Another Beach Boys Documentary

It’s Beach Boys Spring—not the summer, as you might expect—with the appearance of two major projects championing the group’s legacy. The first to get issued was the book The Beach Boys By The Beach Boys, and I wrote about some of the more interesting aspects of that volume in my previous post. The other is the two-hour documentary simply titled The Beach Boys, which is streaming on Disney Plus. 

It doesn’t have much in the way of previously unknown facts and stories, if you’re very familiar with the group’s history. Unlike the two previous full-length documentaries on the band, An American Band (1985) and Endless Harmony (1998), it does not gloss over a few of the darker sides of their story, particularly the role of Murry Wilson (father to three of the Beach Boys and uncle to another) in their career and (far less extensively) Dennis Wilson’s friendship with Charles Manson. Besides recent interviews with surviving Beach Boys Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston, there are also interviews with associates who are less heard from, including David Marks (who was in the group on their first few albums), Brian Wilson’s first wife Marilyn, and Blondie Chaplin, who was in the band for a while in the early 1970s.

Like my post about the book, this one isn’t a review of the film, which I’ll put on my year-end roundup of documentaries. It will focus on the more interesting and less-traveled perspectives heard in the movie.

Murry Wilson. A good amount of space is given to Murry Wilson’s work with the group as their early manager and then publisher. More of the coverage is negative than positive, though different sides of the story are given. He could be rough on his kids when they were growing up, and a more accurate description seems to be that he could be abusive. That’s been documented in some books, as well as some bootlegged chatter from recording sessions, and led to him being fired by the group not long after they’d become superstars.

As far as how difficult he was to get along with as the Beach Boys were getting off the ground, Marks remembers Murry even adjusting his guitar amps onstage. It’s also discussed how he’d intrusively signal to the band to adjust their sound during concerts and fine them for minor indiscretions, leading to Marks quitting the Beach Boys in late 1963. They did let him keep handing their publishing, which led to serious problems down the road, Murry selling their publishing for an undervalued $700,000 in 1969. 

Mike Love expressed a lot of displeasure in his memoir for, in his view, not getting enough songwriting credits, or the compensation he deserved as a contributing writer to much Beach Boys material. He criticizes Murry’s work on the publishing end in the documentary, remembering that Murry said he’d sell the publishing back to the Beach Boys, but he didn’t, and that Murry didn’t credit his songwriting contributions on a number of compositions. “I got cheated by my uncle,” he says. “He screwed his own sons, and grandchildren.” Brian’s first wife Marilyn (now Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford) has a more personal angle, noting the sale upset Brian so much that he stayed in bed for three days.

So yes, there’s a lot of bad stuff about Murry. But the documentary does air some more positive perspectives about the father. It was Murry, Love recalls, who got them into the studio, where they cut their debut single “Surfin’,” a big local and small national hit that did kick off their recording career, although it wouldn’t truly take off until they signed to Capitol. Other sources have also acknowledged Murry did a great deal for the group in their early days, including hustling them to labels all over Los Angeles and being instrumental in getting them onto Capitol with his persistence. While Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford detailed the publishing sale’s devastating impact on Brian, she’s also the most vocal in acknowledging Murry’s attributes. If he wasn’t there protecting them, she opines, they wouldn’t have become nearly as big. She also goes as far as to declare, “If there was no Murry, there would be no Beach Boys.” Leading viewers to wonder, if only he could have both helped their career without being such a bully to them personally—but too often, both qualities are found in tough businesspeople.

Birth of the Beach Boys: The story has often been told that the Beach Boys became serious, or at least seriously semi-professional, when Murry and Audree Wilson took a vacation to Mexico in late 1961, leaving their sons money for food in their absence. This story goes that the brothers instead used the money to rent instruments and work up material, incensing Murry when he returned, but cooling him out when he heard the results of their rehearsals, sparking him to help set them on the road to recording and stardom. Screenwriters might consider it a good setup for a biopic, but Al Jardine sets the record straight (as has previously been reported elsewhere) in hs interview. It was Jardine’s mother, he says, who gave them $300 to rent equipment. A big sum, by the way, in 1961; that’s equivalent to about $3000 today,

Denny’s Drums: That’s the name of an instrumental on an early Beach Boys album. Dennis Wilson is not the most highly regarded drummer from a famous rock band. It’s often been reported that many of the Beach Boys’ drum parts were recorded by session musicians, especially Hal Blaine. It’s also sometimes been written that he’d rather spend time having fun, at the beach in particular, than in the studio. Even in this documentary, Al Jardine observes Dennis would rather be in the water than in the studio.

Yet Jardine also says in the doc that Dennis, who’d been included in the band at least partly due to his mother’s insistence, learned the drums quite proficiently. And Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford says that Dennis is actually usually on drums on the Beach Boys’ records. Blaine and Jim Gordon certainly played drums on some Beach Boys discs, including some of their most highly esteemed recordings. But it does seem like Dennis was a more significant contributor as an instrumentalist on Beach Boys sessions than many assume, as is true of the Beach Boys as a whole. Certainly he plays very enthusiastically and serviceably well in the live ’60s footage of the group, if hardly with the finesse of the best drummers of the era.

Nick Venet: Nick Venet is credited as the producer of the first two Beach Boys albums, Surfin’ Safari and Surfin’ USA. He isn’t given much credit, in the descriptive rather than official sense of the term, in histories and by the Beach Boys. In the new documentary, Brian Wilson (in an archive interview) says Venet didn’t do much besides announce take numbers. 

In a voiceover interview excerpt, Venet ascribes his ousting from production duties as due to Murry, who as noted in their early days took an aggressive role in the group’s direction, which included musical matters. When Nick told Murry he was wrong, Venet remembers, the band took it as a slander against the whole family.

It might be impossible to determine if Venet did much besides acting as a functionary of sorts, but at least a couple of things might be noted in his defense. If his credit on Beach Boys records might have been symbolic, he wasn’t just some bureaucratic attaching his name to productions. His production resume, much of it compiled after his brief time with the Beach Boys, includes a lot of impressive albums, most notably folk-rock singer-songwriter Fred Neil’s self-titled 1966 Capitol album; the Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt’s group prior to her solo career; and early Los Angeles folk-rock group the Leaves. Indeed he was one of the more significant 1960s folk-rock producers, also working with John Stewart in his early solo career, and with cult folkie Karen Dalton.

He deserves ultimate credit, too, for signing the Beach Boys after they—according to this documentary and other accounts—were rejected by quite a few labels, whether or not he did much in the studio afterward. An issue that’s not discussed much is why the Beach Boys had trouble landing a deal after their debut single “Surfin'” had significant success. It’s easy to say in hindsight, of course, but it seems obvious from listening to their pre-Capitol recordings that they both had some appreciable if raw talent, and that they sounded appreciably different from other rock bands of the time.

That’s evident not just from “Surfin’,” but also the numerous other recordings they made with Hite and Dorinda Morgan (best heard on the double CD Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite and Dorinda Morgan Sessions, even if many of the tracks are multiple versions of a small group of songs). These included early versions of two big Capitol hits, “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl.” At a guess, maybe the Beach Boys were considered something of a one-shot novelty group, both because of the lyrics of “Surfin'” capitalizing on the surfing craze, and because of the name the Beach Boys, which might have suggested they were manufactured to suit that specific song.

Al Jardine rejoining: The usual perception of the Beach Boys’ timeline has Al Jardine in the group at the very beginning (including on the “Surfin'” single), then leaving to concentrate on college, being replaced by the Wilsons’ young neighbor, David Marks. Then Jardine rejoining when Marks quit/was fired in late 1963. But as the documentary verifies, it’s not that simple. It has Brian Wilson’s discomfort with touring—often reported to have come to a head at the end of 1964, at which point he left the road to concentrate on writing/recording/producing, replaced for a while by Glen Campbell and then long-term by Bruce Johnston—surfacing in 1963.

That, the film notes, is when Al Jardine rejoined, or at least often filled in for Brian, not Marks. With Marks’s departure, Brian then had to go back on the road until late 1964. For a while Jardine and Marks were in the same group, at least onstage. Ian Rusten and Jon Stebbins’s The Beach Boys in Concert book confirms Jardine filled in for Brian as early as a spring 1963 midwest tour, doing so off and on for a while until Marks left and Al settled in for good.

As I also observed in my previous post, although Jardine is the least colorful and least discussed of the five core Beach Boys, his contributions weren’t entirely peripheral. Part of the reason he stayed for good was that he was considered a better singer, and certainly vocal harmonizer, than Marks. It’s noted in the documentary that Jardine had perfect pitch. When I interviewed Dean Torrance of Jan and Dean about eight years ago, he told me, “his vocals were spot-on. Al was great. So they all contributed. It was an ensemble, and everybody had an important piece to contribute.”

Marks’s contribution to the group is generally underreported, and there’s a lot more about him and that stint in his book The Lost Beach Boy, co-written with Jon Stebbins.

The Beach Boys on the Beatles: The Beach Boys’ admiration for the Beatles is well documented, as is the Beatles’ high regard for the Beach Boys, though it’s usually Paul McCartney who vocalized that. Some comments in the documentary, however, indicate the Beach Boys didn’t know quite what to make of the Beatles when they unexpectedly invaded the US with massive success in early 1964. Recalling the time when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” took over the US airwaves, Jardin describes them as a little crude, and players, whereas the Beach Boys were singers. In an archive interview, Brian Wilson states “I Want to Hold Your Hand” “wasn’t that great a record.” It’s not a big deal considering Jardine, Brian, and the other Beach Boys quickly became big Beatles fans, but it’s peculiar.

Mike Love as co-writer: Love co-wrote a lot of ’60s Beach Boys songs with Brian Wilson, including some big hits, his contributions primarily being on the lyrical end. As previously noted, he has said and written that he should be credited on some others. Brian did write with some others in the ’60s who weren’t in the Beach Boys, including Gary Usher, Roger Christian, Tony Asher (for most of the Pet Sounds album), Van Dyke Parks, and even, on the 1969 single “Break Away,” his father Murry (who used the pseudonym Reggie Dunbar). In the documentary, Love says a reason for this was that when the Beach Boys were on tour without Brian, he wasn’t available to collaborate with his cousin.

Yet Wilson was writing with Usher very early on, before Brian was off the road even some of the time. On their first album, 1962’s Surfin’ Safari, Usher has a co-writing credit on half (six) of the songs, including the hit “409.” A couple of those songs have Wilson-Usher-Love credits, including “409.” On their next LP, Surfin’ USA, Usher co-wrote one of the best non-45 early Beach Boys songs, “Lonely Sea.” Roger Christian co-wrote their 1963 hits “Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” and Usher and Christian credits continued to pop up into 1964, including on “Don’t Worry Baby,” co-written by Christian. 

Certainly it seems possible that rather than turning to other writers out of necessity when Love wasn’t available, Brian wrote with some others because of personal preference, or according to what he wanted to create depending on the song. When he retired from the road (occasional appearances and TV spots aside) at the end of 1964, Brian also certainly would have been around Love less, including in the Pet Sounds/Smile period, when the Beach Boys’ touring schedule included visits to Japan and the UK. Asher and Parks, however, certainly struck different lyrical moods than Love did, and according to some accounts, not with Love’s approval (especially on the Smile material Parks co-wrote).

Mike Love is not the most popular ’60s rock star, and has gotten a lot of heat from some writers and fans for not, in their view, supporting Brian’s most ambitious efforts. But he did contribute a lot to the group as singer and sometime lyricist, and according to one comment by Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford in the documentary, Brian did value Love’s place in the band, saying Brian thought Mike was the greatest frontman.

Bruce Johnston: Johnston has his share to say in the documentary, but he just wasn’t as important a part of the story as the other five principal Beach Boys. He has an interesting tale, however, about how he inadvertently negotiated his fee when he started playing with them on tour in 1965. Asked what he wanted for two weeks of touring, he asked for $250. It was thought he was asking for $250 a night, however, not for the whole two weeks. So he got $3000 instead of the $250 he was offering.

The Wrecking Crew: Sometimes the impression’s given that the Wrecking Crew played almost everything on the mid-’60s Beach Boys sessions. They certainly played on a lot of them, and they were certainly important, but their role might have generally been overestimated. In an archive interview in the documentary, drummer Hal Blaine says that Carl Wilson did play with the Wrecking Crew often on sessions, but also that he was the only one in the group who did (possibly Blaine was not counting Brian Wilson in this memory).

It’s all hindsight and quite possibly advice that would have been ignored at the time, but maybe Brian could have offered the other guys in the group at least some more instrumental input in the Pet Sounds/Smile era. Maybe they would have been just as happy to let the Wrecking Crew handle things, but it could have made them feel more involved, rather than being singers for what some consider more Brian Wilson projects than Beach Boys ones. Possibly that could have eased tensions down the road when Smile was taking a long time to complete (and never would get completed). After Smile broke down, the Beach Boys took over most of the instrumentation on the records anyway.

Another guy on the Wrecking Crew, Don Randi, has an interesting comment in the documentary. The influence of Phil Spector on Brian Wilson has been oft-covered, and Spector often used the Wrecking Crew too. Randi remarks that a key difference between Spector and Brian, however, was that Brian was always reinventing himself. They were both perfectionists, Love remembering how Brian had the group do backup vocals for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” thirty times.

SmileMuch has been written about Smile, and how the band and especially Mike Love were not as supportive of Brian Wilson’s vision for the project as they could have been. A comment from an archive interview with Carl Wilson in the documentary serves as evidence that he wasn’t opposed to it. Carl acknowledged that Love didn’t think the lyrics were relatable, but also that he (Carl) loved it, praising how it was “so artistic and abstract.”

Charles Manson: There’s not a whole lot about Manson in the film, but Dennis Wilson’s interaction with the Manson Family isn’t skipped over. Love offers a cutting one-liner about Manson: “I only met the guy once, and that was enough for me.”

The Beach Boys Are a Group, Not Brian Wilson: One point the surviving Beach Boys make in the documentary, and one with which I’m in general agreement, is that while Brian Wilson was the most important member of the group, the Beach Boys were very much a group with individuals who made strong contributions, not Brian Wilson and sidemen. Love sees this as an issue for both the rest of the band and Brian, stating, “The problem was, Brian was being hailed as a genius, but there was no credit for the rest of the band…it might have been a little bit easier for Brian to handle the genius label.”

Adds Bruce Johnston, “I’m president of the Brian Wilson fan club. But the musicality of every Beach Boy is essential. If we didn’t have the ability, we wouldn’t have been able to sing these parts. Brian was lucky to have our voices to sing his dreams.”

Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford has this melancholy note: Brian could do everything, musically. “But the other parts of life were hard for him.”

I’m teaching a seven-week non-credit course on the Beach Boys from June 18-July 30 at the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA. It will meet on Tuesday nights from 7:10pm-9:30pm, and can be taken both in-person and through Zoom. Concentrating on their best work in the 1960s, the course follows their growth from their early surf and hot rod anthems through their lyrical maturation with symphonic masterpieces like “Good Vibrations” and the Pet Sounds album. Besides exploring leader Brian Wilson’s phenomenal skills as a melodic composer and sophisticated studio producer, the group’s glorious vocal harmonies will also be highlighted through a wealth of audiovisual clips and instructor commentary. Registration info at https://marincommunityed.augusoft.net, for course #8221M/6361.

The Beach Boys By Their Book

The Beach Boys By the Beach Boys, just issued by Genesis Publications, is sort of like what Anthology was for the Beatles. It’s an oral history where all of the principal Beach Boys (the six that played together on Pet Sounds, for easy reference), some of the others who were members for a while, and some people from outside the band talk about the group’s history. The great majority of the comments are from the six core Beach Boys—Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston—though obviously the late Carl and Dennis didn’t directly participate in the book’s production, with many quotes taken from archival sources.

This isn’t quite up to the level of the Beatles’ Anthology in depth, visuals, and candor, but it’s still pretty interesting, even if you know a lot about the group and some of the stories are inevitably familiar. Fortunately, it cuts off at 1980, eliminating the lengthy later period in which they only sporadically put out music. There are tons of pictures, again running the gamut from familiar to rare, and some non-photo memorabilia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of controversial parts of the story (such as Dennis Wilson’s friendship with the Manson Family) are not mentioned or referred to only briefly.

This post isn’t a review of the book, which I’ll have in my year-end roundup of rock books. Instead, I’ll go over some of the more surprising inclusions and comments. These are all from the pre-1967 era, as I’m not too much of a fan of their post-Smile work, acknowledging there are plenty of Beach Boys fans who hold a different view.

1. For me, the very most surprising illustration shows a couple pages from a Brian Wilson notebook with his handwritten lyrics for “Surfer Girl.” What could be so surprising about lyrics to a familiar hit song, you’re thinking. Well, the lyrics are entirely different from the record. Not just a few words crossed out and substituted here and there; entirely different. What’s more, it’s titled “Surfer Girl (Fast),” and the Beach Boys’ hit “Surfer Girl” is definitely not fast; it’s a slow ballad. The words in this version strike an entirely different mood than the hit single lyrics, too, with a more ebullient scenario about meeting the surfer girl at a party and how she’s a “livin’ doll.” 

So – could Brian have first conceived of a song about a surfer girl that was absolutely different both musically and lyrically, and then junked it and started from scratch, just keeping the title and some general themes about taking her surfing? Frustratingly, the book doesn’t say. It just notes the illustration is of lyrics for “Surfer Girl” from Brian’s notebook, as if the caption writer isn’t at all familiar with the hit version.

2. Al Jardine remembers hearing the Beatles for the first time when the Beach Boys were on tour in New Zealand and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came over the radio. “I thought it sounded raw and live,” he comments. “It sounded like a live recording, which it probably was, because they played live in the studio unlike us.” I found this reaction unusual, because although “I Want to Hold Your Hand” certainly bursts with energy, I’ve never thought of it as especially raw. Not like, say, the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” which became a US hit just a few weeks before “I Want to Hold Your Hand” did.

As for it being a live recording, even back in late 1963, the Beatles were sometimes using multi-tracking, overdubbing, and edits. In his big Rolling Stone interview in the early 1970s, John Lennon said “the first set of tricks was double tracking on the second album…We’d double tracked ourselves off the album on the second album. Not really.” As it happens, the October 17, 1963 session when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was recorded was their first with four-track recording equipment. Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions doesn’t note overdubs for this track, but I’m guessing the handclaps might well have been, and perhaps there was some vocal double tracking.

There’s not a right or wrong in Jardine’s initial perception of the track, and I’m not annoyed by it. It’s just not one I’ve heard others express.

3. Speaking of Al Jardine, there’s a surprising note in the introduction to the 1964 chapter: “It needs to be noted that in the early years Al Jardine was the Beach Boys’ hidden studio bassist, handling four-string duties on such instant classics as ‘Fun Fun Fun,’ ‘Catch a Wave,’ ‘Hawaii,’ ‘Little Saint Nick,’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ “I Go Around,’ ‘All Summer Long,’ ‘Hushabye,’ ‘Little Honda,’ ‘Wendy,’ ‘Girls on the Beach,’ ‘Don’t Back Down,’ ‘She Knows Me Too Well,’ ‘You’re So Good to Me,’ and others.”

Al Jardine is, for most fans, the least colorful of the five primary Beach Boys (Bruce Johnston, who came aboard in 1965, didn’t play on as many records or concerts). He’s mostly known as the rhythm guitarist, a harmony singer, and occasional lead singer (most famously on “Help Me, Rhonda”). That’s a lot of songs on which he is reported in the book to have played bass, and it doesn’t even list all of them. The paragraph also doesn’t mention he played standup acoustic bass on their first single, “Surfin’.”

This isn’t amplified in the book, but if he played bass so often in the studio, he was an underrated contributor, at least to this early work. It also isn’t examined why Brian Wilson, who was publicly known as the band’s bass guitarist through the mid-1960s, would have had Jardine play on so many recordings. Here are just a couple guesses. Maybe Brian wanted to focus on producing as much as possible, and was content to leave the bass duties to Jardine on some songs. Or maybe they both played bass on at least some of the records, fattening the sound with multi-tracking.

4. And while we’re on the subject of bass guitar, for all of Brian Wilson’s multifaceted talents, his bass playing doesn’t get discussed too much in general. He’s most known as a composer, singer, and producer, and not so much as an instrumentalist, especially as he sometimes had non-Beach Boy session musicians play on some of the group’s most notable records. When his instrumental performances are thought of, what he does as a keyboard player comes to mind more than what he plays on bass.

But Brian does have some detailed comments about the bass and its role on Beach Boys records in the book. On “Here Today” from Pet Sounds, “I wanted to present the idea of a bass guitar playing about an octave higher showcased as the principal instrument in the track.” Pet Sounds itself, he notes, “was a great album for its basslines, and I think people picked up on that. It taught bass players a way to be more creative.”

Carl Wilson also has a detailed comment about bass parts from this era. Brian, he says, “was writing basslines that were so far from the norm. ‘God Only Knows’ is the classic example that takes it to a new plateau. The bass was played in a different way from the one in which the song was written. It was inverted. ‘Sloop John B’ also had a brilliant bassline, the kind of line that musicians really loved.”

5. I don’t remember hearing that the instrumental title track to Pet Sounds was intended as a James Bond theme from the time I started reading extensively about the Beach Boys in the late ‘70s. It seems to be more commonly known now, and you can hear how it could have fit into a Bond movie as a theme or a song for certain scenes, though apparently it didn’t get into the running. Here’s a Brian Wilson comment on it from the book:

“It was originally titled ‘Run, James, Run!’ It was supposed to be a James Bond-themed song. We were going to try to get it to the James Bond people, but we thought it would never happen, so we put it on the album.”

6. Dennis Wilson is often, maybe usually, assumed to be a mediocre drummer, and one who’d rather be at the beach than at the studio, leading to the use of session musicians like Hal Blaine on Beach Boys sessions to play drums on their records. Carl Wilson has an interesting comment to the contrary: “Brian liked to use Hal because Hal was more reliable than Dennis, but whenever Dennis got the chance to play, he always did a great job. He played drums on more of our records than most people realize. I think because he didn’t play on Pet Sounds everybody assumes he never played at all, and that’s just not the case.”

Somewhat contradictorily, a quote from Dennis reads: “If you listen closely to the Pet Sounds album, you’ll hear me playing jazz patterns. Not everything was rock and roll.” The contradiction isn’t Wilson saying some of the patterns was jazzy, but that he actually played them. Did he play on Pet Sounds or not? Or maybe just some parts, or some parts that weren’t used? I don’t think the answers will ever be final.

7. Carl Wilson was the most skilled instrumentalist in the Beach Boys, aside perhaps from his older brother Brian. You don’t hear much of his trademark crisp guitar style on Pet Sounds, and I’ve wondered exactly how much he managed to get on, and whether it bugged him that his contribution on guitar was probably less on this album than any other. Here’s how he’s quoted in the book:

“I didn’t play that much guitar on the Pet Sounds sessions, although I do remember playing 12-string direct through the board. My playing wasn’t as consequential as it had been before and would become later, because everything had become more of an orchestra, part of the whole. It wasn’t that simple form, like our early records, with a little song and little lead break and drive home the chorus. It was more symphonic.”

8. Not to pick on Al Jardine too much, but he didn’t seem to have too much input into the group’s overall direction, especially before he started getting some of his compositions on records. An exception was “Sloop John B.” When Jardine’s specific contributions to the Beach Boys are cited, it’s usually noted that he was the folk music fan in the group, and was the main force behind them interpreting some folk material, most famously “Sloop John B.” This folk song had most famously been done by the Kingston Trio, an influence not only on Al, but also on the visual image of the group, who wore similar striped shirts in concert in their early years.

So why didn’t he sing lead on the hit single version of “Sloop John B”? There’s a pretty long and interesting behind-the-scenes account from Al in the book:

“A year before we cut it, I told Brian if it was performed in our style, he might enjoy it. I sat and played these chord progressions, basically three chords done on guitar, banjo and keyboards. I knew I had to have keyboards, otherwise I wouldn’t get his attention. I took a pretty primitive folk song, which I’d learned in high school, and added a chord or two—I heard the Beach Boys harmonies in there and felt very strongly that we could make a great record.

“The very next day, I got a phone call to come down to the studio. Brian played the song for me and I was blown away. From concept to the completed track took less than 24 hours. He then lined us up one at a time to try out for the lead vocal. I had naturally assumed I would sing the lead, since I had brought in the arrangement. It was like interviewing for a job. Pretty funny. He didn’t like any of us. My vocal had a much more mellow approach because I was bringing it from the folk idiom. For the radio, we needed a more rock approach. Brian and Mike ended up singing it. But I had a lot of fun bringing the idea to the band.”

“Sloop John B,” a #3 hit single in the US and #2 in the UK, is sometimes knocked for not fitting into Pet Sounds, or diluting the concept, or being a commercial concession to Capitol Records. Jardine has a different view that’s refreshing, if not to the liking of some purists. “The label said we needed a hit single on Pet Sounds, something with some commercial appeal. ‘Sloop John B’ had proved itself. It may not fit the creative tone of the album, but it certainly gave some relief at the end of side one.”

9. Ever wonder why the cover of Pet Sounds shows the Beach Boys in a zoo (the San Diego Zoo)? Maybe I’ve read this previously and missed it, but Mike Love tells it this way: 

Capitol’s “working title for the album had been Our Freaky Friends. To illustrate that cover, Capitol had sent us to the San Diego petting zoo to photograph us with our new ‘freaky friends’—the animals. When the LP was renamed Pet Sounds, Capitol reviewed the pictures from that same photoshoot and selected an image of us feeding a bunch of hungry goats. Not exactly inspired artwork, but indicative of Capitol’s creative efforts.”

I’m teaching a seven-week non-credit course on the Beach Boys from June 18-July 30 at the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA. It will meet on Tuesday nights from 7:10pm-9:30pm, and can be taken both in-person and through Zoom. Concentrating on their best work in the 1960s, the course follows their growth from their early surf and hot rod anthems through their lyrical maturation with symphonic masterpieces like “Good Vibrations” and the Pet Sounds album. Besides exploring leader Brian Wilson’s phenomenal skills as a melodic composer and sophisticated studio producer, the group’s glorious vocal harmonies will also be highlighted through a wealth of audiovisual clips and instructor commentary. Registration info at https://marincommunityed.augusoft.net, for course #8221M/6361.

LP vs. Single Versions, Early 1970s-Early 1980s

I’ve put up a couple previous posts about rock songs from the 1960s that were different in their 45 and LP versions, sometimes drastically so. Here are a few from the early 1970s through the early 1980s that weren’t chronological fits into those posts. The depth of my knowledge of that era isn’t as great as it is from the 1960s, and no doubt I’ve missed a good number of examples, especially in the punk and new wave era, when there were sometimes more basic versions of songs on early singles. But these might of interest, and they range from superstar acts to cult ones.

David Bowie, “The Prettiest Star.” More than most artists of his stature, Bowie put out some different versions of songs on singles than you heard on his albums, especially in the early 1970s. The B-side of “Space Oddity” had a different version of “The Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” than the one on his 1969 album (titled, confusingly, David Bowie in the UK, where his only previous LP had also been titled David BowieMan of Words, Man of Music in the US; and then reissued under the title Space Oddity). He also re-recorded another song from his second album, “Memory of a Free Festival,” for a 1970 single that split it into two parts. I don’t find these variations of tracks from his second album too remarkable, though they’re decent enough. 

A little more interesting is “The Prettiest Star,” first issued as a flop non-LP 1970 single few would have heard at the time. It’s a nice wistful tune that, in retrospect, seems a little like a bridge between the hippie and glam eras. Of historical note, it has a sweetly buzzing guitar solo by Marc Bolan, a little before he’d become a British superstar as T. Rex, and yet more before he and Bowie would vie for top honors, commercially anyway and if only for a bit, in the glam scene.

Bowie might have thought it should get a wider hearing, and/or that the 1970 single didn’t do it justice. Oddly, he waited three years, and until his sixth album—his third wasn’t even out when “The Prettiest Star” was on a single—to issue a remake. In 1973, Aladdin Sane included a new version with his famed backup band the Spiders from Mars. It’s rather smoother and somewhat harder-rocking, with some sax, ‘50s-style rock’n’roll boogie piano, and prominent backing vocals. It’s not terribly different from the earlier arrangement, but I prefer the 1970 single, which has a lighter and less hammy feel.

Bowie was a superstar in the UK and becoming a star in the US when Aladdin Sane came out, so the LP version is far more familiar than the original 45 one. That 1970 single isn’t all that convenient to find on reissues, though it’s been on a few, including the large and expensive box Five Years 1969-1973, which has the original mono single mix; some other reissues have different mixes. The Re: Call 1 disc of rarities on Five Years 1969-1973 also includes two different versions of “Holy Holy,” which was on two different singles (one in 1971 and one in 1974) without getting on his regular LPs. How many other major artists had two different versions of non-LP  songs on singles? I can’t think of one offhand.

The Last, “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here.” The original 1977 single of “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here” was easily one of the greatest fusions of early punk/new wave with a retro 1960s garage sensibility. An explosive performance, it has a deserved place on the Children of Nuggets box of 1976-96 neo-psych.

Why it was even felt necessary to record a new version for their 1979 Bomp LP L.A. Explosion, I don’t know. Maybe the original track, issued on the small Backlash label, was unavailable. Maybe the production of the single was felt too raw and fuzzy, though if anything that enhanced its appeal. Whatever the situation, the LP version is far tamer and a big letdown. It sounds almost as though it was thought that by making it more folk-rockish and harmony pop-oriented, the song would be improved. It achieved the opposite result, though owing to its appearance on Children of Nuggets and the We’re Desperate: The L.A. Scene (1976-79) installment of Rhino’s DIY punk/new wave series, the version from the rare original single is the better known one after all.

The Mo-Dettes, “White Mice.” Released on the small (their own?) Mode label in 1979, “White Mice” was the ultimate fusion of earthy new wave and a more classic ‘60s-indebted girl group sound. Catchy and propulsive, though sung in such heavy British accents that the lyrics were hard to understand in the US, the single benefited from Rough Trade distribution to get a fair amount of exposure, and also some airplay on American college/non-commercial radio. It also benefited from one of the best 45 picture sleeves of the era, with a witty multi-panel cartoon satirizing romance comic books. They even managed to produce a video for the single, which you can find online.

As this was their debut single and they featured a guitarist, Kate Korris, who’d been in both the Slits and the Raincoats, this single (backed by the far less impressive “Masochistic Opposite”) exhibited considerable promise. Alas, it seemed like more of an anomalous one-shot than the start of a substantial career. They had a few more singles in the early 1980s, and one album, 1981’s The Story So Far, but no other songs on the level of “White Mice.”

I thought I’d scored when I found a copy of The Story So Far for, as I remember, three dollars a couple of years after its release. Any elation was dimmed by listening to the version of “White Mice” on the LP, for which it was retitled “White Mouse Disco.” It’s actually not a disco rearrangement, but in common with some other remakes—whether by contractual necessity, or generated for other reasons—there’s a bit of a going-through-the-motions feel compared to the dynamic original, especially with the forced-sounding descending “ooh-ooh-ooh” near the end. The single also boasts considerably better production, especially in its use of echoed vocals.

My happy ending was finding the original single, a year later with picture sleeve, for fifty cents. Fifty cents! And, fortunately, the original 45 version was used on Rhino’s Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79) compilation.

The Go-Go’s, “We Got the Beat.” In one of the more famous instances of a song first appearing on an indie single that got remade into a big hit, the first version of “We Got the Beat” came out on Stiff Records in 1980 as the Go-Go’s’ first release. As you’d kind of expect, it’s more basic than, and not as fully produced as, the famous hit remake that appeared on their debut LP, though it’s hardly lo-fi. It’s somewhat closer to their roots in the L.A. punk/new wave scene, though these were largely submerged by the time they became new wave pop stars.

While the original Stiff 45 isn’t that easy to get, it did make an impact upon its release, Stiff being one of the higher-profile British new wave labels. The original version was reissued in 1994 on the CD single The Whole World Lost Its Head.

Berlin, “Tell Me Why.” Not nearly as hip as David Bowie, or even the Mo-Dettes and the Go-Go’s, Berlin did sound better in their early indie days than they did during their brief period of Top Forty pop success in the early-to-mid-1980s. The 1981 45 version of “Tell My Why” was about as good and rocking as synth-pop got, though that might seem like faint praise if the style’s not your thing. A DJ at the college radio station where I did programs in the early 1980s wrote something along the lines of “like you wished Blondie sounded like” on the 45 picture sleeve. That might be underestimating Blondie, but it does have a good wistful vocal, a jackhammer-rapid beat, and effective washes of percussive sound.

Berlin put a longer version on their 1982 Top Thirty album Pleasure Victim, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it was limper, more slickly produced, and far more obviously geared toward mainstream radio play, especially in the hovering synth lines. I don’t know if the original 45 version of “Tell Me Why” has ever been reissued, and I’m not going to buy Berlin compilations to find out.

1960s LP Vs. Single Versions, Pt. 2

In a previous post, I detailed some of the most interesting instances in which the LP version of a song by a major 1960s rock act differed from the one on the 45. Even without paying much attention to the ones where the single’s a few seconds longer, the LP has a different guitar part, the drums aren’t double-tracked, etc., there were a surprising number of these. So much so that I didn’t have room for all of the ones I could have written about. This post goes through some of the others, by acts who weren’t exactly minor, but weren’t as major as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Who, and others upon which I focused on my earlier post.

Phil Ochs, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” There are few instances in which the single is so different from the album version, and also in my view few instances in which one of the versions is so markedly superior. This anti-war protest anthem might be Ochs’s most famous song, with the possible exception of “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.” It was the title track of his second LP, where it, like virtually everything Ochs did at Elektra Records in the mid-’60s, had an acoustic folk arrangement.

I say virtually everything because in February 1966, Ochs put out an electric version of the song on a UK-only single, with backing by the Blues Project. (It did come out in the US as a flexidisc with Sing Out magazine, although the flexidisc format was rarely employed in those days.) Although Ochs liked rock and was an early and vocal supporter of his rival Bob Dylan’s move from folk to rock, he didn’t seem to feel the need to make such a move himself, at least over the course of his first three albums, all of which were on Elektra Records. This electric version was simply far more musically dynamic and appealing than the plain folk one, with rollicking piano and what sound like bagpipes at the track’s beginning and end.

Why didn’t it get a general release in Ochs’s native US? “It was basically to test the waters,” Michael Ochs, Phil’s brother and (starting in 1967) manager, told me. “He wanted to expand his music, and so he thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be great, to do a rock version.’ I’m not sure that was his decision to be careful and only put it out in England. Phil was very tight with Murray the K, and Murray the K was on [New York’s] WOR-FM at that point, doing a very hip show. Every week he’d play like three new releases for major artists, and people would call in and pick their favorite. I know he played Phil’s electric ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore’ against the latest Stones record and one other major one, and the calls that came in all said they loved Phil’s record the best.”

One shot-in-the-dark guess as to why it wasn’t released in the US is that Ochs wouldn’t be with Elektra Records that much longer. This single came out around the same time as his third and final (and best) Elektra LP, In Concert. If it was known at that time that Ochs was planning to leave for another label, Elektra might not have wanted to put too much into promoting a single that represented a departure from his folk sound, at a time when there was still some controversy about folkies going electric, though Dylan got the brunt of that flak. Ochs would indeed go into recordings with full backings by other musicians starting in 1967 with A&M Records, though these tended to be more eclectic, sometimes orchestral folk-with-pop-and-art song than straightahead rock.

One celebrity who did get to hear the UK single was not pleased. Asked for his reaction to the single in Melody Maker’s “Blind Date” column, Who singer Roger Daltrey snarled, “It sounds like a punished protest song. Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off! It’s not even good for my grandmother.” 

For a record that was so hard to find in its initial incarnation, fortunately it hasn’t been hard to find on reissues. It’s been on the Rhino various-artists compilation Songs of Protest and the Phil Ochs box Farewells & Fantasies, and came out way back in 1976 on the double-LP Ochs anthology Chords of Fame.

Bob Seger, “2 + 2 = ?” There’s a bit of overlap between singles-only versions and some tracks I cited a few years ago in a post about prime ’60s rarities that have yet to be reissued. This is one of them, although it did get a low-profile reissue. To quote from the entry in that previous post: 

“The original version of this oddly titled tune, as heard on a 1968 Capitol single, is not only Seger’s greatest recording, but also one of the rawest, most powerful anti-war rockers of all. But wasn’t that on his Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man LP, you’re asking — an album that’s pretty easy to find used and cheap? Yes, but the seven-inch version simply destroys the tamer LP counterpart. And that’s not just collector talk that builds up cuts for their sheer rarity. The single has a searing intensity that couldn’t be matched, making the rationale behind a fairly limp album variation a mystery of its own.

Seger, as many of you likely know, seems to take an inordinate lack of pride in his earliest sides, though these are precisely the ones that will appeal most to garage rock enthusiasts. It was enough of a surprise that approval was finally granted for a CD compilation of his 1966-67 singles on ABKCO last year (the heartily recommended Heavy Music). What’s blocking the appearance of the original 45 take of “2+2=?” on CD is uncertain, not to mention unfathomable.

The Capitol 45 version was reissued as a vinyl seven-inch by Third Man Records. Backed by “Ivory,” it’s sold out. Yet it might not be the exact same version as you hear on the original single. As one reader wrote, “The 45cat.com site says this this Third Man reissue is in stereo and not the original mono 45 mix.”

The “2 + 2 = ?” single—the title, incidentally, is never vocalized in the song—was one of the relatively few rare records to gain a place in Dave Marsh’s book The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Marsh called it “a thunderous crash of a record, with phased cymbals, pounding toms and snares, and a honking guitar. Seger’s finest achievement, though, was his lyric, which spelled out the inequity of what was going on in terms stark and terrorized first describing his own hatred of war and the men who might make him fight it, then telling about a high school friend, ‘just an average friendly guy’ who is sent to fight and winds up ‘bured in the mud of a foreign jungle land.’ And then he turns on the full fury of his Wilson Pickett voice and his overamped band.”

Judy Collins, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” Collins was a pretty big star, and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” was the title track of one of her most popular albums, a 1968 LP that made the Top Thirty and eventually was awarded gold status. To this day, it’s the most widely heard composition by Sandy Denny, who was virtually unknown in the US when Collins covered this song. But it’s not well known that the LP version wasn’t the only version. 

On the album, there was a full-band production and a key change. A far sparser, drumless arrangement sans dramatic upward key change was only on the B-side of “Both Sides Now” and the film soundtrack of The Subject Was Roses,though it later showed up on the greatest hits collection Colors of the Day. That anthology is pretty easy to pick up cheap used, and I don’t know whether the B-side version was ever issued on CD.

Judy Collins, “Chelsea Morning.” It’s also not so well known that Collins put a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” on a 1969 single, two years before a different version was on her 1971 LP Living. The 45 version has a far more ornate, orchestral-informed arrangement; the LP is dominated by piano. The LP version is also a live recording, not a studio one, to judge from the bits of applause heard near the beginning and end of the track. The 45 track seems to be the one on the CD The Very Best of Judy Collins, though I don’t have the physical disc to check. Unlike her cover of another Joni Mitchell composition, “Both Sides Now,” Collins’s rendition of “Chelsea Morning” wasn’t a big hit, only reaching #78.

Tom Rush, “Urge for Going.” Also in the Elektra catalog, Tom Rush issued a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” as a single in 1966, well before Mitchell issued her debut album in 1968. The 45 version of “Urge for Going” got airplay on Boston’s influential station WBZ, but didn’t catch on nationally. It’s more than two minutes shorter than the LP version, on the 1968 album The Circle Game. It’s also distinguished from its counterpart by a higher key, though it’s not enormously different in approach, other than the longer version allowing for some added ghostly keyboards (at least I believe it’s an organ or keyboard) near the end. The 45 version, perhaps unknown even to the kind of people who care about this kind of thing, appeared as a bonus track on a 2008 CD reissue of The Circle Game.

The Leaves, “Too Many People.” The Leaves might only be remembered for their hit “Hey Joe,” in part because it was selected for the Nuggets compilation. But they were a decent folk-rock-oriented group, if one with a short life. Their first LP, though uneven, is far better than their second and final one, which is of virtually no interest. The first LP also included, oddly, a different version of their debut 45 “Too Many People.” It’s half a minute longer than the single, but it’s decisively less impressive, with a more even tempo that’s far less effective than the one on the 45, which followed the rhythm of the Rolling Stones’ “Empty Heart.” It also just seems less energetic overall than the single, as if they were reluctantly forcing themselves to go through a song they’d already played many times in the studio again.

It’s a little puzzling why this bluesy, vaguely folk-rockish protest number was redone. The original single had reached #11 on the charts—I assume a local radio chart—in their native Los Angeles. It was also on the same small label, Mira, that issued the LP, titled Hey Joe. Maybe it was re-recorded because the Leaves’ lineup changed between the single and the LP, with guitarist Bill Rinehart getting replaced by Bobby Arlin. The original 45 version, fortunately, was a bonus track on the 2000 expanded CD reissue of Hey Joe, and even way before that, had been on the 1982 compilation The Leaves 1966, on the enigmatic Panda label.

Savage Rose, “A Girl I Knew.” Savage Rose are not a big name in English-speaking countries, but they’re a big name in my house, as they were one of the best groups from a non-English speaking nation (Denmark) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I devoted a chapter to them in my book Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. They were a big name in their native Denmark, where they at some points sold a lot of records, and made some impressions, if more on an underground/cult level, in some other European countries. Even in the US, they got some LPs released, did some shows (including the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival), and got complimentary reviews in Rolling Stone. They put out a lot of records, so this non-LP version of one of their best album tracks might have been overlooked even by dedicated collectors.

“A Girl I Knew” was a highlight of their 1968 self-titled debut LP, with a light yet slightly ominous psychedelic feel, interesting piano-organ interplay, and Annisette’s distinctive throaty, pinched vocals. It’s a little mystifying as to why they’d bother cutting an inferior slower, heavier rock version on a single that, to my knowledge, is extremely difficult to find on CD. It did show up on a huge eleven-CD various-artists box set Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978, and I’m not sure any copies of that made it overseas; I’ve certainly never seen one. Making matters more confusing, it seems like there are three volumes in a box set series titled Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978, of which this is just one, each bearing that identical title, though at least they’re in different colors. The one with the 45 version of “The Only Girl I Knew” is green.

As to why there was a remake for the 45 market, that might have had to do with a famed producer with whom they briefly worked. Polydor Records, perhaps sensing it could break the group into the international market, arranged some sessions in London with manager/producer Giorgio Gomelsky, a British impresario who’d worked with the Yardbirds, Soft Machine, Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger & the Trinity, and numerous other innovative UK artists. “He was a pretty wild guy,” Savage Rose guitaris Nils Tuxen told me. “It was known that he consumed a bottle of whisky every day, which is not a little.”

Obviously some effort went into this enterprise, as Gomelsky came over to Denmark beforehand to see the band play at Tivoli, Copenhagen’s famous amusement park. And going to Britain to record was not something a Danish band could do with casual ease in the late 1960s. “It was an interesting situation, because at that point, you were not allowed to go into England and record,” noted Tuxen. “It was strictly prohibited. The Musicians Union would not [allow] such a thing. So what the record company did…we went there and didn’t carry any instruments at all with us. They hired instruments for us. They even hired a session bass player who sat around for the entire time, just in order that our bass player could use his bass. Can you imagine that?”

But the collaboration was not a success, resulting only in an obscure single—the slower remake of “A Girl That I Knew” on one side, and the bluesy “Birthday Day” on the other. “In the studio, we just didn’t get to the place where our kind of creativity started,” Savage Rose keyboardist Thomas Koppel told me about the sessions. “We felt like the road was blocked somehow. It didn’t work out. In situations like that, we became anarchists.”

“That’s BS,” retorted Gomelsky when asked to give his side of the story. “The drummer [Alex Riel] was a professional musician, he knew a lot about music. You could talk to him. He saw very clearly what the ideas were. Annisette—great singer. We had no problems. With one of the [Koppel] brothers, I had terrible problems. One of them thought of himself as some kind of Viking god. Big-headed, big chip on his shoulder and knew zilch. It was very difficult to get anything out “of them and by consequence out of the session. He opposed everything, he stopped everything, he stopped work from flowing. We were getting nowhere.

“In London at the time, remember, we were flowing. We were in a groove. The engineers were hot, everybody was hot, we worked and went out and we celebrated. It was such an ‘up’ kind of situation. And there came this guy with this sort of negative kind of resistance. It just didn’t make for any agreeable environment. So I said, ‘I can’t do anything.’ But on the way there, we had some really good ideas, because Alex Riel—a pleasure to work with—was open to anything that made sense to him. Annisette, she was waiting, ready to wail away at the least opportunity. One of the brothers was cool. But then there was the other one. So it was not a happy experience. Truth to be known, you can pinpoint why.”

Whatever the reasons for this impasse, the resulting single did not succeed at raising the group’s international commercial profile, if that was the intention. It wasn’t the last time they hooked up with a big-name producer—they recorded Refugee with Jimmy Miller, who was also handling the Rolling Stones at the time, in 1971. But as Thomas admitted, “We were never really the typical kind of artists that wanted a producer at all.”

The few English-speaking collectors who are interested in finding Savage Rose rarities might want to know that Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978—the volume that features their 1972 album Dodens Triumf as disc one, if you’re determined to track it down–also includes this single’s B-side, “Birthday Day,” and another non-LP single from 1969, “The Schoolteacher Said So,” which like “Birthday Day” isn’t so memorable. It also has…

Savage Rose, “Ride My Mountain.” Used on the B-side of the Danish single “Evening’s Child,” the 45 version is about two minutes shorter than the one on their second album, 1968’s In the Plain. It’s faster and more intense, and though it’s not definitively superior to the LP counterpart, it’s worth hearing for Savage Rose completists. Although I’d guess fairly few of them will go to the effort of finding and buying the green-colored Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978 box. It seems like it will cost at least $50 including shipping, going from the listings of copies for sale on discogs.com.

A smaller selection of post-1960s LP vs. single variations will be coming up in a future post.

1960s LP Vs. Single Versions

How many notable 1960s singles were issued in appreciably different versions on 45s than the same songs — by the same artists — sounded on LPs? It’s not a query apt to keep the average listener awake at night. But it does matter to many collectors, and actually to many less intense fans who’ve noted the differences and found them curious. And there are more such variations than many would think, by many of the most famous and best acts of the era.

This list of examples worth detailing ended up longer than I anticipated. That’s even without considering the numerous, and perhaps countless, variations that are actually essentially the same track. There are lots of different mixes, especially when you compare stereo vs. mono. There are plenty of cuts that last a few more seconds on LP, or a few more seconds on singles. There are also plenty of tracks that were edited for radio play and/or single release, the Doors’ “Light My Fire” being about the most famous such occurrence. But most of this list springs from entirely different recordings of the same song, sometimes of huge hits. So many came to mind that for this post I’m concentrating on the more well known acts among my favorites, saving rather lesser famous ones for a future post.

Sometimes the rationale for putting out a different version is well known, as it is with the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” and the Beatles’ “Revolution,” where the Beach Boys simply felt they could do it better, and (at least some of) the Beatles feeling a faster version was necessary for a single. Often the reasons remain mysterious, or even inexplicable. Ranking these in order of their quality or historical importance would mean splitting up multiple entries from specific artists, so I’ve opted to group these notes by artist. Starting, of course, with the biggest group of all.

The Beatles, “Revolution”: Even many casual rock fans know there are two versions of “Revolution,” in part because one was on a chart-topping album and one was a hit single, albeit on the flipside of a #1 disc. It’s more obvious since the titles are slightly different, the White Album version bearing the title “Revolution 1,” and the flipside to “Hey Jude” (which made #12 under its own steam on the national chart) simply billed as “Revolution.” What makes it most obvious is that they’re very different. “Revolution 1” is slow, almost sluggish, with doo-wopish backup harmonies, and a key lyrical difference when John Lennon sings “you can count me out…in” on the LP, but emphatically and simply “you can count me out” on the single.

When Lennon pushed for “Revolution 1” to be a single, Paul McCartney and George Harrison insisted it had to be faster. John still seemed to have regrets, or at least mixed feelings, about this compromise in one of his final interviews. My guess, however, is that a very lopsided majority of fans prefer the fast single version, as I do. It’s more urgent and exciting; the fuzzy guitar blasts add another layer missing from the album version; and if John was reluctant to rearrange the song, you’d never guess it from the vocal, which has an all-out commitment likewise absent from its predecessor. Lennon, incidentally, seemed to have a blind spot of sorts in preferring a slow version to a fast one in another instance, as he wanted “Help!” to be slower. It’s hard to imagine that song working as well if it had been slowed to “Revolution 1” pace.

“Let It Be”: There’s some dispute as to whether the single and LP versions of “Let It Be” qualify as entirely different recordings. They have most of the same basic elements, but very different mixes. Most notably, the LP version — with post-production work by Phil Spector — has pretty loud George Harrison guitar overdubs missing or only faintly heard on the single. The LP version lasts a little longer, too, but Harrison’s guitar is the main reason plenty of people think these are totally different versions. They’re different enough that the Beatles’ official catalog has for many years made space for the single version on the Past Masters Vol. 2 compilation of non-LP tracks. Not everyone remembers this didn’t mark the first time this was on an album, as it appeared on the 1967-1970 anthology back in 1973.

The “Let It Be” single was one of the first records I bought, back in 1970 when I was eight. I didn’t get the Let It Be LP until a couple years later, but even then I was immediately struck by the difference between the versions. Then as now, I much prefer the single. The guitar on the album mix is obtrusive, both during the instrumental break and the final section. Letting the organ and the female backup vocals carry more weight on the single creates a more choral, dignified atmosphere that fits the song better. Paul McCartney of course didn’t care for Spector’s treatment of Let It Be album material in general, though his greatest ire was directed at the overdubbed orchestra and voices on “The Long and Winding Road.”

“Get Back”: The differences are clear-cut: the single has a tag after a brief false ending entirely missing from the album arrangement, with some tossed-off spoken lyrics not found anywhere in the LP version. The album track actually uses the same take as the 45, albeit mixed by Phil Spector. Again the single’s considered a different enough version to merit a place on Past Masters Vol. 2, as it had in 1973 on 1967-1970.

I was a bit too young to clearly remember the different 1969 single version when I bought the Let It Be LP in 1972, and remember feeling gypped when I heard the original on the 1967-1970 version on a friend’s copy that I didn’t own. I’d give the nod to the single version for the additional coda.

“Love Me Do”: It wasn’t widely comprehended while the Beatles were active that the versions of “Love Me Do” on their debut single and album respectively were different. There’s an easy way to tell the difference. Ringo Starr drums on the single, which has no tambourine. Session musician Andy White drums on the Please Please Me version, which has a tambourine, played by Ringo. Since the story was often told (particularly in Hunter Davies’s 1968 authorized biography) that Martin had planned to use White but relented and used Ringo after all, it wasn’t widely suspected that the LP has White on drums. That ended up being the version that was far more widely heard than the one on the original single, especially as it was used on Capitol’s The Early Beatles, which for most of the group’s lifespan was the only place it was available on US releases.

The versions aren’t very different, aside from the tambourine, and it can be questioned why George Martin felt it necessary to re-record the track in the first place. The additional tambourine does help a bit, and the better compromise at the time might have been for Starr to play the drums and White the tambourine, so as not to embarrass Ringo or make him feel inadequate. White doesn’t do a very good job on an early version of “Please Please Me” recorded in September 1962, and his replacement of Ringo could be harshly judged as one of Martin’s few lapses of judgement in his production of the Beatles, if you’re so inclined. It’s not hard to get the Starr/single version of “Love Me Do” now, as it came out on the 1980 Rarities compilation and, more usefully in the CD era, on Past Masters Vol. 1.

There are, by the way, some significant other differences between Beatles and single LP mixes, though you have to be pretty attentive to catch them. There are different vocals on the mono/single and stereo LP mixes “Please Please Me”; the original single/mono version has a better John Lennon vocal, as he briefly forgets words and chuckles on the LP stereo one. And there are a few extra beats in the “I Am the Walrus” single and an excised trumpet flourish at the end of DJ copies of “Penny Lane.”

The Rolling Stones, “Time Is On My Side.” Many things the Beatles did, the Rolling Stones did too. So many acts made different 45/LP versions that you can’t say they were imitating the Beatles when they cut an entirely different take of “Time Is On My Side” for an album. It’s more complicated than the usual scenario, because initially the single and LP versions were the same. Both of those started with an unaccompanied organ, and both were used on the hit single and its first appearance on an album, with 1964’s 12 X 5.

But on November 8, 1964 — when the single was already on the charts, and the track was also already available on 12 X 5, released the previous month — they cut a new version, with a superb and distinctive Keith Richards guitar solo serving as an introduction instead of the organ. This appeared on their second British LP, the unimaginatively titled No. 2. Very few Americans would have been aware of this at the time, when few UK import discs were sold in the US.

But, in an ironic twist to the story, the remake is the version that’s by far the most familiar one to Americans. That’s because it was the one used on their first US greatest hits compilation, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), issued in March 1966. It’s also the one used on Hot Rocks, and maybe other compilations with which I’m not familiar. Certainly it’s the one that’s played the most on radio. I don’t remember ever hearing the first version on the radio in the 20th century, though that’s the one that would have played on the radio when it became their first US Top Ten hit.

Opinions differ on the matter, of course, but the remake simply sounds definitively superior, to me and I think most Stones fans. Not just because of the guitar solo at the beginning, though that’s the biggest reason. The whole performance is better and tighter. The Stones’ No. 2 album, by the way, also had a different version of a second song than what would have been heard in the US at the time. For reasons still unexplained, a briefer, higher-pitched version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” was on their US Now album, while a longer, lower-pitched, and funkier one was on No. 2.

As for “Time Is On My Side”‘s placement on Big Hits, as Rhino Records co-founder Harold Bronson wrote in his diary/memoir Time Has Come Today, in 2006, Stones manager Andrew Oldham told him “the group preferred this take and, in compiling Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), the original didn’t work in the running order as well as the second version. ‘As far as I can recall, you are the first fellow to ever ask me about ‘Time Is on My Side,’ he said.”

The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Women.” The 1969 single, a huge #1 hit, is one of the Stones’ core classics. Virtually everyone would agree on that. Not so the counterpart on Let It Bleed, which doesn’t even have the same title, though it is the same song. Some might say the casual, country-ish hoedown arrangement doesn’t qualify, as it was retitled “Country Honk.” It was so drastically rearranged, in fact, that it almost doesn’t sound like the same composition, though it assuredly is.

Why the group decided to redo it, and use it instead of “Honky Tonk Women,” isn’t readily understandable. It’s true some bands, more in the UK than US, didn’t want previously released or simultaneously released singles to also be available on albums. But Let It Bleed does include “Honky Tonk Women”‘s nearly-as-classic B-side, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” in the same version used on the 45.

In the original Rolling Stone Record Guide, Dave Marsh called “Country Honk” “an abomination in the face of the original ‘Honky Tonk Women’ single,” and while I might not phrase it quite as harshly, I’m generally in agreement. I would say the overwhelming majority of Stones fans would vote the single the better version — at least 99%, in fact. The main reason for its existence seems to have been that the song was first conceived more as a country outing than a rocker. Keith Richards told Crawdaddy in 1975, “That’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers/1930s country song. And it got turned around to this other thing by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall another way.”

The Beach Boys, “Help Me Rhonda.” In a pretty well known oddity in the Beach Boys catalog, they put out an LP version of one of their biggest hits before issuing an entirely different recording on the single. The one on the Today album is far more sluggish, giving weight to a ukulele and a harmonica solo. It also even spells it differently — “Help Me Ronda.” The reason it was redone for a single seems straightforward enough — with the bass and jangly guitar intro, faster tempo, more of a Phil Spector influence in the production, more energetic backup harmonies, and a characteristically crisp (and very brief) Carl Wilson guitar solo, it’s better from every angle. One far lesser noticed change is in the lyric “and it ruined our plan” to “and it shattered to our plan,” which Mike Love takes the credit for in his autobiography. The real mystery is why they didn’t keep working at it before the single version — virtually unanimously considered far better — came out.

The Beach Boys, “Be True to Your School.” This isn’t one of my favorite Beach Boys hits, and is too rah-rah both lyrically and musically for my taste. But no matter where you put it in the Beach Boys canon, the 1963 hit single instantly strikes you as remarkably different, as the album version is missing the cheerleader chants (by Capitol girl group the Honeys, one of whom, Marilyn Rovell, would become Brian Wilson’s first wife) and even missing a guitar solo, an omission rectified by the re-recording. Even if the 45 had never been recorded, the LP arrangement would seem to be missing something, and have far less oomph.

Here’s a mystery I’ve never seen addressed: the first two Beach Boys greatest hits collections, issued by Capitol in 1966 and 1967, included virtually all of their hit singles, as well as some standout B-sides and LP tracks. But neither had “Be True to Your School” (or, for that matter, “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” which made #19 in late 1965). How did these get omitted, and dubious choices like “Long Tall Texan” and “Louie Louie” slip in instead?

The Who, “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand.” Sure this would have gotten more attention if it was an A-side, but as heard on the US B-side of “I Can See for Miles” (“Someone’s Coming” was on the UK B-side), this has a way different arrangement than the version on The Who Sell Out. The single has Al Kooper on organ, a higher key, full Keith Moon drum bashing, and a generally considerably poppier approach, as if it was cut with the intention of being a single A-side before the idea was abandoned. The LP counterpart, in contrast, is almost folky in its acoustic guitar foundation and far less ornate percussion (almost minimal by Who standards). Too, the instrumental breaks are much different — the single highlights the organ, but the album strips it down to acoustic guitar and percussive rattles, with a different nearly Latin tempo.

Which one’s better? It’s a close call, and one of those occasions where instead of picking one over the other, it’s good to have both available, as the differences aren’t merely superficial and both are good recordings. I kind of like the single version better, and it probably would have slotted into The Who Sell Out in the same place in the sequence without anyone feeling like it was an ill fit.

Foreign record labels obviously had some trouble with the song’s title. In the US, Decca titled the B-side version “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hands,” turning the hand from a singular to a plural. The French sleeve (pictured) had trouble with the definite article and turned it into “Mary Anne with a Shaky Hand.”

As a brief footnote, when I was seventeen in 1979, a local FM radio station ran a Who A-Z day — maybe the only time it ever presented such a thing. It was pretty comprehensive, including all the non-LP UK-only 45 tracks. But it missed the 45 version of “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand.” I pointed this out in a letter to them (no instant email in those days), and didn’t receive a reply.

The Who, “Circles.” Even as a big fan of the Who for about 45 years, I still have a hard time keeping the back story behind the two versions of “Circles” straight. Basically they recorded a version of this fine mod rocker with producer Shel Talmy, but as they wanted to break off their association with him around the beginning of 1966, they subsequently re-recorded it without his involvement. The second version came out on March 4, 1966 on the UK B-side of “Substitute” on the Reaction label, though it was quickly replaced by “Waltz for a Pig,” an instrumental credited to “The Who Orchestra” (actually the Graham Bond Organisation). This was because of legal action from Shel Talmy, and the first version, which he had produced, came out shortly afterward on the UK B-side of “A Legal Matter,” on the Brunswick label. This first version also came out in April 1966 on the Who’s first US LP, The Who Sings My Generation.

More headaches for discographies down the decades ensued because “Circles” was also, for no apparent reason other than to evade legal threats, released with “Instant Party” as or in the title in some of its different iterations. The second version of “Circles” also came out in September 1966 on the UK Ready Steady Go EP. The first version, however, was far more familiar to American listeners than the second one, as The Who Sings My Generation would constantly be available, and the EP never released here, with the second version not showing up on an official US release until 1987’s Two’s Missing compilation.

More important than the different titles and different releases are the actual tracks. The Talmy take is a bit sloppy in execution, and murkier in mix than most 1965 Who recordings, especially in how John Entwistle’s horn blares and blends with the other instruments. Yet the remake, though clearer, is more muted and less spirited. The guitars at least ring with real authority on the initial attempt. For that reason, among others, I prefer it, though it’s fair to say the Who never seemed to fully get to grips with this song in the studio and maximize its potential. It might have been a little too weird in structure — with two different bridges and in its first incarnation an extended rambling, droning instrumental passage near the end — to be the possible A-side it was first envisioned as.

The Who, “I’m a Boy.” So few people heard this in the US when it was first released in 1966 that Americans think of the longer LP version, from the 1971 greatest hits collection Meaty, Big and Bouncy, as the only or at least definitive one. Not so in the UK, where a shorter version made #2. The longer version was recorded only a little later in 1966, but is substantially different, lasting about a minute longer with an extra verse. Mostly for that reason, the original hit UK version sounds a little strange to US listeners, though both have their merits. The single is more concise and has wordless group harmonies in the instrumental section, and the album variant has more content, though it drags a little in comparison.

The Who, “Magic Bus.” The Who seemed to take the length of a track into serious consideration for their singles, considering that two very popular ones had significantly shorter durations in their 45 iterations. Like “I’m a Boy,” “Magic Bus” was about a minute shorter on its 1968 single than it was on Meaty, Big and Bouncy a few years later, though both versions were recorded around the same time. With “Magic Bus,” the groove is more the core than the lyrics or chord changes, so it works better when it goes a little longer — though not when it goes a lot longer, as live versions (most famously the one on 1970’s Live at Leeds) have demonstrated. 

In the department of “here’s something I don’t remember seeing written about,” one way to tell the versions apart is how the weird shouted “moo” before the instrumental break seems lower and more echoed on the single. A more vital question, as least in some minds, is: what does this “moo” mean? Is it supposed to be “move” and the end consonant doesn’t come through? Is it “Moon,” meaning a cue for Keith Moon to play?

The Byrds, “Why.” Why are there two versions of “Why,” released almost a year apart? Like many of the cases exhumed in this post, it’s not clear. First heard in early 1966 on the B-side of “Eight Miles High,” it too had a pronounced raga influence — even more so than “Eight Miles High,” though the song wasn’t nearly as good. The main attraction was the sitar-like instrumental break, though Roger McGuinn actually created it by playing a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar through a walkie talkie speaker inside a cigar box. A subsequent version, released in 1967 on the Younger Than Yesterday album, was considerably less energetic, with much less adventurous guitar work.

While this is the consensus among most critics and fans, the LP version isn’t without a significant merit not heard on the 45. That’s in the tense, declarative up-and-down chords that serve as its introduction, which aren’t present at all on the single. The album arrangement was heard, and probably still has been heard, more than the 45, as the version of “Why” on the single remained non-LP, and for many years the only version that could be easily obtained was on Younger Than Yesterday. Certainly this was the version noted alternative/indie guitarist and album designer Bruce Licher heard, as is evident on the homage paid to the LP cut in the introduction to Licher’s 1997 demo “Tundra,” as heard on the Tape Excavation compilation.

The Byrds, “Don’t Make Waves.” Although this was one of the weakest songs the Byrds cut in the mid-1960s, I can reprise a listing I wrote a few years ago as part of a post on rarities yet to be reissued:

As the non-LP B-side to the not-quite-hit-single “Have You Seen Her Face,” “Don’t Make Waves” was one of the least essential songs the Byrds released during their classic 1965-67 David Crosby era. It’s a real basic Roger McGuinn-Chris Hillman composition, serving as the theme song for an obscure 1967 film of the same name, though it has characteristically nice Byrds harmonies. And it has, some of you Byrdsmaniacs are already declaring, been reissued as a bonus track on the expanded CD of their Younger Than Yesterday album. 

Yes, but actually the version on the Don’t Make Waves soundtrack LP is different. And kind of weird, too — the vocals have a hollow reverb, almost as though they’re singing to the backing track in an empty hallway. Michael Clarke’s had his share of criticism as a drummer, and though it’s usually unfounded and his work is usually serviceable enough, here it’s kind of overdone bashing. It sounds like a demo that got used by accident, or was maybe rushed over to the film’s producers when they needed something before it could get relatively polished in the studio, the vocals seeming to lose some heart near the finish. McGuinn goes into a neat twelve-string figure at the very end, but even that gets botched by the production, which fades it out as soon as it starts.

If this is such a mediocre recording, some might hold the attitude that it’s better off left unreissued. But the Byrds were one of the greatest bands of the time, and it would be good to have everything they did available, including their relatively few misfires. Maybe it couldn’t be licensed for their standard catalog since it appeared on a soundtrack LP for MGM Records, and not on their usual label, Columbia.”

The Yardbirds, “I’m a Man.” Here we have an unusual case where the LP version preceded the one on the hit single by almost a year; the LP version was live, and the hit a studio recording; different lead guitarists, both big stars, were featured on each; and the single, though a pretty big hit in the US, wasn’t even issued in the UK. A live performance of this Bo Diddley classic with the Eric Clapton lineup, released around the end of 1964 on Five Live Yardbirds (though it was recorded back in March), rumbles along nicely enough, with the kind of tempo changes that differentiated much of what the Yardbirds did from the originals they were covering. By comparison, the single, released in October 1965, is explosive, with a more confident, ferocious attack and fiery Jeff Beck soloing in the final instrumental section that concludes with a percussive attack on the guitar strings.

For such a major band, some of the record company decisions concerning the Yardbirds were inexplicable. One assumes part of the reason “I’m a Man” didn’t come out in the UK was because there was no UK Yardbirds studio album before 1966, though one-and-a-half studio LPs came out in the US in 1965. Certainly there were enough tracks by the Jeff Beck lineup for at least one studio British LP in ’65, even if that would have meant using some material from 45s and their 1965 UK EP. This meant that not only “I’m a Man,” but also “The Train Kept A-Rollin’,” another great track, weren’t even on the British market in the mid-’60s. 

In the US, “The Train Kept A-Rollin'” and “I’m a Man” found a place on 1965’s Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds LP, side one of which was one of the greatest LP sides of the era, even if it was mostly comprised of songs that had appeared on singles. There weren’t enough studio tracks in the can to fill up a whole studio album, so side two took four songs from Five Live Yardbirds, which wasn’t issued in the US. One of those was the Clapton version of “I’m a Man.” American listeners must have been confused to find two versions of the same song — albeit pretty different versions — on the same LP, with no explanation as to the date and lineup of the live performance.

Country Joe & the Fish, “Section 43.” Like a few entries in this post, this sort of goes beyond the strict 45/LP version division, as the original version of this psychedelic instrumental was on the Fish’s second EP, released in 1966. The more well known version appeared on their 1967 debut LP, Electric Music for the Mind and Body. Maybe some casual listeners won’t detect too much difference, but the 1966 performance, recorded with a slightly different lineup, simply has more loose and reckless spontaneity without lapsing into excess. That’s especially true of the guitar riffs in the opening section, which have an ear-piercing frequency missing from the LP remake. The debut album included remakes of the two other songs from the LP, “Bass Strings” and “Love” (titled “Thing Called Love” on the EP). But the difference in quality is far more pronounced in comparing the two “Section 43″s.

Country Joe & the Fish weren’t the only notable Bay Area group from the psychedelic era to remake songs from an early EP on their debut LP. So did the more obscure, but quite worthy, Mad River, whose 1967 EP had early versions of “Amphetamine Gazelle” (initially titled “A Gazelle”) and “Wind Chimes.” These aren’t as noteworthy as “Section 43,” though “Wind Chimes” has a section with Hare Krishna chants not on the LP arrangement. The Mad River EP’s most notable, actually, for a good song that doesn’t appear on either of their two LPs, “Orange Fire.”

Everything from the second Country Joe & the Fish EP and Mad River’s EP—along with the fine EP by Bay Area psychedelic group Frumious Bandersnatch, who never issued anything else in their lifetime, and the not-as-fine EP from Notes from the Underground—was included on Big Beat’s 1995 CD compilation The Berkeley EPs. Getting back to the EP version of “Section 43,” that was also featured on the four-CD box Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970, the best compilation of San Francisco ’60s rock.

The Great Society, “Somebody to Love.” Although this group put out just one barely distributed single while active, they’re not as obscure as many would think, since they featured Grace Slick before she joined Jefferson Airplane. “Somebody to Love” was their one barely-distributed single, recorded and issued before Jefferson Airplane cut their hit version. Because of Slick’s subsequent fame with Jefferson Airplane, two LPs of live 1966 recordings of the Great Society at San Francisco’s Matrix club were issued in 1968, including a concert performance of “Somebody to Love.”

This live version is much, much better than the comparatively rudimentary single, although it was recorded only about half a year later. For one thing, the single—titled “Someone to Love,” not “Somebody to Love”—is sung by Slick with another member of the band, David Miner. It was more of a dirge at this point, and while the live version is certainly still slower than the Airplane’s dynamic arrangement, it’s far more honed and dramatic. There’s better guitar soloing, a raga-ish riff introducing the song and recurring throughout, and a superb solo Slick lead vocal. It’s probably much more a reflection of how dramatically the Great Society improved in half a year than a deliberately strategic rearrangement.

Donovan, “Catch the Wind.” Hit and popular songs are often remade years later, often due to the original recordings being unavailable for licensing, or just because artists past their peak want to use material that’s better than what they’re subsequently able to conjure. These remakes are rarely of interest, and often terrible. There are exceptions that prove the rule, however, like “Catch the Wind,” a big hit when Donovan made it his debut single in 1965. He underwent very complicated contractual disputes with record labels, and by the time his first greatest hits compilation came out in 1968, his 1965 releases — comprising quite a few tracks from singles, LPs, and EPs — were unavailable for Epic’s Donovan’s Greatest Hits collection, issued at the beginning of 1969. 

The most popular of Donovan’s compositions from 1965 singles, “Catch the Wind” and “Colours,” were thus re-recorded in May 1968. Where the originals had been acoustic folk in nature, these remakes had full rock arrangements with top British session men Big Jim Sullivan (guitar), Clem Cattini (drums), and a pre-Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones. The 1965 “Catch the Wind” was a very impressive debut, but the 1968 redo was both quite different and pretty good. It had a more languid, introspective pace, and was a good two minutes longer. I’d give the original the slight edge, but the “rock” version, though it’s not exactly hard rock, is worthwhile in its own right.

It was also the only one I was familiar with for a couple years after getting the Greatest Hits LP at age 17 in 1979, before I was able to hear the original or any of Donovan’s largely folk-based 1965 tracks. I’m guessing a good number of others who weren’t old enough to hear the original version were exposed to the 1968 remake first, Greatest Hits being a big seller and generally more widely available than his 1965 material. The 1968 “Colours” version is also longer and more elaborately arranged than the original, but I don’t find it nearly as interesting as the “Catch the Wind” remake.

The Grateful Dead, “Dark Star.” Even many Deadheads are unaware of this 1968 single version, clocking in at a mere two minutes and 45 seconds. It will certainly never displace the far more celebrated 23-minute concert version on 1969’s Live/Dead in the consciousness of either Deadheads or more general rock fans. If you do prefer studio concision to live improvisation, however, you might prefer or at least appreciate the single, which emphasizes the song rather than the jamming. It was heard by few upon its release as it didn’t gain much sales or airplay, or find a place on their 1960s LPs; according to Dennis McNally’s biography A Long Strange Trip, only 1600 copies of the single were pressed, and only 500 sold. It hasn’t been easy to find on reissues, though it’s on Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970.  

One little noted connection this single illuminates: the Grateful Dead and the Velvet Underground are sometimes categorized as the ultimate opposites in 1960s rock, the San Francisco hippies on one side and the dark, urban realists on the other. But there were links between the groups, if tenuous ones. Both of them called themselves the Warlocks briefly before settling on their permanent names. They shared bills in 1969 in Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Grateful Dead were among the witnesses at the marriage ceremony of original Velvet Underground drummer Angus MacLise and Hetty McGee on April 24, 1968 in Golden Gate Park. And, according to an interview Hetty gave Bananafish many years later, she plays tambura on the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” single.

Bob Dylan, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Considering the extreme interest in Dylan’s 1966 world tour, and particularly in live performances of the electric half of those concerts with the Hawks (later the Band), it’s a little surprising the appearance of a live recording from those shows on the B-side of a hit single didn’t get more attention, then and since. Back in 1966, a live version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was on the B-side of “I Want You,” which got to #20 in the charts. This was less than a year after a studio version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was on Dylan’s first all-out rock album, Highway 61 Revisited.

A May 1966 recording of a British Dylan concert in Manchester achieved legendary status since it started to get bootlegged (and misidentified as a show in London’s Albert Hall) just a few years later. Decades later, that Manchester concert was officially released, including a version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” If you’re concerned about having a complete Dylan collection, it’s vital to know that the version on the B-side of “I Want You” is not the same one as the Manchester concert. It was recorded three days earlier in Liverpool, on May 14, 1966.

It’s not much different than the Manchester version; you wouldn’t expect it to be, from the same tour just three days apart. It is, however, appreciably different from the Highway 61 studio track, in common with how Dylan generally sounded with the Hawks on songs he’d already released in studio renditions. There’s nothing wrong with the studio version, although I admit it’s not among my favorite Dylan tunes. But the live recording sounds richer and fuller.

This Liverpool-taped B-side hasn’t been easy to come by since its initial release. It showed up on the 1978 triple LP compilation Masterpieces, only released in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s also on the 36-CD box The 1966 Live Recordings, which has all of the live recordings known to survive from that year. That’s a lot of cash to spend for the B-side taped in Liverpool, though at least it has a ton of other material that’s not available elsewhere, albeit with more multiple versions of the same song than almost anyone would want to hear in a concentrated dose.

Going back to 1966, it’s a little mysterious why only this track was released from his live recordings back then, and why nothing else from the live recordings was issued for many years, though the Manchester show was heavily bootlegged for decades. There were a couple gaps in Dylan’s career at Columbia Records that could have easily been filled by a live 1966 album. The first was when he didn’t release anything for a year and a half after Blonde on Blonde came out in mid-1966 — not a gap even worth noting for artists in the late 20th and early 21st century, but a big one for 1960s stars. Columbia opted to put out the first Dylan’s greatest hits collection in 1967, and while a live 1966 recording almost certainly wouldn’t have sold as much, the market could have borne a live album in that 18-month or so period as well.

Then there was no Dylan Columbia studio album between 1970’s New Morning and 1975’s Blood on the Tracks (remember that early 1974’s Planet Waves initially came out on Asylum). unless you want to count 1973’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which was for the most part a soundtrack. Columbia opted to put out the outtakes collection Dylan in 1974, which was ridiculed as an absurdly inferior compilation given the wealth of much better unreleased material which was known to exist even back then. Maybe there was some legal or contractual holdup surrounding the 1966 live tapes, or objection from Dylan and/or his representatives. But at least the recordings are readily available now, if not always readily affordable.