Rock Flashback: “Tom’s Diner” By Suzanne Vega

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Suzanne Vega (Getty Images/Anoek De Groot/AFP)

Suzanne Vega (Getty Images/Anoek De Groot/AFP)

The people at Mental Floss put out another great list last week, of the 25 Most Powerful Songs of the Past 25 Years. These are songs that changed the world in some way, and one of them caught our eye — or, ear.

The technological innovation of the MP3 — a compressed, compact audio file that makes our portable music culture possible — was developed in the early ’90s by a German engineer who used [mp3com-artist]Suzanne Vega[/mp3com-artist]’s song “Tom’s Diner” as a benchmark. According to Mental Floss, he reasoned that if he could figure out precisely how to compress a file and keep Vega’s voice sounding good at the same time, the resulting platform would work for any song of any sort.

Vega originally recorded “Tom’s Diner” as an a capella track on her 1987 album Solitude Standing, and that’s the version the engineer used to tweak his mp3 prototype. In 1990, two British producers working under the name DNA released an unauthorized remix, putting Vega’s vocals over a sampled track. Vega’s record label heard it and smelled a hit, so rather than sue the producers, they bought the song — and they were right. The “Tom’s Diner” remix, billed to Suzanne Vega featuring DNA, became a top-10 hit in the United States and in the UK.

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