I was listening to the version of “Natural Mystic” that appears on Exodus by Bob Marley. Way different than the earlier version I’d listened to as a teenager with The Wailers’ original lineup. That one had a full horn section and background vocals from the group that seemed to add so much. By the time of the final version, the group had changed substantially with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer gone. And Bob Marley had just survived an assassination attempt.
It got me thinking about how different versions of the same artistic work might reflect the context of the artist’s life at the time. I don’t know if one version is better than the next, just different.
I’ve read about certain poets changing their poems even after publication. Of course there are books that are “unabridged” or “unexpurgated.” You may see newly published versions of the edited manuscripts of well-known works now, too, to get a taste of the editing process.
Sometimes it can seem subjective, the changes that get made. Sometimes it’s very clear how the work has been improved.