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Fire at will

Versions of “Shoot Out The Lights” in my music library:

  • The original, off Shoot Out The Lights, one of the best albums ever. Linda Thompson provides backup vocals. They were months from divorcing at this point, and you can tell; Shoot Out The Lights is also one of the most voyeuristic albums ever.
  • An acoustic version, from A Rare Thing. This album is a bootleg from the 1994 tour (August 13th, 1994, in Chapel Hill); middling quality, but good music. This is the only acoustic version I have, although I have a number of acoustic Richard Thompson albums. It’s not really an acoustic song. Then again, that’s what makes this version interesting.
  • A version from Two Letter Words, which is the legitimate live album also from a 1994 tour. This is electric, from earlier in 1994.
  • The X cover version from Beat The Retreat, one of two Richard Thompson tribute albums. Alas, this is X without Dave Alvin… but it doesn’t really matter, cause it’s still just about perfect. Actually, that whole album is pretty amazing; it’s a who’s who of alternative rock in 1994, with X and R.E.M. and Bob Mould and Los Lobos and David Byrne and so on. All this reminds me to pick up a copy of The World is a Wonderful Place, the other RT tribute album, which is a bunch of Brit folkies you’ve never heard of.
  • Where was I? Oh yeah: a new Los Lobos cover, off this year’s Ride This: The Covers EP. This is a companion to their recent The Ride, on which Thompson guests. It’s the roughest-edged of them all, I think, with pained guitar and hoarse vocals. Very tasty.
  • Bob Mould’s cover from Poison Years. This is the other version I feel somewhat guilty about owning, because Mould was none too pleased about that album — Virgin Records released it without his blessing and it doesn’t track very well as an album, even if we needed a greatest hits album from what was then a two-album solo career. However, it does have a live “Shoot Out The Lights” on it, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to buy it. Mould makes the song into even more of a dirge than it already is, with furious guitar solos. Beautiful.
  • Finally, a live version from Watching The Dark, the big sprawling Best Of album. This version was recorded on a 1983 tour, which is not long at all after Richard and Linda divorced. The order in which I list these is the order in which iTunes happens to sort them, but I think this is the perfect way to finish: back to where it all began, shortly after the pain inherent in the song found resolution.

I need to rip More Guitar, which also has a version on it, as does the new live CD Faithless. More Guitar is a recording from the 1988 tour, which was an electric tour: I saw it live and it literally changed my understanding of what guitar playing could be. John Mellencamp’s old drummer, Kenny Aronoff, played drums on that tour and brought a really aggressive tone to the music. The CD is likewise amazing. Faithless is from the 1985 tour, which I know nothing about, and I haven’t gotten around to ordering the CD yet.

There is no shortage of bootlegs that have “Shoot Out The Lights” on them. I wouldn’t mind owning Live At Toad’s Place; I’ve heard a couple songs from that set, including his “Hey Joe” cover, and wow. Rafferty’s Folly is also of interest — it’s an alternate version of Shoot Out The Lights. After Thompson recorded the take documented on the bootleg, he swapped producers and went back into the studio. There’s another version of that album, Before Joe Could Pull The Trigger…, but I think both use the same version of “Shoot Out The Lights.”

The Covers Project knows of no other cover versions, and Richard Thompson’s site knows of no other versions on legitimate albums, so there it is.


  1. Now I need to get my buddy Tim to send me the Mould version of that song…I haven’t heard it in years (since I sold Poison Years during my swapping-CDs-for-food-money phase). I remember it being so pained, especially the last couple minutes (but this *is* Bob Mould we’re talking about, so I guess that’s a bit obvious).

    I liked the X version okay, though the track I remember liking most from Beat the Retreat was R.E.M’s cover of “Wall of Death.” Now I need to hunt that down, too.

    All of this is only serving to remind me how much I need to listen to some more Richard Thompson–all my years working in record stores, and almost all I know of him is from covers. The aforementioned buddy Tim recently sent me “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” on MP3 and that track alone has me really wanting to hear more of his stuff.

  2. Dave Rafter Dave Rafter

    John Cougar Mellancamp also released a live version of “Shoot Out The Lights” on a Westwood One Superstars In Concert show back in 1985.

  3. Whoa. That I gotta track down.

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