Saturday, April 29, 2006

"I Didn't Understand"

Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith - "I Didn't Understand"
XO/Msc. Tracks, Dreamworks, 1998

Elliott Smith is my favorite songwriter, and, as much as I tend to be harsh on XO (despite loving it), it has one of the best album closings I have ever heard. But this post is not entirely dedicated to gushing over this straightforward, haunting, song.

I've been delving into the vast annals of Elliott Smith B-Sides/Demos/Leaks/Bootlegs available to the public, and have taken specific attention to two alternate versions of this song.

The first, a demo recorded between Either/Or and XO, is (predictably) more traditional than the a capella album cut. Based on a simple voice and piano skeleton, this version retains the sadness of the final version, but is almost striking in its simplicity in contrast to the more familiar version. This version also showcases an earlier version of the lyrics, that (among other things) eschews the crass and direct "I always feel like shit" for more standard (but less affecting) fare.

The second, an alternate piano version of the final version, falls between the early demo and the final version. Higher production quality and finished lyrics seem to imply that this song might have been intended as an alternate album version (or favored B-side) that simply lost out.

Ultimately, both songs pale to the lush multitrack choirs of the album cut, but show that the song's craft and power remain intact, even stripped down and more (for lack of a better word) generic.

Listen: Elliott Smith - I Didn't Understand (Demo)
Elliott Smith - I Didn't Understand (Piano Version)
Elliott Smith - I Didn't Understand (Album Version)


Blogger John M. said...

I've been reading and enjoying.
-john muther

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The version with different lyrics was recorded at Jackpot Studios in Portland, Oregon. Larry Crane, who owns the studio, says this of the track: "I came in one day and found a DAT tape in the player and ES had mic’d up the piano. I rewound it and made a safety copy." The other piano version is from a performance on Dutch TV. He also played Waltz #2 (aborted) and Miss Misery. Watch it here:

10:43 AM  
Blogger chuibreg said...

Thanks, anonymous tipster! I actually have never seen that video before; it was great.

11:18 AM  

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