On behalf of Phish fans, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to Tom Marshall for his debut into the world of Twitter. Tom’s recent Twitter ventures have unearthed previously unheard treasures. While Tom could solely tweet about his daughter’s high school senior quote or his thoughts about the new Clooney flick, he has used Twitter as a more constructive venue: a way to please fans. Just two days into his active Twitter life Tom announced that he would like to release songs “that have never seen the light of day.”
For now it appears that the majority of recordings Tom will release are “versions of familiar songs” and “songs that never became Phish songs” but from his Twitter chatter it appears we might get even juicier material down the road. Regardless of what Tom releases, @TomMarshall111 has quickly become a way for fans to gain an understanding of Tom and Trey’s songwriting process. Along with releasing some original recordings of what would become Phish songs, Tom has included a brief explanation of the song and some insightful details. To date, Tom has released six “would-be” Phish tunes (“Nothing,” “I am Hydrogen,” “Silent in the Morning,” “Numberline,” “Walls of the Cave” and “The Wedge”) and four songs that either did not make the cut or were not intended for Phish (Tom plans to release “Waves,” “A Song I heard the Ocean Sing,” “Undermind,” “Obstacle of Course,” “Brian and Robert,” and “Windora Bug” in the near future). Although the tracks are not musically fleshed out and fairly sparse, they offer great insight into the creative minds of Tom, Trey and Phish.
Let’s take a look at how these original recordings compare to their studio and live counterparts:
Dare I say this track might be my favorite of all the Phish related tunes Tom released? That might be an over statement, but this simplistic and stripped down version of “Nothing” is a beautiful song. Although The Sarah’s vocals are not pristine, there is something honest and pure about their singing. The acoustic sound of this track works very well with the emotionally charged lyrics that describe how nothing in life is certain or permanent and how moments in life are fleeting.
As Tom points out on his SoundCloud explanation of the song, the third verse of “Nothing” was omitted when the track was released on Undermind. Not only was the extra verse lost in Phish’s studio take on the song, but the somber sincerity of the song is also lacking. Phish’s version has a faster tempo and has a poppier feel to it. The studio version has a developed intro with some licks by Trey and Page and features Mike, Trey and Page sharing lead vocals. Even though Undermind’s version of “Nothing” is a more complex adaptation of the song, “Nothing’s” true essence is lacking. Phish is not typically known for their stellar ballads; however, this slow tune could have yielded a better studio product. Furthermore, Nothing is added to this song when hits the stage. It’s a straightforward song with some quirky musical interplay that will likely remain a rarity in the rotation.
I am Hydrogen
Recorded in 1984 by Tom, Trey and Marc Daubert, the original version of “I am Hydrogen” is composed of basic musicianship that fuses together to make a rather enjoyable recording (given that it was recorded on a 80s stereo recording walkman cassette). With Tom on piano, Daubert on acoustic guitar and Trey soloing over the chords, the groundwork for the breather between “Mike’s Song” and “Weekaupaug Groove” was set. The highlight of this track is Trey’s showcase of his early chops when he toys with the melody of the song as he solos over Tom’s and Daubert’s chord progressions. Although “Hydrogen” debuted as a stand-alone song, it paired up with “Who Do? We Do” (the fourth part of “Fluffhead”) and eventually settled in the middle of Mike’s Groove on 7/23/1988. “I am Hydrogen” never made it onto a studio album, but you can find it on the unreleased Wendell Studio Sessions from 1990.
“Hydrogen” has appeared in over twenty percent of Phish’s shows and has been accompanied by various on stage dance antics by Trey and Mike. The song does not vary much from the original recording, but it does include a more patient introduction prior to the entrance of the theme of the song. The live version also has a more structured ending based around a series escalating notes followed by a series of descending notes before the band enters the theme for a brief moment until the conclusion of the song. All in all, “I am Hydrogen” does not differ much from its original form aside from being a more polished song with the addition of a standard drum beat and a bass part. As Trey’s tone changed over the course of Phish’s career, so does the sound of “I am Hydrogen,” yet the song remains the same; rarely venturing far from its origin. “Hydrogen” is often over shadowed by the improvisational prowess of its bookends, and is occasionally replaced by other Phish songs to complete Mike’s Groove, yet it is always nice to get a standard Mikes Groove with “I am Hydrogen” as the glue.
Silent in the Morning
Of all the original recordings Tom has released to date, “Silent in the Morning” has made the most dramatic change from its original structure. “Silent in the Morning” made it onto Rift as two separate tracks: “The Horse > Silent in the Morning,” but the original version features the two songs as one continuous piece. On the original recording Trey is plays acoustic guitar throughout the entire song, sings lead vocals and is backed by Marc Daubert, Tom and their late friend Amanda Lake. Aside from the acoustic guitar intro on “The Horse,” Trey is essentially playing the same straightforward chords throughout the entire song. This version of “Silent in the Morning” is the song in its most simplistic and basic form, which the band would spice up and add to when recording Rift.
On Rift “The Horse” is a more finished product than the original recording with Trey on vocals and acoustic guitar; but its “Silent in the Morning” that dramatically improves. On an album (Phish’s only concept album) composed of an assortment of darker songs, “Silent in the Morning” holds its own as one of the few lighter songs on the album. The greatest difference on the Rift version of the song is that Trey trades lead vocals with Page. Giving Page the singing duties on “Silent in the Morning” perfectly fits the structure and placement of the song on Rift. As the concluding song on an album based around the protagonist’s restless night as he ruminates about the growing rift in his relationship with his significant other, “Silent in the Morning” is the dawn of a new day and the end of protagonist’s dreadful night.
Page’s voice serves as this ray of light emerging from the darkness of night which gives the protagonist hope. In addition to Page singing, the band builds a complex array of music focusing on the chord progression in the original recording. The intro of the song is based around Mike’s cyclical bass line that follows Trey’s guitar pattern and Page’s chords on the organ that fill in the blank space. When Page switches to his grand piano, Fishman begins to play a peculiar, yet, kickass beat – hitting the snare on the off-beat and opening/closing the high-hat. From this point the song builds around the chorus as the band sings the chorus in a round.
“Silent in the morning
You found your voice that brings me to my knees
I will not dismiss you, shelter you, speak with you
Smile at you, trust in me, He’d like to brush you off, and I’d agree”
Fishman switches over to his ride cymbal and begins to play a more straightforward beat around sixteenth notes. The band continues to sing the chorus as Page uses the organ to propel the song, Mike maintains the cyclical bass lines and Trey sets of sailing with the song’s composed euphoric guitar solo.
The song rarely varies lives, with “The Horse” almost always leading into “Silent in the Morning,” but most recently “Silent in the Morning” was showcased without its partner at the “S-Show” in September. During 1993 and 1994 Trey often played “The Horse” with an acoustic guitar, but since then it’s returned to its electric form. The evolution of this song demonstrates Phish’s magic. Their stellar musical interplay took the song from a straightforward acoustic tune and built it into an impressive track on one of their most complete studio albums to date. All in all, “The Horse > Silent in the Morning” has evolved from a song based around acoustic guitar chords into a multi-layered song that brings fans to their knees every time they hear it live.
Check back in next week for a look at the other material Tom has released including: Walls of the Cave, Backwards Down the Numberline and The Wedge.