Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Question of the Week: What is your favorite ‘reworked’ song?

Today’s Question of the Week is about music again, and this time I’m wondering if you have a favorite “reworked” song. This does not mean a cover song – perhaps that will be a question down the line. I’m talking about when an artist changes one of their older songs – either in a new recording, or in a live version that’s a lot different from the original version. The first time I noticed this phenomenon was in the late 1980s, when Eric Clapton decided to do a Michelob commercial and he transformed “After Midnight” from a speedy, somewhat cheery and cheesy, almost gospel-like song into an astonishing blues song. For a beer commercial, of all things! Clapton has said some questionable things over the years, but there’s no denying he’s a musical genius, so why didn’t the bluesier version occur to him originally? It’s extremely bizarre.

So that’s one example of what I’m talking about. Another example is the Australian Crawl song, “Boys Light Up,” which is the title track of their debut album from 1980. A few years later, they released Phalanx, a live album, and they “reworked” “Boys Light Up” into a classic. The original isn’t bad, but it’s too slow – it feels like the band is playing through molasses. By the time 1983 rolled around, they figured out it should be much faster, and it’s so much better – it’s funkier, a bit more ska, the harmonica is livelier, and the raunchy lyrics – it’s a song about blowjobs – don’t feel quite so ponderous and a bit more wry. It’s odd that the band didn’t initially realize that upping the tempo would make such a difference, but they did eventually!

When Robert Plant and Jimmy Page decided to screw over John Paul Jones and do that “Unplugged” special for MTV, they reworked some songs. In the case of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” they turned it from a psychedelic mind-fuck that nevertheless feels a bit disjointed into a slower, philosophical musing backed by music floating in from the desert. I like the first version, but the “new” version is brilliant.

Finally, speaking of “MTV Unplugged,” LL Cool J’s “acoustic” version of “Mama Said Knock You Out” doesn’t exactly improve on the original, which is a classic, but it’s just as good, and you can always stand some more LL Cool J in your life!

So that’s what I’m talking about. Does anyone have any versions of songs that the artists redid that are better than the original versions? Fire away in the comments!


  1. In the Clapton category: Layla, from the Derek and the Dominoes classic to his unplugged version
    Of course, live versions, in general, change the nature of a song. cf the studio version of I’m So Glad (Fresh Cream) with the live version (Goodbye, Cream)
    You’re the one who brought up Clapton

  2. Peter

    For someone with a reputation as a poor singer/musician, Bob Dylan has a heck of a lot of interesting live performances where he re-arranges old favorites.

    Some favorites: “One Too Many Mornings” from the “Royal Albert Hall” concert – the acoustic folk song becomes an almost-psychedelic electric pop tune with the Band.

    “If Not for You” live with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh sound check – Bob and George actually sing harmonies extremely well together (Harrison is a great harmony singer, so not totally surprising) and this version is better than either man’s studio reading.

    “Isis” from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Mick Ronson contributes some jagged, apocalyptic guitar and Dylan’s vocals are even more driving than on the version from “Desire.” I loved this version so much when I saw the Scorsese doc that I had my band learn it the next week.

    I think there’s also a version of The Times they Are a-Changin’ from a performance at the White House in 2010 where it’s played like a jazz madrigal – just a really nice arrangement I haven’t seen elsewhere.

    For studio remakes – I do confess that Jonni Mitchell’s deep-voiced recording of “Both Sides Now” is pretty stirring. The The reworked “Cold Spell Ahead” as the masterpiece “Uncertain Smile” with some help from Jools Holland’s great piano solo. I also really enjoy Primal Scream’s original “I’m Losing More than I Ever Had” but their remix “Loaded” is totally different and it’s a total icon.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    On Clapton – yeaaaah, I don’t worship at the altar of his apparent genius like so many in my generation, the one before and several after. I think any number of the English guitar gods from that same period, like George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend and Steve Howe, just to name a few, were/are far more talented. And for what it’s worth, I prefer to the original version of ‘After Midnight’ to the beer commercial version.
    As for “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” I don’t know if I like the reworked version better, but I do like it quite a bit.

    As for my own suggestions, to the extent that it counts, I like the slightly reworked, faster-paced version of “Burning Down the House” that the Talking Heads did in concert compared to the studio version, i.e.:
    Studio vs. live.

    Another one that comes to mind is “Fine Tunin'” by Oregon’s own Crazy 8s. The original version, from their most excellent Law & Order album, is a wonderful, upbeat dance tune. Much later, they released a really slow-paced, samba-jazzy version for their compilation album Still Crazy After All These Beers. Unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word for it, because nobody has posted on YouTube, or anywhere else it would appear, and I’m not going to go to the trouble of ripping it from my CD and then uploading it…

    1. Greg Burgas

      Clapton is better than at least three of those dudes. I’ll let you decide which ones! 🙂

      I never knew “Fine Tunin'” was reworked, but that’s fascinating, because I’ve only heard the second version, and I like it quite a bit. Now I’m not sure which version I like better …

      You are only the second person I’ve ever “known” who’s even heard of the Crazy 8s (my wife doesn’t count). Mike Sterling, comic book owner extraordinaire, is a big fan. I imagine Greg H. knew who they were, but it never came up. Obscure Oregonian bands rule! 🙂

  4. Eric van Schaik

    Halo by Depeche Mode. On Violator it’s a dance song, but on Spirits in the Forest it’s transformed into a ballad (although that was the original idea for the song, as described on the bonus dvd of Violator)

    The Gentle Storm by The Gentle Storm. It containes 2 cd’s. A Gentle version with old fashion instruments, and a storm version with electric guitars and drums.

    Snow Patrol has an album called Reworked. It has some classics (Run, Chocolate, Chasing Cars and Just say yes – our wedding song 🙂 -) that are completely different of the album versions.

    And 1 cover comes to mind that’s so different from the original that I mention it here.
    Kraftwerk’s Hall of mirrors is a keyboard song but Siouxsie and the Banshees uses a harp in this song.
    See for yourself : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a15yqZ1uL9A (Kraftwerk) and

  5. Le Messor

    I usually like original studio recordings the best, but Alice Cooper improved the lyrics to School’s Out slightly for live versions, and also went harder in some live version.
    “Got no innocence
    Can’t even think of a word that rhymes”
    “Got no intelligence
    Can’t even think of a word that rhymes”
    Just changing that one word makes so much more sense to me.

    The Blue Öyster Cult have a version of Astronomy on Imaginos that, while not better than the original, I still like. (I call it the ‘galloping version’ because of the backing track.)

    I feel the same about Queensrÿche’s Someone Else (full band version).

  6. Darthratzinger

    We Care A Lot by Faith No More. It was the title track on their first album but they re-recorded it in a slightly faster version for Introduce Yourself. Best version though is on Live At The Brixton Academy with (finally) Mike Patton on vocals.
    Wasted by Black Flag/Circle Jerks. It was originally a Black Flag song that they released on several different 7″ EP´s. Whenever they had a new singer in their early days, they would re-record a couple of songs (before Henry Rollins became THE singer). Keith Morris, their first singer, founded a new band after he got kicked out of BF called Circle Jerks. They recorded the song as well for their debut album Group Sex. As much as I like Black Flag, none of their versions comes close to the Circle Jerks version (the entire album is a masterpiece).
    Temple Of Love by the Sisters Of Mercy. Originally a really cool song on an early EP or single that they re-recorded and released as a stand-alone single early nineties-ish with additional vocals by Ophra Hasa (?). Much much better.
    I`ll Take The Rain by R.E.M.. The original is a pretty standard R.E.M. track on the album Reveal. Good but not great. They had several songs of that album remixed by various DJs and offered that Remix album for free on their website. The new version by who-knows only left Michael Stipes vocals and replaced the mostly accoustic song with a surprisingly effective electronic beat. I love that version because it brings out the vocals much better.
    BUT a lot of rerecordings don´t work at all. The biggest offender is the band Suicidal Tendencies. They have four or five albums with mostly re-recorded material that really messes up their otherwise impressive discography.

  7. John King

    For my fist choice, I wouldn’t say it was better than the originals – but so different it deserve to exist and be listened to as a separate entity-the Godley and Creme album “The History Mix (Vol 1)” where they took 8 old songs they did (when they were in 10CC or Hotlegs) mixed them together and reworked them into new creations (and added one new song)
    Certainly, the rap version of Rubber Bullets qualifies for this.

    When Marc Almond did a cover version of “Something’s gotten hold of my heart” he ended up releasing a single of this song as a duet with original singer Gene Pitney – I prefer Gene Pitney’s performance in this version to the original

    1. Le Messor

      I didn’t know that Gene Pitney / Marc Almond song was a cover. It’s the only version I have.

      Well, I have a Nick Cave version, but I *knew* that was a cover!

  8. Le Messor

    How could I forget Was (Not Was)? Their multiple versions of Out Come The Freaks, the slow version of How The Heart Behaves, the different versions of Shake Your Head!

    I love their remixes, which include completely different lyrics sometimes.

    1. Peter

      Townshend’s solo acoustic performances are reliably quite good. I like that version of Bargain, but the original recording is still tops for me.

      I think Pete’s solo acoustic version of “Let My Love Open the Door” might be better than his studio version, if only because it eschews unnecessary synths on such a lovely song (although the original arrangement isn’t even that bad by late 70s/early 80s standard).

      1. I believe that Pete has been quoted something to the effect that if a song is really good, it should hold up as just a vocal and acoustic guitar performance, so there’s that.

        Speaking of The Who, I suppose the Tommy stage version is sort of a reworking of the original album, and it’s not too shabby.

  9. Eric van Schaik

    Silly me.

    I forgot the Thorn Ep by Siouxsie and the Banshees. They reworked 4 songs on that one with Overground being my favorite.

    The live versions of all songs by Blue Oyster Cult are so much better. Astronomy on Some Enchanted Evening is the best example IMO.

  10. I’m thinking of my favorite groups, and I suppose the things that come to mind are:

    Frank Zappa reworked a lot of songs into the Thing-Fish album, and those versions are just as interesting.

    The instrumental parts of several songs on We’re Only In It For The Money were used in the “instrumental” album Lumpy Gravy.

    When the CD version of those two albums I just mentioned came out, apparently they are much reworked from the original vinyl versions. Apparently to their detriment, but I dig.

    I believe the first disc of You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore volume 1 has a really fun audience participation version of the Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow suite.

    I’m sure there are others.

    The Velvet Underground’s version of Sister Ray is really great on the White Light/White Heat album, but the live version from the “bootleg” version that doubles the length by slowing down the already 18+ minute song into a nearly 40 minute version is pretty cool, if you’re in the right mood.

    The VU version of Sweet Jane rocks, but the Lou Reed Rock N Roll Animal version of the song, with the intro by the guitarists that Alice Cooper used is pretty damn great too. Heroin is good on that album too. Lou also does some good versions of old songs on other live albums.

    John Cale did Music for a New Society and then years later reworked it into MFANS, a remixed sort of a thing that was decent, from what I’ve heard.

    Tori Amos remixed Talulah from Boys for Pele for the movie Twister, and apparently liked the new version so much she replaced it on later versions of Boys.

    I think the version of The Waitress on the live disc of To Venus and Back is an amazing, apocalyptic version that outdoes the original by quite a bit. It’s amazing.

  11. Le Messor

    I keep trying to think of Queen examples, because that’s me. Unfortunately, most of their remixes have differences like ‘the drums are slightly louder,’ and I honestly can’t tell the difference between the original and the ‘remix’ (or, if I can, it’s the kind of difference I hear every time I change player).

    Then I remembered their sort-of-covers of Heaven For Everyone, Made In Heaven, Too Much Love Will Kill You and I Was Born To Love You; all of them are good, though not necessarily better than the original.

    There’s also the movie version of Who Wants To Live Forever vs the studio version, where Freddie sings the first verse on one version, Brian on the other. Again, neither is necessarily better, but it’s interesting to hear the difference.

  12. Jazzbo

    You’re Crazy by Guns N Roses was the first song to pop into my head. The version on Lies is way better than the version on Appetite for Destruction.

    I would also say 21st Century (Digital Boy) by Bad Religion is better on the later Stranger Than Fiction album than on the original Against the Grain. Although both are pretty damn good.

    1. Darthratzinger

      Do You really hear a difference between the two 21st Century (Digital Boy) versions? I always thought they put the same recording on both albums. Anyway, fantastic song.

      1. Jazzbo

        It’s not a huge difference, but the later version sounds a bit more polished. I read that they re-recorded it because they wanted to attempt to have a hit on the Stranger Than Fiction album and they had been playing 21st Century Digital Boy live for over a year and all felt like they were better at it than when they first recorded. But as I said before, both are pretty damn good.

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