For all their adaptability as a band, The Smiths almost never went acoustic. The group had forged a unique identity, largely tethered to Johnny Marr’s impeccable electric guitar work. Songs were always intended to be played plugged in and full volume: how else were you going to get that jangle? The Smiths also shuttered before the major acoustic boom ushered in by MTV Unplugged made it compulsory for every band to trot out a few acoustic numbers every once in a while.
That’s not to say Marr was acoustic guitar-averse. Tracks like ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’, and ‘I Won’t Share You’ prominently feature the acoustic, and Marr’s signature sound often involved some background acoustic guitar to fill out the sound. But when it came to live performances, there are very few instances where the band turned off their amplifiers.
John Peel’s BBC sessions allowed a middle ground for performers; more live and raw than standard recording sessions, bands were still allotted multiple takes, overdubs, and refinement for their recordings with Peel. The Smiths made two different appearances of Peel’s Sessions in 1983, and it was during their second on September 14th that Marr and Morrissey opted to do a stripped-back version of ‘Back to the Old House’.
The song would later be re-recorded in an electric format and included as the B-side to the ‘What Difference Does It Make’ single. The gentle propulsion that rhythm section members Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce add is all well and good on the electric version, but the song is practically made to be played acoustically.
Marr’s guitar work takes on a distinctively folky sound, while Morrissey is pure Moz, unchanged and unaffected by the change of format. Weirdly enough, the acoustic version of ‘Back to the Old House’ sounds like it could have sprung directly from the Paul Simon songbook circa early Simon & Garfunkel. It’s a remarkable change of pace for a band as distinctive as The Smiths, and it was a format that they rarely ever returned to. The acoustic version of ‘Back to the Old House’ would later appear on the compilation Hatful of Hollow.
Check out the acoustic version of ‘Back to the Old House’ down below.