Wednesday, June 22, 2005

With Apologies to Eli....

but I kinda like alternate versions. In literature we have something called a variorum edition, where all the drafts, all the alternates, all the extant versions of, say, a poem are collected together for the purposes of comparison and analysis of the artistic project. The point, of course is to discover the deep structure of the poem, to look at how shifting circumstances in the author's life lead to workings and reworkings of material. Two famous instances I can think of off the top of my head are William Wordsworth's The Prelude, a long autobiographical poem chronicling, among other things, Wordsworth's response to the French Revolution; and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (and if anyone can give me a redaction of that, I'd be grateful. I like Whitman, but I don't "get" him, not really). In both cases, the authors went back to presumably finished works and rewrote and restructured them to reflect changing circumstances.

And then there's pop.

The Squeeze song from below (and I should hasten to add that I don't dislike Squeeze, and that I always liked what I heard, just not enough to push deeper into their catalog) is something else. What I see from the Fluxblog posting is that the producer had a lot to do with the difference in the versions we hear. Dave Edmunds versus Elvis Costello/Roger Bechirian. From what I understand, this is often the case: Shoes, for example, recorded full demos of every album before they ever went into the studio, offering them to their producers (who, apocryphally, sometimes completely ignored them) as an indication of what they were trying to accomplish. But that means there are two sets of everything, their version and the producer's version. Some of these demos were released on the retrospective As Is, but most languish unheard. Of the ones that are available, differences, sometimes minor, sometimes significant, are apparent to even the most casual listener. I, for one, would be interested in hearing the alternate versions of all these songs. The Let It Be... Naked disc released last year, de-Spectoring the record, does the same thing for a more mainstream audience.

Another example: one of my favorite new bands is, as longtime readers know too well, Philly's Milton and the Devils Party. Recently, they rerecorded one of my favorite songs from their debut CD What Is All This Sweet Work Worth?, the pop gem "Perfect Breasts." The CD version caught me immediately, that oft-mentioned hook-behind-the-navel which tells you that a song works, and I was surprised as I befriended composer Daniel Robinson that he was not particularly happy with it. Having heard it live, I agreed that it had a lot more punch as a live song, but that's frequently true anyway: the aura of live music is like little else, and rarely captured on disc even (and perhaps especially) on live recordings. In any case, since I've known him, Robinson's spoken of redoing "Perfect Breasts" harder, and they've done it. You can find the mp3 here. Also, do yourself a favor and pick up the whole record, which can be found here or here, or even at itunes.

So open your mind, Eli! There's never just one way to tell a story, or one way to write a poem, or one way to produce a song. Variety is the spice of life, baby!


Elaine Supkis said...

Hi, NY Mary! Just noticed you got a blog now! Congratulations.

We will drown them in blog oil!

Elaine Supkis said...

Oh, and if you are playing in the Albany/western Mass/south Vermont area colleges, please let me know and I will throw a party for you all at my mountain/farm (we have lots of crash space, too).

Eli said...

Hey, I don't hate *all* alternate versions - there are some covers I like as well or better than the originals, like the Natascha Atlas version of "I Put A Spell On You", and the Erasure version of "Solsbury Hill".

But I just can't get behind that variation on "Tempted", and I think the "official" version works a helluva lot better.

NYMary said...

Ooooo, I'd make a *huge* distinction between variorum versions of a song and covers.

My own prejudice is for covers that reinterpret songs: too close to the original and what's the point? Faves in this regard include Nina Gordon's "Straight Outta Compton" and the Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter." But that's not quite the same as the same artist rethinking their own song differently.

Anonymous said...

Do yourself a favour and run out and get "Play". It's one of my favourite Squeeze albums ever and a great place to start.

and Hi! :D