“Safety Dance”— a song so good, it deserves to be played twice, even if there are two versions of the track.
80s Songs with Two Versions
Last summer, on my birthday, my wife and I went to a 80s “Retro Futura” concert. Howard Jones was the headliner, but the event also featured acts such as Katrina (sans Waves), Modern English, Paul Young, English Beat, and Men Without Hats.
Most of the bands played maybe five or six songs, ultimately ending their set with their big hit. Not Men Without Hats, though; they opened with “Safety Dance.’” And closed with it. That’s right: those Hatless Wonders played “Safety Dance” TWICE in the span of their twenty-minute-or-so set. And it was awesome both times.
See, here’s the thing: if you recall, there are two different versions of “Safety Dance”— one that started off with that cool spelling (“Ssss-Aaaa-Ffff-Eeee-Tttt-Yyyy…”) and one that didn’t. And back in the song’s heyday, you could hear BOTH versions on the radio. They were essentially two different songs.
That experience got me thinking of all the other songs from the 80s that had two incarnations– usually the “album version” and the “radio edit.” The “radio edit” version was basically the album version with a new nips and tucks, so it can fit into a radio-friendly, four-minute-or-so box. A fine example of this is Journey’s “Separate Ways.” The radio edit– the version used for the “so bad it’s… bad” video– cuts out the “I still love you, girl. I really love you, girl” part after the final chorus. (Fortunately, they didn’t cut out Steve Perry’s glorious “Noooooo”-ing at the end.)
Sometimes the edits are slight. Stevie Winwood, for example, trimmed a few of the repetitive parts of “The Finer Things” and “Back in the High Life” for the radio versions. Other times, the changes are rather seismic: the radio version of Billy Joel’s “Pressure” eliminates half a verse and a second bridge (“All your life is Time Magazine”); the single for Wham!’s “Everything She Wants” (which is already kind of long) takes out that whole “How could you settle for a boy like me?” part near the end; and Bob Seger absolutely guts “Against the Wind,” shedding almost two minutes worth of content, to get the single version down to 3:45.
Regardless of the size of the cuts, if you’re used to the album version of a song, any modification can result in some annoying and embarrassing moments. Picture this: you’re in the car, singing along to a favorite song, and just when you start belting out a chorus… the song doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Even if you’re by yourself, you feel a little sheepish. (Come on: you know you’ve been there.)
For some songs, the stuff that’s been cut out can basically become a whole other song. The introduction to Alan Parson’s Project’s “Eye in the Sky,” for example, is so distinct from the rest of the song that it has its own name– “Sirius” (or what I still call “The Entrance Music for Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat”). And Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” has a protracted ending, during which the song inexplicably morphs into a cover of “Where Did Our Love Go?” by the Supremes.
Generally, I prefer the album version of songs, if only because they’re the ones I’m used to. Sometimes, though, less is more. The extended version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” includes an unnecessarily protracted ending (featuring Prince shrieking like a dying bird) that definitely doesn’t improve the song in any way. Likewise, the extended version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is pretty much the musical equivalent of coal in your stocking. (This is the version that includes Bruce Watson of Big Country bizarrely preaching, “Feed the people! Stay alive!”)
And the version of “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits you hear on the radio nowadays has been edited not only for length but also for language; one of the original verses, if you recall, included a homophobic slur.
What’s interesting about the 80s is that you would hear the album version on the radio as often as you would the radio version. So, once again, “Safety Dance” had two versions– the spelling version and the non-spelling version– and DJs back in 1983 played both. Prince also had two versions of “Let’s Go Crazy”— one that started a elongated Prince-as-preacher bit. (“Electric word, life. It means forever, and that’s a mighty long time. But I need to tell you, there’s something else: the afterworld”). And back in the Purple Rain craze, you could regularly hear either version on the radio.
Whitesnake likewise recorded two versions of “Here I Go Again”— the one with the slow keyboard intro and one that starts with the band. (I prefer the “slow keyboard” version, so I remember being crushed when I purchased the 45 record, and it was the other version. It may have been one of the darkest days of my adolescence.)
Perhaps the most fascinating example of “two versions/ one song” from the 80s is Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” There’s the version included on the 1986 album So. Then there’s the “Extended Remix,” which includes this whole other set of lyrics:
“Accepting all I’ve done and said/ I want to stand and stare again/ ‘Til there’s nothing left out,/ Oh, it remains there in your eyes/ Whatever comes and goes/ Oh, it’s in your eyes.”
That’s the version that was included on the soundtrack to the 1989 film …Say Anything, but Gabriel definitely recorded this version by 1986. In fact, in 1986/ 87, a friend of mine was totally psyched that he found the “accepting all I’ve done and said” version on cassette single. (Remember those?) And yes, the “accepting all” version is pretty great, but the album version is already amazing. What made Peter Gabriel feel he needed to record a new version, with a new set of lyrics? Is he not satisfied with perfection?
Now, I’m sure there is some contrarian out there who will insist that songs from every era, not just the 80s, have album versions and radio edits. And I will concede that point (even though I can’t really think of too many off the top of my head). But the 80s did seem to breed an unusually high number of songs with two versions. And I think the reason why is simple: 80s songs were so great, why wouldn’t you want more of them? (And if that aforementioned contrarian doesn’t believe me, I’ll spell it out for him– just like at the beginning of the alternative version of “Safety Dance.”)
“Mark Dursin is an English teacher at Glastonbury High School in Glastonbury, Connecticut. His writing has appeared in the Hartford Courant and several online publications, including Salon.com. Mark and his wife Sheri have written a young adult fantasy novel, Labors of an Epic Punk, which you can check out at epicpunk.com.”