Music Made Better by Adding Music

Here’s what I mean. Back in 1965, Simon & Garfunkel put out an acoustic album called Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. OK album for folk, went nowhere. Simon takes off to England and is failing there when he gets a call telling him his song, “The Sounds of Silence,” is on the charts heading for the top. Huh? Turns out that while he was gone, the producer decided to add a rock backing back to the acoustic version without telling him, because the duo had officially split up. The added beat made all the difference.

Here’s another. Suzanne Vega included an a capella version of “Tom’s Diner” on the 1987 Solitude Standing album. Not a hit. Three years later DNA takes the track, steals some beats from Soul II Soul, and turns it into a worldwide smash.

This must have happened other times. Adaptations abound, but I’m asking about taking the original tracks and jazzing them up to make a hit. Whodunit?

If you believe Phil Spector, the entire Let It Be album.

I’m not sure if this fits, but the group Gun Hill Road released a song “Back When My Hair Was Short,” which did nothing. The lyrics were rewritten (the original had references to the 1960s; the new version replaced them with references to the 1950s) and rerecorded, leading to a minor hit.

Eric Andersen’s 1967 LP 'Bout Changes & Things, Take 2. Pretty much the same deal as Simon & Garfunkel – a folk album that was electrified to join the wave of folk rock. (I’m not sure if it was actually improved thereby – I only have the non-electrified version.)

Missing, by Everything But The Girl. Not exactly a total flop in its original guise, but became a massive hit when they released the dance remix.

Well, exactly the reverse, but the group Prelude had a minor hit with an * a capella * version of Neal Young’s “After the Gold Rush” in 1974. It got to #22 on the Billboard top 100, which was better than any of Young’s singles from that album.

Also, Eric Clapton released an unplugged version of “Layla” that did just about as well as the original on the charts (and won a Grammy).

The original version of “A Little Less Conversation” written for Elvis Presley, was released to little fanfare. It was remixed in the early 2000’s and became a #1 hit (not in the U.S.).

Would Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” count?

I was bewildered once to hear a version of “Born in the U.S.A.” that was, as nearly as I can tell, exactly like the original version but with added glockenspiel.

Because, I presume, nothing rocks like glock.

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was recorded independently by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. A DJ spliced the two versions together. It created a lot of buzz, so Streisand and Diamond rerecorded it together to make a number 1 hit.

Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription… is more glockenspiel!

Too bad the same thing couldn’t happen with Natalie Cole’s duet of “Unforgettable” with her dad.

Ugh. I’m sorry…it really is an objectively lovely duet, but I can’t help but call it “Natalie Cole’s Necropheliac Incest Song” in the deep recesses of my brain.

I guess someone has to say That Thing You Do, even if it doesn’t exactly fit the category. I tried to find the “you’re playing it too fast!” Battle of the Bands version, but no luck.

I thought the music in the Byrds version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” made it ten times better than the Dylan version.

Walking with a ghost in Paris

Its a mash up of the Tegan and Sara song with a Mylo song.

Well, that and the fact that Jim McGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark can actually sing…

A similar thing happened with Fatboy Slim’s remix of Cornershop’s ‘Brimful Of Asha’.

According to the venerable wikipedia, the song “originally reached number 60 in the UK Singles Chart in 1997. After a remixed version of the song by Fatboy Slim, originally released only as a limited edition 12 inch single in the UK, became both a radio and critical success, the song was re-released and reached #1 in the UK chart in February 1998 and number #16 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.”

Boz Scaggs had a (I think) minor hit with, “We’re All Alone,” (Urban Cowboy soundtrack?). Plus I believe he wrote it. Rita Coolidge had a bigger hit with same song. Somebody spliced the two versions together and I think it became an additional hit (not really sure if it was as big as, or bigger than, either original hit.). Facts may be slightly screwed up–memory is a funny thing.

Back in the '60s Capitol Records signed a popular LA folk group called the Stone Poneys. Except they didn’t really want the entire group, so producer Nick Venet had the group record a song written by Mike Nesmith, then stripped out the background singers and replaced the folk arrangement with studio musicians. The song, Different Drum, launched Linda Rondstadt’s solo career.

“Born In The USA” was originally recorded as a solo acoustic song at the sessions that produced the Nebraska album, but was left off that album because it was considered too dull. This version’s since been released, and they had a point, so it fits on it’s own as a song that was improved by backing music.

That said, Springsteen’s later solo performances of the song with slide guitar work just as well.