The Original Is ALWAYS Better...

Monday, January 24, 2011
At least when it come to artists reinterpreting their own songs. Case in point, Eric Clapton's Layla. The rousing, rocking, raging version on Layla and Other Love Songs simply screams out the primal lust and confusion of one man's love for his friends wife1. Just listen to that guitar scream, the sexual frustration and anger in Eric's voice. I get chills when I listen to it. I even get more chills hearing Duane Allman's signature style in the main riff. Two of the greatest axe slingers, ever, joining forces to show the world what unrequited love sounds like.

We have all been there, but the opening lyric sums it up better than I ever could:
What'll you do when you get lonely
And nobody's waiting by your side?
You've been running and hiding much too long.
You know it's just your foolish pride.
In 1992 when going "Unplugged" was all the rage, Eric gave us an acoustic version of Layla. It is a nice stripped down bluesy/jazzy arrangement, that, is pretty good. If you had never heard the original version, you would hold this in high esteem. Well produced, arranged and played.

It doesn't hold a candle to the Derek & The Dominos version. It lacks the rage. The sense of impotence. The passion. The Unplugged version seems more resigned, tired even, especially when played side by side with the original. In fact, I think it is only a minor step above your typical easy listening cover2.

What is the lesson here? Sometimes, things are better left in our memories. Newer is not always better.

1.) Even ballsier, Eric played the song for Patty at a party and admitted his love to her and George:
According to Boyd, Clapton played the song for her at a party, and later that same evening confessed to George that he was in love with his wife. The revelation caused no small upset among the three of them, but Pattie and George remained married for several more years, and Harrison and Clapton retained their close friendship with no apparent signs of damage.
2.) Am I angry that the Unplugged version of Layla beat out Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit for Best Rock Song? Maybe, but suppose Kurt had lived a long life like Eric and rolled out some jazzy bluesy version of Teen Spirit? Would it have the same resonance as the original. Probably not. The fact that Nirvana didn't included it on their Unplugged album speaks volumes.


  1. I always like when authors re-work something to make it more current for themselves, sometimes it gives you a new insight to what they feel about the Springsteens live version of The River, which to this day makes me cry every time I hear it. For me, I would say that version IS better than the original, so raw and unpolished. But I get you on Layla.


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