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!