Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Whenever I listen to one of my favorite Glenn Tilbrook/Chris Difford tunes, "Slightly Drunk" from Squeeze's sophomore release "Cool For Cats," my first thoughts are always the same, "Man, that keyboard and drum intro is just terrible." It was the 80s after all. But at the heart of the dated production, and maybe one or two other missteps, is a song with great lyrics, great harmonies, and a chorus melody to die for.

I often think, if "Slightly Drunk" was played a bit more straight, maybe a tad slower, employing an acoustic piano instead of the cheesy synth, would it be a better song?


It's a silly notion. It is what it is. But, I know I'm not the only person to feel this way. Heck, Difford and Tilbrook reimagined their quirky and mechanical hit single "Goodbye Girl" as a speedy, guitar-driven rocker for some live performances.


Bruce Springsteen once said, "Yeah that one really got away from me in the studio." He was referring to "Real World" from the album "Human Touch." Listen to the the studio version and then a live version from the Christic Benefit in 1990. It's easy to toss the studio version of "Real World" aside, thanks to the horrible production. For me, the barebones live version hits harder.



I always loved Madonna's record, "Like A Prayer." But it took John Wesley Harding's acoustic reading for me to truly appreciate the song.  The shuffle of Led Zeppelin's last hit, "Fool In The Rain," was a departure for sure, but it worked...except Jimmy's synthesized guitar-solo, which to my ears, sabotages the tune. His playing is great. His choice of sound takes the tune down a notch.

It's a fantasy, of course, to be able to remodel songs to fit our precise musical needs, but if you could, what songs would you tweak?  Which song would be just perfect if it wasn't for.....


ronh said...

The fretless bass on the entire Storms album by Naci Griffith. The Ray Ruff production on Val Stecklein's Grey Life.

Shriner said...

I would have assumed Goodbye Girl was redone because it would have been too hard to redo the record version live.

Sal Nunziato said...


That is a consideration, of course. But they have done the album arrangement live. Costello is a good example. There are 3 versions of "Riot Act" on one CD.

Jeff Matthews said...

Good question, Sal. The one band that immediately came to mind was the Boomtown Rats, who I thought were incredible as a live act but on record disappointingly lost all emotion. The tempos were forced and hyperkinetic (a new wave thing that bothered me at the time, and now sounds dated), and the background vocals were overblown to the point where they interfered with the songs. I know that Sir Bob is now despised by many but in the original Rats he was an incredibly charismatic performer - reminded me a lot of David Johansen actually. I was at a show in Boston where the Rats debuted "I Don't Like Mondays"; it was brilliant in its sparse arrangement (just piano and Bob). The subsequent single version felt forced and faux.

Anonymous said...

Hello all...No, please, remain seated.

Very cool topic. Too many possibilities, not enough time at work to give it a lot of thought, though. But here's one that popped into my head:

Shelter by Lone Justice (Maria McKee)

I love this song but, like many others from that time period (mid-80's), the production grates on the ears. In fact you could say that about the whole album. McKee has done some amazing songs since then (Red Dress, Wish I Was Your Mother, etc.), but inconsistently.

IMO, I think Shelter is a song ripe for a good country re-interpretation. Now that I think about it, why HASN'T Raul Malo done this one?



charlie c. said...

A lot of times it has been done for you: Super Session (Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills) re-issue has a couple of tracks sans obnoxious horns. I never like the au courant talking bits -- i really do like Jimmy Buffet's Sail On Sailor cover but the spoken "sail on Greorge Harrison" makes me cringe. Beach Boys California Saga is a cool piece of music before Mike Love's oration . . . there are a lot of them!

Anonymous said...

Is there a better song than Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' EXCEPT for that godawful 'I know, I know, I know (repeat endlessly)' in the middle of it?

Anonymous said...

Loudon Wainwright III's "A Live One" was a revelatory re-imagining of earlier material. Album dross became instant classics.
Bob Dylan on the other hand does the same thing in reverse. Has he ever improved on his studio work in concert?

The Dame said...

From Station To Station: "Stay" & "Wild Is The Wind". I was so coked up my vocals need a redux & mix fix. Sorry about that.

Anything Should Happen said...


I know what you mean about The Boomtown Rats, but I saw them a lot and they were patchy.

Fantastic touring Tonic For The Troops, but on the Fine Art Tour, Geldof's voice was shot most of the time. Mondo Bongo Tour had all the songs being played at a million miles per hour and after that it became bizarre arrangements of great songs.

As for the studio, Fine Art Of Surfacing is an amazing album, up there with anything of it's ilk, fine writing and arrangements and plenty of observation and humour.

Agree with the production on most of their stuff though, blame Mutt "I Suppose A Rock's Out Of The Question" Lange.

Rock and Roll Tonight by Wizzard was chaotic and seemed to be a one take cacophony at times, Cheap Trick nailed the cover.

I've always thought Like A Prayer was a masterpiece, if you forget it's Madonna, many would probably appreciate it more.

Anonymous said...

What about great songs by singers one doesn't like? Rufus Wainwright, Robbie Robertson, Lou Reed, Elvis C, Leonard Cohen, etc. All of these blokes have terrific songs, but I find their voices unlistenable. Just found glorious cover of "Harvest Moon" by Cassandra Wilson. Any other suggestions in this vein?

buzzbabyjesus said...

I'd like to remix The Clash's "Give Em Enough Rope".

Also remove the baby crying from that song on Lou Reed's "Berlin".

JB said...

Sal, maybe D&T were slightly drunk when they recorded (or conceived) the intro??

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any tunes that I like "except for X." If X was that offensive I probably just wrote the whole song off. (Maybe I just have low standards... I don't mind the weird guitar in "Fool" or Withers' soulful "Is the record skipping?" break in "Sunshine." I know, I know...)

However, sometime in the near future I'm sure a song will shuffle up and I'll immediately realize that when I hear that tune I focus on what one of the musicians is playing in order to ignore some other part of the song... I just can't dredge up the name of one of those tunes without hearing it first.

PS: Jeff, there's a piano-and-vocals-only version of "Mondays" on The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. Yours for just $129 (wtf?) on Amazon. But if you're lucky maybe the proprietor will drop that version into a WEEKEND MIX for us sometime soon.

PSS: Handy fact about iTunes... it allows you to carve time off of the beginning (or end) of song file, so that on playback you hear only what you want to hear. (It would be easy to lop off the intro of Slightly Drunk since the song comes to a brief full stop after the intro.)

This feature also comes in handy for trimming time off the end of live cuts that are followed by lots of applause, tuning, or stage banter you don't need to hear every time... (like the spoken introduction to the next song, which you aren't going to hear anyway unless you're listening to the whole show.) The only downside is that you can't fade it out, you have to do a hard cut. Which is abrupt and briefly distracting, until the next tune starts.

(Most BW regulars probably already know about that feature but if not, well, there you go.)

Sorry for the overlong comment, just feeling chatty today.

cmealha said...

The break in " If Anybody Had a Heart" by John Waite always stuck in my craw. I've edited it out.

More recently, the chorus of Rufus Wainright's "Out of the Game" is just so awkward. It could have been a great song with a good hook, which he is extremely capable of producing.

I love the guitar effect in "Fool in the Rain".

Jeff in Denton TX said...

Willie and Merle's cover of "Pancho & Lefty" has too much of that 80's keyboard sound for a country tune. They didn't need to do it as stripped-down as TVZ's original, but the arrangement is really dated on what is an otherwise fine performance.

Ken D said...

The album that leaps to my mind is the Flatlanders' debut "More a Legend Than a Band." An absolute country classic in every respect except for the inclusion of a musical saw player in the band (I've blocked out his name.)
Suffice to say I love "twang" and could listen to a great pedal steel all day long and even I found this album unlistenable with that squealing saw in the mix...

tinpot said...

Jeff, another thing wrong with Merle and Willie's Pancho & Lefty (which ruins it for me) is that they changed the punchline/last line! The whole point of the song! Instead of 'they only let him go so wrong ...' they just mindlessly repeat 'let him slip away..' which undercuts the power and the moral of the tale.
Nice topic, Sal. Surprised more people aren't unloading their frustrations here.

Anonymous said...

Elvis Costello himself laments (in the CD liner notes) that his album "Goodbye Cruel World" contains some nice songs that are all but completely lost in the mid-80s overproduction. The songs "The Comedians," The Deportees Club" and "Peace in our Time" are good examples from the album. I keep hoping that EC will someday release a "Let It Be-Naked" version of the album.