Monday, May 21, 2007

My Obsession With A Song

Lost in the hubbub of the past two week's activity was the release of previous unreleased Elliott Smith songs. The 2-disc album New Moon (buy it here) was released two weeks ago, but I just got it sometime last week. There are a few gems, a few duds, but overall just two discs worth of good Elliott Smith tracks recorded in his early years around the time of Roman Candle and Either/Or (my favorite Smith album). To be honest, its probably difficult to truly appreciate this album unless you've been a fan of Elliott's for a long time now. Otherwise, its probably just some more good Elliott Smith songs.

However, I've been anticipating this CD since I first heard about its conception. And after purchasing it, there is one particularly stand out track for me. What's odd, though, is its not exactly a new song. The album contains a version of a song that would eventually become Miss Misery, Elliott's standout "hit" that earned him accolades and recognition (perhaps even unwanted, on his part) due to its inclusion of the soundtrack to Good Will Hunting.

Miss Misery was the first Elliott Smith song I had ever heard, and I was instantly a fan. I heard it in the movie, and rewound the credits like 10 times to keep listening to it (this was pre-Napster days), watched him perform at the Academy Awards, and went on to follow Elliott's work right up until this day. So, the inclusion of new version of this song immediately had my curiosity peaked.

So, before I talk anymore about the song, I suppose everyone needs to be on the same page. By that I mean, I need to make sure you've heard the song. Here is the final version, the first version I ever heard:

Elliott Smith - Miss Misery
Now, here's the early version of the song off the New Moon album. Its an 'Elliott and an acoustic guitar version' well before the song officially became Miss Misery.

Elliott Smith - Miss Misery (early version)

Very unpolished, but you can already see in this version, the foundation that would become the final. It probably wasn't even called Miss Misery at this point (that phrasing came later). Aside from the obvious melody, you can already hear the phrasings that make the final cut (including my favorite, the intro line about Johnny Walker Red). But there's a lot missing as well. Certain lines sound unfinished as if they were just fillers until he thought of a better idea (that's the way the line about the tarot cards sounds, this would become the line about the palm reader in the park).

But also, and I could be wrong about this, I think the tone of the song changes. The early version sounds depressing, but hopeful. He keeps anticipating this "enchanted night" he's with his girl. The final version sounds less hopeful. Whether they're together but can't bring themselves to break up, or whether they're not together with little hope of ever being together, or whether its actually a song about Elliott's depression (another theory). It comes across as less hopeful, despite the music sounding more upbeat.

So, I've loved this song for a very long time, but this new version helps me appreciate it that much more. I hope you all like it as well. I'll leave you with a couple other fun Miss Misery tidbits I have. One is a piano version of the song, and below you'll find a YouTube clip of Elliott's awkward performace at the Academy Awards when the song was nominated for an Oscar.

Elliott Smith - Miss Misery (piano version)

Take care.



Anonymous said...

I like the piano version best....but they are all great.

Bryan said...

ANother insightful post and anon is right, all of the versions are great.

Keep the goods comin'.

Anonymous said...

Elliott Smith continues to inspire and surprise me. An amazing song which is definitely worth a post of it's own.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this site and all the links have expired. Could you upload the songs again pleeeeaaaaze??? :) thx alot!