Ah, the demo. It’s a recording created to demonstrate how the song should sound to a producer or even to other band members. Each band works differently, and unless you’re Pete Townshend (who often comes into the recording process with fully produced demos), the chances that what’s on the demo recording versus the completed album is quite different – and yes, sometimes not so much. The recording process is one of major and minor tweaks to songs until all parties are satisfied. Well, if you’re a band, that is. If you’re one of those Auto-Tune junkies who thinks everything can be fixed with ProTools (or as they say in the film biz, “fixed in post”), you’re probably not the one writing the songs. If, however, you are in a serious band where everyone has an equal say (though, I’m sure some band members are more equal than others), everyone wants to get their best performances recorded by an engineer and producer who knows when you’re really delivering the goods, or just phoning it in. What you will find in these demos are certainly works in progress. Some songs sound complete and others sound pretty raw and unformed. But chances are that after hearing these demos, you won’t listen to the album versions in the same way.
“Close to Me,” the Cure (Download)
When Head on the Door came out, I think I listened to it pretty exclusively for about a week. The production alternated between bright shiny pop to densely layered productions that made the Cure more that a new wave band du jour. This demo of “Close to Me” has many of the musical elements that ended up in the final recording, but clearly changing the choice of the keyboard was a smart one. (Thanks to David Medsker for supplying this song).
“Girlfriend in a Coma,” the Smiths (Download)
Who would have thought that “Girlfriend in a Coma” could be played with a reggae vibe. While the vocals sound similar to the final recording, the rest of the band sounds like a garage band backing Morrissey.
“Can’t Get There From Here,” R.E.M. (Download)
Now here’s a version of a song that didn’t change all that much from the demo to the final product. The vocals aren’t as murky as the song that ended up on the album, but the vocals in the chorus clearly needed to be mixed together better. I suppose that’s what producers and engineers are for, huh.
“Veronica,” Elvis Costello & Paul McCartney (Download)
The original version of “Veronica” is one of Costello’s more accomplished songs of the late ’80s. I’m sure his collaboration with Paul McCartney had a lot to with it, and the demo clearly shows the basic elements of the song were so strong that what ended up on Spike was a matter of adding layers of bells and whistles.
“Glory Days,” Bruce Springsteen (Download)
Now here’s an iteration that’s more of a sketch than a fully formed song. There’s no argument that Springsteen had some good ideas working here, and whatever he took from this demo of “Glory Days” to the E Street Band during the recording of Born in the U.S.A. must have inspired them to really jam it out into the version that we all know today. (Many thanks to Scott Malchus for providing this tune).
“It Don’t Come Easy,” George Harrison (Download)
Ringo was never really a great singer, so perhaps George Harrison recorded a guide vocal version for Ringo to sing along to. Whatever the case, I do rather like Harrison’s version of “It Don’t Come Easy” sans horns. I like his more unbridled singing, the fact that he punched up the volume on the guitar, brought the background vocals to the fore, of course, really pushing the Hare Krishna vocal punch up in the mix. Sure it’s not subtle, but there’s an honesty that comes through.