‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ never provided Scritti Politti with the full-on pop chart hit that might have ambitiously been hoped for, but the impact it made with its sea-change in style ensured its high profile all the same. What I had not quite appreciated until more recent years was just how many versions of the song there are and it’s curiously stop/start release history.
In short, turns out that there appears to be four unique mixes available. Now, there is much that is largely identical across all versions, to be fair – the basic chassis of the song is shared, but the differences tends to be with with the vocals and piano in particular from version to version. So, while they are not radically different, there are variations to be had for the keen-eared.
There’s also the release history. The song had such impact because this was the first product of a new Scritti Politti, in mindset if not personnel, the band and Green in particular having laid low in recuperative mode for most of 1980. The band’s previous self-released singles/EPs had a wiry, spare, minimal, tricky-to-handle sound. This song took on board Green’s influences from lovers’ rock style reggae outings, though filtered through the unique organ/piano stylings (guest contributions from Robert Wyatt) and sweetly relentless time-keeping of an already vintage sounding drum-machine. And Green’s voice and vocal harmonies given free rein.
The release history basically seems to go something like this;
- First released early 1981 as the opening track of the ‘C81’ various artists compilation cassette in a full-length six and a quarter minutes mix. Never since re-released.
- Released in West Germany on a 7” with a unique mix (coming in at just over five minutes) and a unique picture sleeve design, sometime in the summer months of 1981. (It was certainly advertised from mail order retailers by late August in the NME, for example.) This version is included on the much later ‘Early’ compilation album.
- Released in late October in the UK on 7” (a mix just over four and a half minutes long) and 12” with the full length six and a quarter minute mix (that is similar but by no means the same as the original ‘C81’ release) and packaged – with an ironic taste for luxury – like a packet of Dunhill cigarettes. The 12” mix is the common version to be found as it’s the same as found on the band’s ‘Songs To Remember’ album. The 7” mix, hasn’t been re-released as far as I know.
There are also other territorial releases. So, let’s take a detailed look…
NME C81 various artists compilation cassette
This was the first release for the song, with the cassette that was announced in the 31st January 1981 edition of the New Musical Express. A collaboration with Rough Trade Records, not only the fact that ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ was the opening track, but that it signalled how radically changed the band’s sound now was, were major attention grabbers.
The ‘C81 Owners Manual’ was printed in the NME itself and gave further detail on the track and its background. The cassette itself could be purchased for £1.50 by cutting out and sending off some coupons from the paper. It was later given a wider, commercial release at the start of June 1981, retailing for £3.75. This later version of the release had two tracks changed however at the insistence of Chrysalis Records.
So, what is it about this version that is different?
On the surface, it largely resembles the eventual 12″/album mix that is the most familiar – but it is sonically different in a number of ways, including;
- the opening drum machine echo/delay effects.
- Green’s ‘aowwww’ shriek heard as the instruments come in – in all other versions that is heard much later on in the song.
- it is a different vocal take from the other versions – you really hear this on the intro before verse one starts.
- radically different stereo panning for the “When we walk in the park…” section harmony vocal interlude around the 4’34″ minute mark – all other versions have the vocals more closely grouped, here the vocals are separated out more.
- there are none of bassy kick-drum machine ‘booms’ heard on the outro section.
‘The “Sweetest Girl”’West German 7″ single
So, I am not entirely sure how the release history for this single goes, but it seems like this was issued before the UK 7″/12″ edition, which came out in the Autumn of 1981. As to exactly when… not sure yet! As you can see, it has a completely different picture sleeve design, which features a photograph that is a still from the 1974 Heiny Srour film, ‘The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived‘.
It is not only the sleeve that is different from the previous ‘C81’ version and the latter UK 7″/12″… this is a different mix of the song once again.
So, what is it about this version that is different?
- Although it is built upon the familiar version and therefore the keyboards (organ and piano) are the same performances, they get some very different treatments with effects, principally echo/delay. Some examples;
- extra dubby echo on the piano after verse 1.
- a beautifully haunting delay added to the organ at around the 3’30” mark under the ‘When the government falls…’ section.
- The opening drum machine intro is much shorter.
- The song fades out much earlier than the familiar album/UK 12″ mix, so there is none of the more improvisational keyboards and drum machine.
‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ UK 7″ and 12″ singles
The 7″ single
The UK 7″ and 12″ singles were the first example of Scritti Politti playing with the iconography of luxury branding, the sleeve designs being a take on the luxury packaging of the Dunhill cigarette brand.
On the face of it, you’d be tempted to assume that the 7″ mix is just the same as the 12″/album mix but with a shorter drum machine intro and then just fading out earlier. But it is not quite so simple as that… differences to be aware of are;
- shorter drum machine intro.
- After the last verse is finished there are no further vocals – it is purely instrumental on the fade-out, whereas the 12″/album mix sees vocals come back in. To contrast and hear what I mean, try listening to the 4’14″ mark on the 7″ mix compared to the 4’18”” mark on the album mix.
The 12″ single
The 12″ UK single mix is most likely the one that if you are already familiar with the song you may know best, since it was also used on the album ‘Songs To Remember’ when it was eventually released in September 1982.
So, if you are comparing to some of the other versions we’ve looked at so far;
- there is little to no echo/delay on the piano after the first verse.
- there are very obvious bass kick drum machine ‘booms’ on the outro from round about the 5’40″ minute mark.
‘Songs To Remember’ UK LP
The album mix is the same as the UK 12″ mix, as far as I am aware. The ‘Songs To Remember’ album sat unreleased in fully recorded form for a long time.
Contemporary interviews of the time seem to indicate that Green Gartside was content to sit and wait for the ‘right time’ to issue the album. So, essentially it was all recorded by the end of 1981 but was not released as a full album until September 1981. In the meantime, the single releases of ‘Faithless’ and ‘Asylums In Jerusalem’/‘Jacque Derrida’ had come and gone.
So, there appear to be four unique mixes of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ that were released – albeit much of them are built upon the same basic backing track – and two versions of ‘Lions After Slumber’.
‘The “Sweetest Girl”’
- The version from the NME ‘C81’ various artists compilation cassette – it does not appear to have ever been re-released officially anywhere since the ‘C81’ cassette came out. (Approximate timing: 6’09″)
- The version originally released on the West German 7″ single release of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”‘ – this was re-released on the Scritti Politti ‘Early’ compilation album. (Approximate timing: 5’10”)
- The 7″ mix released on the UK 7″ single release of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ – as far as I’m aware, this mix has also never been re-released anywhere since its original release. (Approximate timing: 4’36″)
- The 12″ mix released on the UK 12″ single of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ and on the ‘Songs To Remember’ album – this is by far the most common mix you will come across as it is featured on all versions of the ‘Songs To Remember’ album.(Approximate timing: 6’16”)
‘Lions After Slumber’
- The version originally released on the UK and West German 7″ single releases of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ – this was re-released on the Scritti Politti ‘Early’ compilation album. (Approximate timing: 4’57”)
- The version originally released on the UK 12″ single release of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ and the ‘Songs To Remember’ album – this was re-released on the Scritti Politti ‘Early’ compilation album. (Approximate timing: 6’06″)
Finally, there are other regional variations out there, but I don’t have these (other than the Japanese 7”), so can’t confirm for sure which versions they contain:
There’s a nice Japanese 7” with a slight variation to the UK sleeve design and an older track on the B side, ‘Confidence’. The mix of ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ on the A side is almost identical to the UK 7” except a second or two shorter.
The other 7” edition is from France and it also uses ‘Confidence’ for its B side and has a unique picture sleeve with a large size band photo.
And there’s two 12” singles largely like the UK 12” – a US 12” release with, a slight variant to the picture sleeve design by using a small band photo on the front (like the Japanese version) – and a Spanish 12” that comes with a foil effect sleeve for an extra touch of de luxe.