Here’s another in our regular series of “VERSIONS” which is a look at tunes and how they are handled or interpreted by different artists. This time arch-versionista Rick Bayles has a look at ‘Different Drum’ in all its variant goodness:
Mike Nesmith – ‘Different Drum’ (1972)
This is Mike Nesmith’s version of his own composition, ‘Different Drum’, originally written in 1965. It’s a song that helped him secure his publishing deal and it’s one of the songs he offered up to the producers of ‘The Monkees’ when he secured his part on the TV show. They turned it down. Nesmith wouldn’t record his own version of this song until 1972, when it was included on his ‘And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ album. His fifth solo release after leaving The Monkees.
It’s an interesting song because, while it deals with unrequited love, a fairly standard subject for songs, it takes the perspective of the rejector rather than rejectee. Nesmith’s version has a slightly condescending attitude about it and is the only recorded version I’ve found which includes a fourth verse – “I feel pretty sure that you will find a man/ who will take a lot more than I ever could or can/ and you’ll settle down with him/ and I’ll know that you’ll be happy”, which adds dismissiveness to an already condescending song. Whoever he was rejecting probably got away lightly – Nesmith has been married and divorced three times!
The Greenbriar Boys (version recorded in 1966)
This is the original recording of the song, by New York based bluegrass band, The Greenbriar Boys, who included it on their album ‘Better Late Than Never’. They also released it as a single and it saw some success on local charts. They do it as a bluegrass-tinged ballad and it’s less dismissive than the Nesmith version but still quite condescending, especially in the added use of “Gal” to address the person the song’s aimed at. It’s very much a record of its time and doesn’t stand up too well these days.
The Stone Poneys (version recorded in 1967)
The best-known version of this song is almost certainly this one, recorded by the Stone Poneys for their 1967 album, ‘Evergreen Volume 2’. The Stone Poneys, at this time, were Linda Ronstadt on vocals, Bobby Kimmel on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Kenny Edwards on lead guitar. They’d planned an acoustic version of the song but producer Nick Venet had other ideas. Kimmel and Edwards were sidelined in favour of a more complex arrangement involving the famous harpsichord bridge section and session musicians were brought in for the recording, including future Eagle, Bernie Leadon. The record reached number 13 in The Billboard Hot 100, and served to launch Linda Ronstadt as a name. After this the outfit would be referred to as Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys and her solo career was just a couple of short years away.
The Stone Poneys (live recording from circa 1967)
By contrast – this is the Stone Poneys playing their acoustic version of the song. You have to say that Nick Venet more than earned his fees as the producer of the recorded version!
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs (recorded 2005)
In many ways this is my favourite version of this song. This is from the excellent ‘Under The Covers Vol.1’ album by Hoffs and Sweet, released in April 2006. It’s a more apologetic reading of the song with Hoffs managing to convey the idea that, while the protagonists may move to a different rhythm, there’s real regret that things aren’t different, that they couldn’t be on the same page. Her voice is perfectly suited to the song and Mathew Sweet’s harmony work is excellent throughout.
It all goes to show how different a song can be in different hands.
I love the Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs version. An absolute belter. Cover versions are an acquired taste, I think, but the whole 3 volumes of Under the Covers are rich pickings and Different Drum is glorious. The PP Arnold version on last year’s album is also pretty good and really well produced I think.