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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *