How do you like your ''Stan'': with or without Eminem, or with a dash of Elton? In an unusual scenario, even at a time when hit singles regularly undergo overhauls by remixers, Eminem's psychotic-fan story-song can be digested in three different ways.
The formidable original, featuring that melancholic sample lifted from Dido's ''Thank You,'' can be found on his Marshall Mathers LP. But if you're not much of an Eminem (or rap) fan, you can opt for Dido's unadulterated ''Thank You'' from her late-blooming No Angel album. Judging by the charts and radio, many people have: ''Thank You'' is a top 20 single. It's also the lesser of the three. 45 King, who produced Eminem's ''Stan,'' was wise to lift only the first portion of Dido's song, since the forlorn lyrics and overcast-day feel of the verses are the most striking sections of ''Thank You.'' The chorus, with its wimpy croon of ''I want to thank you...,'' offers neither payoff nor bite; emotionally and musically, it's a cop-out.
Now comes rendition No. 3: Eminem's ''Stan'' duet with Elton John
from the recent Grammy telecast. In the aftermath of one of the
most dramatic Grammy moments since, well, ever, radio has begun
playing a tape of that performance. (Eminem's label says it
hasn't yet decided to release it. Yeah, right.) Hearing it sans
the accompanying visuals is a different, though unexpectedly
satisfying, experience. Eminem's delivery is even more cutting
than on the studio version, his voice growing more bilious with
each of Stan's ''letters.'' Meanwhile, the new accompaniment
boosts the acoustic guitar and John's chipper piano playing, and
John belts out the Dido part (goodbye, subtle brick road). The
result is ''Stan'' as singer-songwriter ballad, ideal for boomers
ordinarily not fond of hip-hop. But to its credit, it isn't
diluted, either. Memo to Interscope: Assuming a CD single is
imminent, how about a cover photo of Eminem's unseen-on-TV
middle-finger salute after the performance?
''Stan'' (Eminem): A
''Thank You'' (Dido): B-
''Stan'' (Eminem and Elton John): A-