Why Must Folks Tinker with Songs

[As usual, updating in the morning for the day before]

On Wednesday, I picked up a copy of the new Peter, Paul and Mary album, In These Times. On it, they did another version of “Don’t Laugh at Me”, that they had done previously on their album Songs of Conscience & Concern.

IMHO, they ruined a perfectly good song.

For those unfamiliar with the song, I think it is a song that many of us “geeks” can identify with. It was written by Steve Seskin, and the lyrics are along the lines of:

I’m a little boy with glasses
The one they call a geek
A little girl who never smiles
‘Cause I have braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep
I’m that kid on every playground
Who’s always chosen last
A single teenage mother
Tryin’ to overcome my past
You don’t have to be my friend
But is it too much to ask

Don’t laugh at me
Don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me

[Full lyrics: PP&M; Steve Seskin]
[Audio Files: PP&M (Real) (from the later album); Steve Seskin (Real)]

Now, when PP&M did their first version, they cut one of Seskin’s original verses that taught that one doesn’t always know the backstory (the second verse of the song refers to a bum on the street — PP&M cut the lines “I lost my wife and little boy/When someone crossed that yellow line/The day we laid them in the ground/Is the day I lost my mind/Right now I’m down to holdin’/This little cardboard sign”). I could live with that.

However, on the new album, they changed: “I’m fat/I’m thin/I’m short/I’m tall/I’m deaf/I’m blind/Hey aren’t we all?” to “I’m fat, I’m thin, I’m short, I’m tall/I’m deaf, I’m blind, yes, I think in a way, we’re all/I’m black, I’m white and I am brown/I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, and I am Muslim/I’m gay, I’m lesbian, I’m American Indian/I’m very, very young, I’m quite aged/I’m very wealthy, I’m very, very poor”. This doesn’t scan (a big sin), and it’s overkill. The song made its point; the other aspects were handled better in the song “LISTEN, MR. BILBO (Mr. Bigot)“.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done it: the great tempo of the original version of No Easy Walk to Freedom version of Light One Candle was made insipid in the choral version (and alas, most people performing it don’t have the requisite energy and anger).

I’ll still listen to them, but please folks, when you get a song right, don’t change it.