Whilst listening to the Manic Street Preachers’ latest album, Futurology (2 disc version), something occurred to me. I have a fondness for demo versions of songs!
In some cases, I have had a soft spot for demos because I have heard them first in a lead up to an album. In other cases, I have stumbled across demos amongst “rarities” and special ‘b’ sides.
What is it about the demo that I love so much? Is it the rawness of the sound? Is it the way you can feel the bones of the structure and the tentative exploration of the framing?
Some demos are, in my opinion, vastly better than the album versions. Madonna’s demo of Beat Goes On from her 2008 album Hard Candy was a funky little number that I found rather addictive. Then, when I heard the album version, I was rather disappointed that they changed it so much on the mixing desk.
Kirsty MacColl’s death hit me hard as she was (and is) my favourite singer/songwriter. Soon after the tragedy of her demise, a demo version of her horrifically prognostic final recording Sun on the Water (which eerily parallels her passing with the line “I want to be the one to say, I'm happy here and here I'll stay, I won't remember yesterday, When I'm dreaming - It was the place where she felt free, And Heaven lies under the sea, Hell is just dry land to me, When I'm dreaming”) and it haunted me greatly. Eventually it was polished up and released on a compilation, but I still prefer the elegant beauty of the basic version.
From Croydon to Cuba
My astonishingly talented friend, Emily Baker, let loose a few demos of her genius writing out into the ether prior to her debut album House of Cards and, in fairness, Emily really can do no wrong, but even with an official album, I can’t bring myself to delete the demos as I simply adore them – especially that of my favourite; Overcoat.
House of Cards
Every now and again, soundtracks to musicals have little bonus tracks of early versions of their songs. I have a few early recordings of songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken from their sublime Little Shop of Horrors but these are songs which didn’t make the final cut. There are also recordings of the Sherman Brothers performing their songs for Mary Poppins that have been released on CD. There is something so skin-tingling about these naked aural pleasures.
Little Shop of Horrors
Back to Futurology, I often find that it takes a while to warm up to an album as I need to absorb and really listen to the songs before I can tell which ones I am going to like. Luckily, with this album, we basically have the whole thing twice in its finalised form and then its demo form. It’s these demos that provided the joy behind the album and cement the attraction I had to certain songs (such as The View From Stow Bridge, Black Square and Let’s Go To War)
Anyway, it was just a thought that popped into my head. Maybe this post would be better with some editing and tweaks… most likely, actually…