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Music

I Demand A Goth-Sludge Chipmunks Cover Of Every Great Pop Song, Immediately

A still from 'Vampyr,' 1932 silent film
Screenshot via Youtube

First, listen to this:

And, for good measure, this:

I gather these have been floating around the internet for a few years; the Youtube videos are from 2015 and 2017, respectively. I hadn’t heard them before they popped up on my Twitter timeline today; the Defector staff spent a chunk of the afternoon mooning over them in Slack. What you’re listening to are 1980s novelty recordings of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing covers of pop hits, but played back at 16 rpm, which instantly transforms them into, as Twitter user @EsotericCD rightly put it, “the most important postpunk/goth album ever recorded:” the guitars sludgy and strung out; the synths alien and dread-soaked; the percussion tripping along in opiate lassitude; the vocals almost normal-sounding, but given a bizarre emotional abstraction by the hyper-enunciation necessary for recordings intended for speeding up to squeaky chipmunk-speak.

Peppy, urgent dance-rock stuff (“Call Me,” the opener) becomes weird, Dutch-angled, ultra-lugubrious doom metal; you can picture Tom Hiddleston being sad to it in Only Lovers Left Alive. The lighter-than-air Bangles goof “Walk Like an Egyptian” (starts at 6:12 in the first video) turns haunted, apocalyptic, icy with paranoia. The Chipmunks’ re-cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ silly disco cover of “Always on My Mind” (43:26, first video) sounds like nothing so much as Peter Murphy trying his hand at a frosty Giorgio Moroder MTV synth-pop ballad, and makes me wish he’d ever actually done that. “My Sharona” transforms into the sound of heroin. What they all have in common is that they’re fucking amazing, and sound perfectly credible and intentional as the work of gloomy art-musicians who probably should up their antidepressant dosage for their own wellbeing. It’s not just because I recognize the songs! “Diamond Dolls” (20:59, first video), as far as I can tell, is a song written specifically for the Chipmunks, or the Chipettes anyway, and its slowed-down sludge version is dreamy and slinky and weird and great, like druggier and more ironic TV on the Radio. If I’d heard any of these versions of these songs playing over the P.A. system in a record store back when those existed, I’d have walked out with the album in hand and on a mission to play it for everyone I knew.

They’re also, I think, fun demonstrations of the durability and indefatigability of good pop songwriting. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ classic-rock radio staple “Refugee” (50:15, first video) works just as well in the form of a funereal slowcore trudge as in its urgent, propulsive original incarnation. Survivor’s cornball delight “Eye of the Tiger” (21:43, second video) is just as legibly a chugging and catchy pop-rock song at a tempo that makes “Unchained Melody” sound like nnts-nnts-nnts rave music. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a devastatingly sad and lovely goodbye song at 16 rpm. A good song, turns out, is identifiably good at any speed.

I simply require every pop hit ever recorded to be screwed with this way: Recorded as a novelty Alvin and the Chipmunks song with cheap tinny backing, and then slowed down to 16 rpm to transform it into bleak goth tar to feel sad or strung-out or ominous to. Give me “Take On Me” as a spooky but danceable Sisters of Mercy track. Transform “Old Town Road” into a dirge to die to. Make “Umbrella” sound like it should be echoing terribly across the sky at the end of the world. Who do I get in touch with about this?