WTF?! Wednesdays: Negativland, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For [Radio Mix]” (1991)

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Like WTF Wednesday alumnus John Oswald, the outlier troupe Negativland gained much notoriety with sampling that flouted the boundaries between fair use and outright unauthorized copying of another artist’s material. And also like Oswald, the brazen disregard for copyright law itself formed the basis for their own art.

Negativland’s history of devising sample-ridden sound collages with both music and spoken words seemed designed to get a rise out of people whether it’s the source of the samples or some larger, targeted group. In the process, they managed to get sideways in the legal sense with their own record company (SST) and U2’s record company (Island). Which brings us to the recording at the center of that particular Negativland controversy…

Negativland loved making American Top 40 radio host Casey Kasem a topic for mockery and it didn’t help Kasem when some raw feed of his going on outtake, R-rated rants inadvertently made it out to radio stations across America. For years, the engineers of those stations were about the only people who got to listen and laugh at Casey’s bloopers at his expense. That is, until Negativland decided to make an EP around them.

That they used these tapes and put it on a record isn’t what got the group in deep doo-doo, though: the backing music was the lion’s share of the mix for U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” with kazoos in place of Bono’s vocals. And then to stir the pot further, the EP cover featured “U2” in large type with “Negativland” in smaller type below it, suggesting that this was U2’s brand new album, Negativland. With Achtung Baby on the verge of release, it was like dumping a bucket of blood in shark infested waters to Island’s lawyers, and the suits started flying. Before long, the U2 EP was forcibly removed from the marketplace.

This being the age of internet and Youtube, no recording stays in the dark, so both mixes of the disgraced U2 hit still live on. I chose the “Special Edit Radio Mix” over the “A Capella Mix” since the former has more of that song in it. Negativland, by the way, didn’t mash Kasem with U2 randomly; the professional and polished DJ quickly descends into the profane and crude when he gets exasperated describing the Irish quartet finally blurting out “these guys are from England and who gives a shit?!”

And then there are some moments where Casey Kasem gets really nasty…

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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