: “This wasn’t supposed to happen… I just sent out a few tracks (and) now online stores are selling it and people are downloading it all over the place.” Burton denied being the agent provocateur, saying it “was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.”

Cultural critic Sam Howard-Spink observed that “The tale of The Grey Album and Grey Tuesday offers a rich case study for the examination of a wide variety of contemporary cultural issues within the context of the ‘copyright wars’ remix culture and the age of the digital network.”

On November 16, 2010, Jay-Z offered his thoughts on the album during an interview on NPR. “I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea—to do it. And it sparked so many others like it… I was honored to be on, you know, quote-unquote, the same song with The Beatles.”

They put up a fuss but I was like, take it easy guys… it’s a tribute.

~ Paul McCartney
on EMI’s reaction to The Grey Album

On February 11, 2011, Paul McCartney whilst commenting on the influence of the Beatles and black music gave this assessment as part of a BBC documentary titled The Beatles and Black Music, produced by Vivienne Perry and Ele Beattie. “It was really cool when hip-hop started, you would hear references in lyrics, you always felt honored. It’s exactly what we did in the beginning, introducing black soul music to a mass white audience. It’s come full circle. It’s, well, cool. When you hear a riff similar to your own, your first feeling is “rip-off.” After you’ve got over it you think, “Look at that, someone’s noticed that riff.”

McCartney said of EMI’s reaction: “I didn’t mind when something like that happened with The Grey Album. But the record company minded. They put up a fuss but I was like, take it easy guys… it’s a tribute.”

Weekend Edition Saturday

The Grey Album Spurs Disput - NPR Play

Air Date: 28 February 2004
Reporter: Joel Rose | NPR
Time: 00:07:44

It wasn’t made for commercial release, but the mixes got plenty of Internet play. EMI, the label controlling Beatles music, took legal action and web sites mounted a protest. Joel Rose of member station WHYY reports.

Dear Prudence

Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is quoted as saying: “This wasn’t supposed to happen… I just sent out a few tracks (and) now online stores are selling it and people are downloading it all over the place.” Burton denied being the agent provocateur, saying it “was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.”

Cultural critic Sam Howard-Spink observed that “The tale of The Grey Album and Grey Tuesday offers a rich case study for the examination of a wide variety of contemporary cultural issues within the context of the ‘copyright wars’ remix culture and the age of the digital network.”

On November 16, 2010, Jay-Z offered his thoughts on the album during an interview on NPR. “I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea—to do it. And it sparked so many others like it… I was honored to be on, you know, quote-unquote, the same song with The Beatles.”

It was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.

~ Danger Mouse
on The Grey Album

Danger Mouse is quoted as saying: “This wasn’t supposed to happen… I just sent out a few tracks (and) now online stores are selling it and people are downloading it all over the place.” Burton denied being the agent provocateur, saying it “was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.”

Cultural critic Sam Howard-Spink observed that “The tale of The Grey Album and Grey Tuesday offers a rich case study for the examination of a wide variety of contemporary cultural issues within the context of the ‘copyright wars’ remix culture and the age of the digital network.”

On November 16, 2010, Jay-Z offered his thoughts on the album during an interview on NPR. “I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea—to do it. And it sparked so many others like it… I was honored to be on, you know, quote-unquote, the same song with The Beatles.”

They put up a fuss but I was like, take it easy guys… it’s a tribute.

~ Paul McCartney
on EMI’s reaction

On February 11, 2011, Paul McCartney whilst commenting on the influence of the Beatles and black music gave this assessment as part of a BBC documentary titled The Beatles and Black Music, produced by Vivienne Perry and Ele Beattie. “It was really cool when hip-hop started, you would hear references in lyrics, you always felt honored. It’s exactly what we did in the beginning, introducing black soul music to a mass white audience. It’s come full circle. It’s, well, cool. When you hear a riff similar to your own, your first feeling is “rip-off.” After you’ve got over it you think, “Look at that, someone’s noticed that riff.”

McCartney said of EMI’s reaction: “I didn’t mind when something like that happened with The Grey Album. But the record company minded. They put up a fuss but I was like, take it easy guys… it’s a tribute.”

This alternative art was not used for the actual cover but appeared on the Danger Mouse website.
Promotional artwork by Justin Hampton

Alternative Cover

This art was not used for the actual cover but appeared on the Danger Mouse website. Promotional artwork by Justin Hampton.