I've always been fascinated with instrumental versions of pop songs. There's a strange pleasure that comes with hearing harmonies or neat production tricks that aren't obvious in the album recording. As a kid, I'd fiddle with the headphone jack on my Sony Discman until the vocals would cut out and leave only the music behind — minus a few frequencies here and there. (In the modern world, smartphone apps like Capo can accomplish the same effect.)
I'm also a full-on Taylor Swift junkie, so today my mind was turned upside down when I discovered that you can buy totally legitimate, officially sanctioned "karaoke" versions of every major Taylor Swift release. These aren't the awful karaoke tracks that have come to consume iTunes and Spotify, either. You know the ones; they sound like they were recorded by a mediocre bar band in an hour or two. Or maybe just one guy with a Yamaha synth. Nope. These are the real studio recordings.
Too many vocals remain to call these "karaoke" tracks, but they're a fun listen
Big Machine has issued karaoke versions of 1989, Red, Speak Now, Fearless, and Swift's self-titled album. Dear God, does Scott Borchetta know how to cash in. They're available from iTunes, but aren't super obvious and something tells me a lot of people have never even noticed them.
One beef here: I'm not sure I agree with the definition of "background vocals" being tossed around by Big Machine. The album descriptions state these tracks strip out Swift's lead vocals, yet the entire chorus of "Blank Space" remains untouched. Same goes for "Style." What's the point of a karaoke take if I've got to bow out during the song's big hook? The verses have mostly vanished though, leaving these karaoke tracks to showcase the immense talents of Swift's gang of producers — a list that, for 1989, included Max Martin, Shellback, and Jack Antonoff. And that's the part I'm most interested in.
Dear musicians everywhere: please do more of this. I just wish I could listen to the stuff on Spotify. That's my Discman nowadays.