Mike Sellari

Director. Writer. Producer. Comedian. Amateur Detective.

"Smoke" vs. "Smoke"

Revising/adapting one's own work is always interesting. In fact filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth made a whole documentary about the concept in their film The Five Obstructions. People have also been continually attacking George Lucas for this for his updates to the originally Star Wars trilogy. It seems to be a natural human instinct to want to make things stronger if they realize it later no matter the person. That is why it is interesting to look at two different versions of the same song by the same person.

In 2013 Bryan Fallon, the frontman for the New Jersey rock band The Gaslight Anthem, formed the Americana/folk group Molly and the Zombies (MATZ) along with Brian McGee, Catherine Popper, and Randy Schrager. They put out five songs for free online. One of those is the song "Smoke".

See the below performance of "Smoke" by Molly and the Zombies at the Bell House in Brooklyn, NY.

Brian Fallon is currently touring with his backing The Crowes to promote his solo album Painkillers to be released on March 11, 2016. On that album includes the Molly and the Zombies songs "Smoke", "Red Lights", and "Long Drives" (arguably the three best out of the Molly and the Zombies songs). 

What is interesting about this are subtle changes to the lyrics of "Smoke" on this new album. It shows that even people who create have no problem making changes to make things sound a little better.

Most notably the change comes in the middle of the chorus:

"Well they brought hearts and daggers, they wrote
songs about you, when they
tied you up and you hung from ladders
and you never ended up coming home, you just
became something like some smoke that I tried too hard to hold"

Two years later on Painkillers the chorus now reads:

"Well they brought hearts and daggers, they wrote
songs about you, when they
tied you up in the rungs of ladders
and you never ended up coming home, you just
became something like some smoke that I tried too hard to hold"

This is a slight change that doesn't really change the meaning a whole lot, but in a way rolls off the tongue a little bit better. It feels more natural and makes sense as the way rung sounds within the song. 

Other changes to the song include:

MATZ: "Beaten to death, bleeding to death with regret"
Painkillers: "Bleeding to death, beaten to death with regret"

Compositionally the song has as little differences. The Molly and the Zombies version has a lightly faster tempo and feels has a bit of an Americana feel to it (this falls in line with the MATZ style).

Fallon's solo version is sung with a deeper, raspier, darker tone and is played in a slightly slower tempo. It also makes use of being a bit more minimalistic. In the beginning of this version all we hears is a backing clapping track with hands clapping out quarter notes underneath Fallon's singing and guitar. We also hear instances of a twelve string guitar bringing in an almost ethereal mandolin style sound.

Only Brian Fallon can really tell us why this change occured. Maybe he realized that this sounded better. While taking out the verb of hanging and moving it to the idea of someone tied to rungs seems more poetic, he still uses the original passage in the outro of the 2015 Painkillers version. Both "Long Drives" and "Red Lights" appear on Painkillers. We will have to see if there any other changes to these now that Fallon has had two years to have them sit around in his head.