What's The Alternative? Take Five
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Once again I am indebted to Jake Tiernan for coming up with the idea for this blog and writing about five of the alternatives he prefers. I have added a sixth and I'd love to hear from readers about their personal favourite. From bands who have recorded different versions of their own songs, he has compiled a list of songs for which he prefers the alternative take to the accepted or released one. Cue debate! Send me a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with your choice(s) and we might feature them in a future post.
1. Pixies - Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
This was the version that sparked the idea for this list. It’s also one of the rare instances where I heard the alternative version after knowing the original for a while, but still massively preferred it. It’s got such a great chorus and a typically grim yet comical subject matter. Often when stripping back a previously noisy track, bands jump straight for all acoustic guitars. Pixies showcase their mastery of dynamics by keeping the electric lead, as well as bass and drums, while managing to pacify the song in the best possible way.
2. The La’s – Alright (Marquee 23/3/1991)
This song was just an unreleased La’s track when the best Scouse songwriting duo since Lennon and McCartney went their separate ways and John Power formed Cast. Written by Power, it became the second single for his new band, who gave their version the full Britpop treatment with layers upon layers of both guitars and vocals. Production wise, it’s the antithesis of everything The La’s aimed to be. Fortunately, a live version was recorded at London’s Marquee Club in 1991, while the La’s still breathed. Powers’ raw vocal is equally angelic and angry, with the one mic mix paying the beautiful chorus melody and performance far more respect than Cast’s efforts. Lee Mavers is one of the best rhythmic guitar players ever and his acoustic gives this performance so much energy above Powers’ stomping P-Bass. It’s a fantastic pop song in its most natural form. Or, as Lee Mavers would call it, “Rootsy as fuck La”.
3. Happy Mondays – Hallelujah (Club Mix)
For me, the defining moment of the song is the immediate, euphoric “Hallelujah”. When I heard the original, I was shocked to find it lacked the same opening declaration. Paul Oakenfold's club mix is one of the Monday’s finest moments. Better than going to church.
4. Fontaines DC – Liberty Belle (Darklands Version)
So this is technically the original version, but it was replaced by a cleaner, slicker take on the DC boys debut, Dogrel. To me, the album version felt neutered and, since its release, I’ve still returned to the original, recorded in Dublin’s Darklands Studio to get my fix. Don’t get me wrong, I love the direction the band have steered their production on their first two albums, especially A Hero’s Death, but Dogrel took with it a couple of tracks (Chequeless Reckless also) that I feel should’ve been left behind, in their most primal form. Perhaps this would have caused them to increase in obscurity, but no doubt, increase in value as well. The drum sound is simply huge and Chatten’s vocals, drowned in reverb, are youthful and energetic in a way they just aren’t on the album. It’s the sound of the rehearsal room, where loudness is a necessity. Amps battling to conquer the drums and the pure passion that comes with writing music.
5. Talking Heads – Psycho Killer (Unknown version)
The song and version that introduced me to one of my favourite bands of all time. I was sure for years that this was the original. Due to copyright laws, it is not uncommon for alternate versions of songs to be uploaded to YouTube and, in some cases, to become as well known as the original. What is most interesting about this version is that nobody knows where it came from, despite it having amassed 115 million views over its 10 years online. It is possible it’s an alternate studio take from 1975, while others theorise it’s a radio session from 1979. Whatever its origins, it’s my preferred version of the song. Byrne’s vocals are less restrained, at times even gravelly. The guitars are aggressive and I prefer the dryer drum sound to the album version as well. It’s not massively different but I find it hard to enjoy the original when compared to the raw energy of this mystery take.
Thanks Jake for 5 cracking alternative takes. Here's number 6 from me.
6. The Smiths - You've Got Everything Now (Hatful of Hollow)
In 1983 The Smiths recorded three versions of this song - this one for a David Jensen session on BBC Radio 1; one for the first version of their debut album recorded in London and produced by Troy Tate (which was scrapped); and one for the released version, largely recorded at Pluto Studios in Manchester and produced by John Porter. And this is the best! Despite the fact that (or maybe because) bands recording a BBC session usually had less than 12 hours to setup, record and overdub four songs, this version absolutely sparkles with the energy The Smiths brought to their live shows. And the drums are amazing. For me, the version on the album release is the worst of the three.
So there we are folks. What's your favourite alternative take which a band have done of one of their own tracks? Send me a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with your choice(s) and we might feature them in a future post.
Jake's own blog is here