Since his life was so tragically brief and his talent so vast and rare, any opportunity to hear something from Elliott Smith that hasn’t been heard before is one that shouldn’t be missed. In this case, it’s a 1999 live performance of “Pretty (Ugly Before)”, recorded live at the Largo in Los Angeles, and it’s due to appear on a collection of 7-inch singles that’s devised to benefit Planned Parenthood.
Smith fans know that “Pretty (Ugly Before)” was a highlight of his 2004 album From a Basement on the Hill, which included recordings from the final few years of the singer-songwriter’s life. (He died of an apparent suicide on October 21, 2003.) The version on the album, which was finished with the help of frequent Smith collaborator Rob Schnapf, is a typically ornate affair, not unlike the baroque pop of some of the artist’s other albums.
But on the live version from ’99, the song is a stripped-down affair, with just Smith on acoustic guitar and vocals and Jon Brion on pump organ. The quieter take wrings all of the melancholy from lines like “Sometimes is all I feel up to now” and demonstrates what a mesmerizing performer Smith was. Largo owner Mark Flanagan recorded the song on cassette and released a statement that explains it was the first time the song was attempted live.
Part of a statement released by the Smith estate reads, “Elliott did and said many things in his life that showed his commitment to the principles that Planned Parenthood stands for, including equal rights for all, affordable and accessible access to healthcare, and a woman’s autonomy over her body.” Among the many other artists confirmed for this compilation, of which 100 percent of the proceeds are earmarked to benefit Planned Parenthood and raise awareness in lieu of the cause’s struggle to survive in the current political environment, are Bon Iver, Sleater-Kinney, St. Vincent, Chvrches and John Legend.
Buy 7-inches for Planned Parenthood box set here.