White Label Friday: The Firm, “Radioactive”

Written by Music, Popdose, White Label

whitelabel.gifMy club-friendly tendencies are clearly lost on the majority of Popdose’s AOR-loving rock hounds, so let’s shake things up this week by putting Jimmy Page under the remix knife.

Truth be told, the album version of “Radioactive” is a pretty sorry excuse for a song. At the time, though, I loved it, primarily because of the combination of Page’s guitar scratch on the third line in the verse, followed by Paul Rodgers’ reverbed vocal. Other than that, what else is there to sink your teeth into? Chris Slade’s drumming is competent but unremarkable, and Tony Franklin’s spectacular hair overshadowed his skill on the fretless bass. Perhaps that’s why the song is so short; even the band knew they were pushing their luck by leaning on scratcha-scratcha-scratcha-scratch, “’cause Imma radioactive!” for their hook. Hell, not even Page’s solo is a highlight, as it is smothered by a second solo slapped on top of it. Bryan Ferry did this a couple of years later on his song “Limbo,” and Duran Duran did it a few years after that on “Read My Lips.” They all sound terrible.

So if the original is pushing its luck without even cracking the three-minute mark, what on earth is a six-minute version of the song going to be like? Surprisingly awesome, in a very mid-‘80s rock mix kind of way.

The “Special Mix” of “Radioactive” (download) – to this day, I have no idea who actually remixed the track, as they were not credited on the 12” – was a rock radio programmer’s wet dream. It was a new track by a rock legend, and the mix was very contemporary, shaking the cobwebs off of even the dustiest of playlists. Lastly, at just under six minutes, it gave the DJ a prime opportunity to go to the bathroom. Win, win, win. The remix even corrects several of the original song’s mistakes. Slade and Franklin get considerable face time in the mostly instrumental track, and Page’s time in the spotlight consists of only one solo, not two. The most surprising – and in retrospect, the smartest – thing about the mix is that Page’s little scratcha-scratcha-scratcha-scratch, the song’s hook fer crissakes, only appears once or twice. Rodgers’ acoustic guitar is beefed up too. Basically, they sound like the Gods of Rock supergroup that they were supposed to be, but ultimately never were.

Had anyone but Page and Rodgers been involved, we probably wouldn’t be talking about “Radioactive,” or the Firm, today. Heck, the band didn’t really blow any doors down at the height of its popularity; the album peaked at #17, and the single peaked at #28. (A second, better single, “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” stalled at #73.) With any new Zeppelin-related project comes expectations that could fairly be labeled unreasonable, so it’s quite possible that the Firm never had a prayer from the beginning. Credit must be given, then, to Atlantic for doing something both aggressive and unexpected from a Page project and commissioning this remix. One thing is for sure: it sure as hell holds up better than the mixes Robert Plant would release of “Heaven Knows” and “Tall Cool One” a few years later.

(One confession about the MP3: I ripped it myself, and in a roundabout way (vinyl to cassette, cassette to computer), so this will not be the most pristine recording you will find on this or any other site. But since I do not believe that the mix has ever seen the light of day on CD to date, it will have to do.)