What possesses an artist to revisit his or her recordings years later and decide to remake the song? Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s about a label being a big butt-head, and sometimes it’s just about revisiting a song to see what new wine can be wrought out of old wine skins. Whatever the case, this week I’m going lay on you the good, the bad, and the ugly of remakes. Oh sure, some of these don’t even sound like remakes at all, and others you may wonder: “Why the hell did they do that?” But one thing’s for sure, you’ll probably be scrambling to hear the originals – just for comparison’s sake if nothing else. Okay, let’s get it started, shall we?
“Lady ’95,” Styx (Download)
Now here’s a case of a label being a big butt-head about a song the band wanted feature on a compilation album The Styx corporation reunited in 1995 to put together a greatest hits collection to, well, make some money, and when assembling their song list they found out that “Lady” (recorded back in 1973 with their first label, Wooden Nickel Records) wasn’t available due to some legal back and forth the band had the good fortune to endure back in mid-‘70s. So, what to do? They really wanted “Lady” on their latest greatest hit records, so they did what any corporation would do: create a knock-off and hope the fans wouldn’t mind. This version is pretty close to the original, but if you’ve heard the song for as many years as I have (I remember hearing it when was a little kid in 1974), you get used all the subtle thing going on in the song with the vocals. And just hearing the intro, it’s clear that whatever guide vocals DeYoung was listening to when recording this, he just had to go and add a little flourish here and there and kind of ruin the whole thing.
“25 or 6 to 4,” Chicago (Download)
I know, you’re probably saying “Why? Why did you take an otherwise novel mix and throw this proverbial turd in the punchbowl?” It’s really to goad Jeff Giles. You see, secretly he loves this version more than the original, but he can’t admit this to anyone openly because it would violate a clause in his membership agreement with Club Mellow Gold. Anyway, when this version was released back in 1986, I was enjoying my first paying gig as a radio DJ. One day, this single shows up in the mail, and I was immediately skeptical when I saw the title. The program director (who is still a friend of mine) took it out of the envelope, and cued it up on the turntable. At first, he had this quizzical look on his face when the music started, and then he started cranking up the volume and proclaimed to me that the song was “An amazing remake that’s going to introduce Chicago to a whole new generation.” Now this was during the days of hush-hush payola, and I don’t recall seeing any money or blow in that envelope from the record company, but damn if this wasn’t in high rotation for about two weeks. When it was relegated to the “recurrent” file, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and happily passed over when it came up on their shift.
“After Midnight (Alternate Mix),” Eric Clapton (Download)
Okay, this is not a Clapton song, but rather it’s a song that belongs to J.J. Cale – who recorded a demo of it in the ‘60s. However, Clapton popularized the song, so it’s kind of fitting to see what he decided to do with it 18 years after it was released. Now for those children of the ‘70s and ‘80s, you’ll remember this version was used to sell a lot of beer for Michelob, and it kind of raised some eyebrows among guys like me who smelled “sell out” when the commercial aired. But by then, many icons of the ‘60s were lending their songs and images to sell products other than their own music, so I guess Clapton saw another way to beef up his bank account and reached for the green. As a remake of his original cover (how’s that for a weird sentence), it’s a pretty good one. I could do without the moody intro, but the guitar work and the whole medium tempo groove is simply smokin’!
“De Do Do Do De Da Da Da (1986),” the Police (Download)
First off, let me apologize for the crappy quality of this recording. It’s unfortunately a very low quality rip, but it’s the only one I could find. Yes, if you’re a fan of the Police, you know the band was planning on re-recording all of their hits for a greatest hits album in 1986. But Stewart Copeland had a rather nasty fall off a horse and broke his shoulder and couldn’t complete the recording sessions. But before the band called it a career (‘til their reunion in 2008), they were able to remake “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and “De Do Do Do…” It’s hard to find this version because it was only released on Every Breath You Take: The Classics (the DTS CD). Now if you have that hard to find pressing, may the music gods bless you because you have, in this day and age of everything seemingly being available on the Internet, a rare recording. I’m not sure what I really think of this version, because while I don’t hate it, I’m not really feeling it. One thing I’m really happy about, though: that the band was never able to realize their goal of completely remaking all their old hits.
“Carpet Crawlers 1999,” Genesis (Download)
Now here’s a remake I really love. The production is lush, full, and the band’s maturity demonstrates that they were able to create a version of “Carpet Crawlers” that could feature both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins – but do so in a way that made me want the band to regroup and record some new songs. Sadly, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, but if it did, I for one would be ecstatic.
“Prayer ’94,” Bon Jovi (Download)
I hear the original version of this song every day at work, and yes, I’m sick of it, but I gotta hand it to Bon Jovi for breathing new life into a song that’s been very, very good to him. I’m not sure what possessed him to go semi-acoustic on this song, but maybe it was a desire to demonstrate that he was more than just a guy with girlish good looks and hair. I’m not sure the lyrical content warrants an unplugged version, but do we really listen to Bon Jovi songs for their lyrical insight?