Monday, 3 December 2012

AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs (News, Views and Music Issue 173 Top 10)

Every so often a band will take it upon themselves to re-record one of their ‘classic’ songs, usually with disastrous results. All the nuances that made the originals so entertaining and memorable – a vocal line here, a sensitive backing there – will be ‘updated’ to sound more contemporary, even though the original was pretty timeless in the first place. There are several reasons why AAA bands might choose to re-record a classic: some do it for big anniversaries, some do it to make a statement about the differences between ‘then’ and ‘now’, some do it for fun – and some are simply doing it to chase record sales.Anyway here, this week, is every instance we can think of where a band returns to a past classic in chronological order of re-recordings (note: live recordings, demos, alternate takes and remixes don’t count!)

The Beach Boys “I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe” (originals released as singles in 1964/63 and re-recordings released on ‘Beach Boys Party!’ 1966)

‘Beach Boys Party’ is a strange record. It was recorded in a frantic evening in the studio when Capitol told the band they were taking too long to finish ‘Pet Sounds’ and they needed a product now. Rather than compromise on his vision Brian led his fellow Beach Boys and various family and friends into some acoustic unplugged versions of several songs they loved (including three Beatles songs) and then ‘overdubbed’ fake party sounds over the top (if you listen hard you can hear Mike Love having a conversation with himself as one point!) Running out of other people’s material to cover, the band hit on ‘covering’ their own and treated two of their best loved (and easiest to play!) songs to an acoustic reading. The band aren’t taking things seriously and end up on the floor in a heap of giggles and gibberish, not to mention forgetting the words to a song they’d played every night for two years (‘I’m not bragging babe...oh yeah!’), but its still fascinating to hear such a different version of the song. With the electric noise removed these two songs stop sounding like bragging teenagers and already sound like more adult, sighing works, the nostalgia in the room clear for everyone to hear.

Nils Lofgren and Grin/Crazy Horse “Beggar’s Day” (originally released on the ‘Crazy Horse’ album in 1971, re-recording released on Grin’s ‘Gone Crazy’ album in 1973)

Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten was in a bad way in 1970-71 after becoming a drug addict almost overnight (he’d die of an overdose in 1972). He needed propping up from someone – and Nils, younger and bouncier, the yin to Whitten’s worn out yang, was the perfect discovery. Nils had first come to the band’s attention when he turned up backstage at a Neil Young gig and played for the maestro his first batch of songs (mainly recorded on the first ‘Grin’ album). After Crazy Horse were ‘sacked’ during the making of ‘After The Goldrush’ Nils stayed friends with the Horse and agreed to help out on their first LP when it became clear that Whitten was struggling. Beggar’s Day, one of three Lofgren songs that made the album (he co-wrote its most famous song ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ un-credited) is perfect for the Lofgren-Whitten pairing; it’s a snarling anthem about bad luck that’s perfectly balanced between the more hopeful Lofgren and the seemingly doomed Whitten that’s one of the three great classic songs from the album. Nils was running short of material by the time of his fourth LP ‘Gone Crazy’ in 1973 (his last with his first, rough and ready but under-rated band) and recorded this song again. Slower-paced and less direct, it doesn’t have the same impact as the original but is interesting for fans to hear as Nils more or less sings Danny’s parts from the original version (with his younger brother Tom singing his old harmony parts), like as treaty on life being passed down to a younger more naive generation. This second version, recorded a year after Whitten’s death, is depicted as a ‘eulogy’ to Nils’ lost comrade on the original sleeve.

Lindisfarne “Lady Eleanor/Fog On Tyne/Meet Me On The Corner/Run For Home/Warm Feeling/Clear White Light” (all released between 1969 and 1978, re-recordings released in 1987 on ‘C’mon Everybody”)

As we mentioned a few issues back, there are several great reasons for recording a record – and some really bad ones. Someone told Lindisfarne they could make a bucket load of money re-recording old 50s classics for the low budget company K-Tel who even provided a cheesy record cover and a truly mind-bogglingly awful TV advert to go with it. Needing the money, the band complied on a spirited but awfully misguided plod through three ‘medleys’ of hoary old classics whose only bonus for Lindisfans is that it gave old boy Simon Cowe and new boy Marty Craggs the rare chance to sing on a few songs. Slightly better was side four (this being a double set back in the days of vinyl) which featured re-recordings of seven Lindisfarne classics. Recorded in a hurry, with some twee synthesiser chirping in the background, none of them come close to eclipsing the original, except for a note-for-note re-creation of ‘Warm Feeling’ which makes you wonder why they bothered. However the closest to being a necessary part of your collection is a heavily re-arranged ‘Clear White Light’, whose extended 1980s re-creation, complete with a new hookline for the vocal, is at least worth hearing alongside the earlier, close to perfection original. The album flopped, the band got even further into debt with their credibility smashed and the only real good thing you can say about this entry is that we managed to avoid a whole article without mentioning the ‘other’ Lindisfarne re-recording travesty: ‘Fog On The Tyne ‘91’ with footballer Paul Gascoigne!

The Searchers “Needles and Pins” (original released as a single 1964, re-recording released as a single in 1988)

The Searchers celebrated their 25th anniversary with a rather drastic and awfully 80s version of one of their most lasting songs. Alas everything that made the original so compelling – jangly guitar, sensitive lead vocal, subtle backing – is replaced by a noisy, ineffective synthesiser that makes the real emotion of the song sound cold and lifeless. To be fair, everything sounded like this back in 1988 so The Searchers can’t be held wholly to blame and frankly it was just welcome having The Searchers making a record again – but its a shame the band chose one of their deepest and best recordings for the re-make rather than their effortless pop (a 1980s ‘When You Walk In The Room’ or even ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ would have been great!)

Lulu “Shout” (original released as a single in 1964, re-recording released as a single in 1988)

WE-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ell you know this recording makes me sick, the Lulu of 1988 representing everything the Lulu of 1964 would have hated. To be fair Lulu’s career had been out of control for a while and it wasn’t her faut, poor thing, after a horrible decade where everything that could go wrong did go wrong (her blossoming in the 1990s, especially as a writer for the first time, is a joy to behold). I guess this record’s biggest claim to fame was that it helped kick-start the boom for nostalgia in the 1990s, which saw outtakes sets greatest hits compilations and box sets become the norm for old recording artists, although its not the best hook to hang a decade’s worth of inspired re-releases for the collector on. Interestingly this single was by the far the biggest seller out of all the re-recordings on this list barring George’s – proof perhaps that the original record really was a masterclass in the right singer taking on the right song at the right period, even if by 1988 the 15-year-old Lulu’s masterclass in singing seems a long way away...

The Hollies “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” (original released on ‘Distant Light’ album 1971, re-recording released on ‘The Coconut Collection’ in Germany 1993)

The Hollies only ever released this song in Germany as an oddity on an album of remixes, so we shouldn’t be too cruel to them. However, it’s probably fair to say that fans around the rest of the world aren’t missing much by not owning any of the ‘Coconut Sessions’. Hideously 80s (despite the 1993 release date), Clarkey has to compete with a bank of synthesisers for his lead vocal, while the classic Hollies harmonies are missing. Even worse, the spidery but powerful guitar hook that makes the track has been watered down to the extent that its gone from being one of the most thrilling rockers of the 1970s to sounding like the junk everyone else was producing in this anonymous style in this period.

10cc “I’m Not In Love” (original released on ‘The Original Soundtrack’ in 1975 and the re-recording released on ‘Mirror Mirror’ in 1995)

At least 10cc were trying to do something different with their re-make of probably their best known song. Reducing the velvety smooth production and epic orchestra of voices sound of the original to a bare-bones acoustic guitar and two vocals means we concentrate more on the clever lyrics and Eric Stewart’s lovely tune rather than the gimmicks, but sadly without them much of the mystery and the twists and turns in the song (when it becomes more and more clear the narrator doesn’t believe a word he’s saying) don’t show through as well. This version –labelled as ‘Acoustic ‘95’ - isn’t a substitute for the original then, but it does offer a new way of hearing the song and, judging by Youtube at least, seems to be very popular as lots of people have re-arranged the song that way.

The Monkees “Circle Sky” (original released on ‘Head’ in 1968 and the re-recording released on ‘JustUs’ in 1997)

The Monkees surprised many when they reunited as a full four-piece in 1997 for the first time, recording their first album as a quartet since ‘Head’ in 1968 and a bizarre TV special. Best of all The Monkees were back playing their own instruments for the first time since ‘Headquarters’ in 1967 and cooked up quite a storm – unfortunately the songs they wrote for this album were atrocious. The best actual ‘song’ by a country mile was Mike Nesmith’s ‘Circle Sky’, a song last heard on ‘Head’ all those years ago and best played by the band as a powerful rock trio. I haven’t got a clue what the words mean (reputedly they were made up by Nesmith on the spot to give him something to sing) but the riff is a good one and its good to hear the band have a second crack at it. Alas this re-recording is a bit too ‘grungy’ and overladen with booming echo for its own good, slowed down to a crawl at times, the band slurring their words and trying to make a ‘statement’ – this song sounded better as a pure rock and roll slice of nonsense.

George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” (original released on ‘All Things Must Pass’ 1970 and re-recording re-released as a single in 2000)

George Harrison knew he was dying when he re-released his most famous solo track ‘My Sweet Lord’, even sticking in a risqué joke with the publishing credits (RIP Publishing). However his intriguing half-remix, half-re-recording showed he wasn’t losing any of his artistic abilities as it’s arguably one of the better ones on this list. Like many a 1990s song the track feels like a collage of lots of genres stuck together, with an opening sampled burst of synthesiser and lots of wacky overdubs that the 1970 George wouldn’t have considered. It sounds like a less earnest but still entertaining record that made for an interesting moment 30 years on from its original release, so close to the millennium. The best thing about the single was the re-worked cover art, however, with George’s tranquil garden filled with gnomes now facing onto a concrete jungle of roads and roundabouts! The single even made #1 in the charts – though probably more out of sympathy with George’s admission of cancer and his scare with the burglar who broke into his house and tried to kill him.

Cat Stevens/Yusuf “I Think I See A Light” (original released on ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ 1970 and re-recording released on ‘An Other Cup’ in 2005)

‘I Think I See The Light’ is one of my favourite Cat Stevens songs in the original recording, contrasting a dark, troubled world with the brightness of realisation, with a magical hook and one of the best vocals Cat ever recorded, making the most of his octave range. The re-recording is less successful, partly because of a slower tempo but mainly because Yusuf (as he now was) is less elusive about what light he’s actually seen. When he recorded the original Cat was recovering from a nasty bout of tb that killed off his career and left him bedridden, with the new songs Cat was writing nearly about redemption and about getting down to the things that matter in life before they’re taken away. By the time he retires in 1978, however, Cat has converted to Islam and this 2005 version is clearly all about religion. It’s still a great song though, too good to be ruined whatever is done to it as a re-recording and its welcome that Cat recorded one of his comparatively obscurer songs rather than giving us ‘Peace Train’ or ‘Morning Has Broken’ yet again.

That’s all for this week. We’ll see you next issue when we’ll be celebrating the success of this column by re-recording our first issue (only joking – we’re going to wait for an anniversary to peg that on!)

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