While the Spotify playlist is pretty dope in itself – a 22 track playlist spanning multiple genres and starting as loud as possible and finishing in a more mellow space – the videos are even better! Check them out below:
Thunderstruck – AC/DC
So – live track being better than the record eh?! – even if the record has sold 5 million copies and been streamed almost a billion times? Better start with the “Big Guns” – literally.
From ACDC’s 3 date gig at Argentina’s River Plate stadium in 2009 – over 200,000 people crammed into a single space – lights out – waiting for the gig to begin and this is what they open with.
The riff – the roar of the crowd – every person on their feet – 200,000 voices chanting Thunder – and then the wave of humanity as the entire stadium starts to rock.
Apparently if you ask any touring band who are able to fill large venues – Argentina is the best gig on the planet – looking at this crowd – it’s easy to understand why.
While the track on the record is awesome – this is just better!
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel
I mean this is pretty cheeky ‘cos the record version is legendary – The Stranger sold over 10 million records and the track still features in his live sets today – but it’s maybe because it is so bloody good live that it still finds its way into the track list.
Made up of three separate songs that were “stitched” together for the album – it’s a bloody intricate piece of music – from the sax solos through to the amazing licks that Billy runs down the keyboard into the Brenda and Eddie section – you’ve gotta have serious chops to play these parts in the studio – let alone live.
I’ve seen many bands unable to recreate the record on stage – and it’s not that I’m looking for a facsimile – it’s that – I want to hear the melody I fell in love with – not the secondary lamer version that you end hearing ‘cos the singer can’t deliver the tune without “cut and pasting” – likewise that killer guitar solo that you’ve memorized and that just never shows up because again it was produced by studio wizardry.
Billy Joel is a master musician – as is his band – his voice hits all the notes – his playing is indeed faster than the record and the sheer swagger of a band at the top of their game – knocking out licks and knocking down sips of Wine – it’s a perfect addition to the list.
Waste A Moment – Kings of Leon
The live version of this track hit me hard, leaving more of an impression than the studio version. Starting from the intro, there is more emotion and impact taken away with the live version. The studio version does not give enough justice to how good the song is and how amazing the band is. The live version does a better job at getting across the tracks’ meaning while being more intimate at the same time. To me when I hear the live version it feels like Kings of Leon are singing directly to me. The addition of extra vocals and hearing the way it is sung with the band in its entirety made the track feel more complete this way. This version sounded more captivating from beginning to end. I could really feel the rock and the soul and the passion coming across. Listening to the live version made listening to this track an experience on its own. The sound is bigger and the track has more purpose.
Don’t Lose Sight – Lawrence
I love the story behind this band – a true indie success story as they organically grow their audience and indeed their band. While the studio version is excellent and the accompanying music video is great fun – this amazing stripped down “Acoustic” version of the track is just mind blowing – Gracie Lawrence’s voice is a freakin’ weapon!
I Wanna Make It Wit Chu – Desert Sessions
I love the entire concept of The Desert Sessions: a collective founded by Josh Homme in 1997, where musicians, some of whom have never met, are invited to spend a set number of days at the Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree, producing songs on the spot for an album. Sounds familiar to me as a musicto creator, albeit we (curators/creators) aren’t producing albums ex nihilo, nor are we on the same spot.
I’m not going to lie. I love this live track for four simple reasons:
- PJ Harvey;
- Josh Homme;
- the lounge atmosphere;
- the circumstances under which this song was born.
The fact is that none of us will ever be privy to that creative moment in time at Joshua Tree. This live version is as close as we can hope to get to the totality of that collaboration. It’s rare. It’s special, and I’ll add that this live version could be counted among my top ten songs that are sexy AF!
Outside – Staind
OK, this isn’t exactly a revelation to anyone that listened to the radio in 2001. The live version is on Spotify as part of Staind’s greatest hits album. Even they know which version is better. The reason this song makes the playlist: it’s DRAMATICALLY better than the studio version. I can’t even listen to the album cut. I don’t even like Staind. But this live version captured something raw and tangible, puts you in Biloxi on that night, lighter raised and flaming. It could be two negatives making a positive (Fred Durst and Aaron Lewis don’t make many best singer lists). It could be the insecure mumbling of the first verse that builds into an audible confidence boost after the crowd cheers their approval. It could just be they were able to take an otherwise forgettable track and turn it into a moment. Point is, it makes the list.
Excuses – The Morning Benders
In the introduction to the video, singer Chris Chu talks about the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” concept – where you make the music so “big” by using a crap load of instruments and multi tracking – something they tried to do on the record but it just feels thin when you compare to what they achieved with a small orchestra live in the studio – one of my favorite melodies on this one too!
Paranoid Android – Radiohead
This is about two things – first – Thom Yorke’s vocal performance is just stunning – better than the record – to sing this melody with the kind of purity and groove he delivers is just stunning. Add to that – the overall performance of the band is just technically astonishing – for how OK Computer was critically acclaimed for its technical excellence in the studio – to not only match that live but exceed it – they’re just an amazing band.
Ball and Biscuit – The White Stripes
This was one of those moments where I watched frozen in awe. The medley/change of lyrics was perfect. No disrespect to the OG, but the drummer in the live version is not Meg White. Even the backhanded way he held his sticks was incredible. Jack White’s guitar solo was more piercing, his voice more urgent than the original. SNL has had some iconic musical moments. As we enter the 2020’s, this is my entry for the SNL performance to beat as “best of the decade”.
Iron Sky – Paolo Nutini
I wonder if it’s simply that the first time you hear a great track you can’t then change allegiance to a different version of it. I “saw” this track before I listened to the album version and while the record version has pulled in over 73 million streams – it’s just not as good. You want to know why? It’s the guitar. You see – on the record – the guitar part (I’m talking about the cat in the red T-Shirt with the black guitar) is perfect – it’s tight – it’s on the “one” and it’s cool. But on this version – the part is slightly off – there’s a looseness to it – by not being perfect, strangely enough, it makes it perfect! Oh and – who doesn’t want to watch Paolo singing “Rain on Me” – and watching the keyboard player for his disappearing sunglasses!
So Into You – Tamia
Ok, so this may be cheating. In fact, it is cheating. But you should ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Tamia created an undeniable classic in 1998 with this track. It’s on any playlist for best 90’s R&B. It’s the reason most people even know who Tamia is. The track was so good, it was basically remade into a hip hop track five years later by Fabolous. Then, 17 years later, Childish Gambino appeared on an Australian radio show and recorded his own interpretation, which introduced the song to a new generation, while paying homage to the original. Not much is altered, but the stripped down keyboard and finger snapping create an intimacy that the original lacks.
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) – Garbage
I’ve never owned an analog version of any Garbage LP. By the time their self-titled debut album came along in 1995, CDs had pretty much overtaken the asylum. Plus, as a recent Uni grad that year, it was much more convenient to lug around 300 CDs and a Sony Discman as I traveled to find my place in the world than the nearly 500 LPs that I (regrettably) stashed in my parents basement — not to mention the turntable, amp and speakers on which to play them. I can’t tell you whether or not analog versions of Garbage albums are better than live recordings, but I can confirm that seeing this band live, whether or not they’re being recorded, is awesome.
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) is a perfect example of a song I kinda liked when listening to the band’s 2001 Beautiful Garbage album, bought on CD, of course. It wasn’t my favorite track. However, it became a favorite when I heard Garbage perform it live at the 2012 Marés Vivas festival in Porto, Portugal. It was richer, fuller, potent. Maybe that was due to Shirley Manson’s deepening voice and empowering stage presence. Perhaps it was because of the energy of the crowd. It could very well have been due to the piff we smoked. I’ll never be able to listen, hear and experience that song like I did that night, but that’s exactly why live performances are better than recordings. Always.
Ultralight Beam – Kanye West
You can’t find this SNL performance on YouTube. I’m not sure why, but it’s a shame if it means more people can’t stumble across it. The song is great. This performance is incredible. It starts innocently enough, bad Kanye auto-tune before The-Dream does his thing. Ok, we’re back on track. Then Kelly Price comes in. STOP EVERYTHING. You miss how powerful her voice is when you listen to the studio version. Then Chance The Rapper does his thing: pure emotion and energy. Kanye is off to the side beaming with pride. Finish with Kirk Franklin over a dramatically collapsed Kayne. This performance gives you that intangible you can never get from listening to the album cut.
What’s the Use? – Mac Miller
Continuing the theme of live performances too close to untimely deaths, you can’t watch this without feeling the internal sadness, hearing the screams for help muffled in the lyrics. Although the entire Tiny Desk performance is a must-watch (as are most Tiny Desk performances), “What’s The Use” (starting at 5:40) is the standout track, mainly because of Thundercat. His bassline groove is the same we hear on the studio version, but SEEING him pluck those strings adds a flavor and bounce you just can’t get from just using your ears. The chemistry between Mac and Thundercat is strong, watching them interact can’t help but make you smile, even if you know how the story ends.
Tyrone – Extended Version – Erykah Badu
This is the first track I thought of when the idea for this playlist was introduced. Does anyone listen to the studio version? I bet most don’t even know it exists. The producer had to add a turntable record sound effect to clearly identify it as the recorded version. It’s longer, more polished; doesn’t matter. Nothing beats the “Sistas, how you feel? Brothers, you all right? Let’s see how you groove to this…” opening. Then the slow reveal of the song’s theme and lyrics to an audience that never heard the song before. Brilliant. By the second chorus, everyone was singing along. “Tyrone” was made for a live performance, and will never be as powerful as this virgin presentation.
Nerve – Charlotte Church
This song is such raw energy – the record seems almost muted compared to the live version. It’s the temptation to get into the studio and layer effect upon effect and before you know it, the song’s hidden. There’s a visceral energy to this performance that I just keep coming back to – that and the remarkable song structure and melody – you can’t see many singers of her generation pull this off. Oh – and – two drummers FTW!
Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana
Everyone knows this live performance for the foreshadowing-in-retrospect stare into something/nothing that Kurt Cobain gives at the end. When I first saw this, I enjoyed it for what it was. Later in life, when I revisited it, I wanted to know who Lead Belly was. That took me down a blues rabbit hole that introduced me to a whole world of great songs and covers (I recommend you do the same). Over time, it’s remained one of my favorite Nirvana songs, but the studio version is very forgettable. While more true to the Lead Belly original, I need that classic Cobain scream from the live version. And the stare.
Big Love – Fleetwood Mac
My bias of the live version of this track being better than the album version comes from hearing the live version first. I first came across this song when me and my friend were thinking of songs we could cover for an open mic night, this being one of the songs we came across. We became obsessed with the power this song held when it was stripped back to one guitar and one voice.
The live version is absolutely electric; you almost think the guitar strings are about to snap with the passion that this track is performed with.
Listening To The Rain – The Osborne Brothers
I’m kinda cheating with this one as the two versions of the track are by different artists but I just couldn’t resist having this amazing Sturgill Simpson cover from his Austin City Limits gig – it was this track that rocketed his Estonian guitar player – Laur Joamets – into the public eye – just an astonishing performance!
Make It Holy – The Staves
This track comes from The Staves breakthrough album where they holed up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver in his Wisconsin studio and created magic. And while he sang on the record – breaking the trinity of the sister’s harmonies for the first time – I just don’t dig it – this version where it’s back to just the three of them – just feels so much more complete.
Hardly Wait – 4-Track Demo Version – PJ Harvey
P.J. Harvey is awesome – we have a fabulous three part article written just for her – you should check it out – and this is a great track – but again – we’re slightly cheating here – but the track appeared on my radar when Juliette Lewis covered it as part of her role as a rock singer in the totally bananas film “Strange Days” Likewise – if you’ve never seen the movie – I highly recommend it.
Caledonia – Dougie MacLean
Many songs, most even – stay the same as the record – loosely interpreted live but staying fairly faithful to the moment it was put down on tape or disc – but other songs – well – they have a whole life ahead of them. This is one of those songs – the longer it’s around the greater significance it develops and the deeper it crawls into the hearts of its country people. No record version of this track stands up to this – the latest version of a live recording and no doubt another version will come along in the future to supersede this – but for now – just check out the understated brilliance of a Scottish anthem.