By Tony Attwood
“The flight of the bumblebee” is an orchestral interlude written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed at the end of the 19th century. “It’s the flight of the bumblebee” is a track by Bob Dylan from the Basement Tapes.
So, allow me a moment to give a spot of historical context.
Although it was not especially central to the opera for which the piece was originally written, the “Flight of the Bumblebee” is today one of the most well known orchestral works of the classical romantic tradition.
The work comes at the end of Act III, Tableau 1, as the magic swan changes the Tsar’s son into an insect so that he can visit his father who does not know that he’s alive. (This is opera, after all).
In the opera the Swan sings at the start of the flight, although the song with the singing is not generally heard outside of fulsome renditions of the opera. Here are the lyrics….
Well, now, my bumblebee, go on a spree,
catch up with the ship on the sea,
go down secretly,
get deep into a crack.
Good luck, Gvidon, fly,
only do not stay long!
In Dylan’s version which appears as track 18 of disc 5 on the Complete Basement Tapes box set the pianist plays the opening theme from the orchestral music after which the electric piano and guitar move into a fairly standard blues with a few chordal variations.
If you go into Google and type in Bob Dylan bumblebee or some variation thereof you might well find what claims to be a 2014 rendition by Bob and the Band (which seems unlikely) and which is a young lady playing guitar and singing in a coffee bar. It’s very nice, and underneath (at least when I looked) is the statement Dylan Bumblebee 2009. But I can assure you it is not Bob Dylan and not the song that appears on the Basement Tapes.
Deezer also has a listing that it claims is the song, but again it isn’t. However Shazam really does manage to get 30 seconds of the recording – and indeed the right recording so if you really want to hear a bit, you can.
The pitchfork website has about the most reasonable commentary:
The sheer variety of different voices that Dylan tried out during the Basement Tapes period is astonishing. One of the most delightful of these pops up during this fragment. After Garth Hudson deftly picks out a bid the old piano lesson favorite, Bob emerges as a smooth, baritone crooner, singing sweetly of a bothersome bumblebee. As he brings the song to its hammy big finish, it’s possible Dylan has never sounded quite so relaxed.
And yes Lyric Wiki has written out the words. You might want to sit down before reading this
It’s the flight, the flight
Of the farm bumblebee
Yes, it’s the flight, it’s the flight
Of the bumblebee
Yes, it’s the flight
That mean ol’ flight
That mean ol’ flight of the bumblebee
Well, it’s that flight
Yes, it’s that flight of the night
Of that ol’ bumblebee
Yes, it’s that flight
That flight of the night when it’s light
Now the birds that fly
That’s where you’ll find that ol’ bumblebee
Mean ol’ bumblebee
Rolling ’round the door
I give him all my candy
But he keeps coming back for more
That mean ol’ bumblebee
Can’t take a ??
I’m scratching on that bumblebee
I’m scratching on that ol’ bumblebee
and I rather think that is nicked from Haiku61, whose author deserves every credit for ploughing through the whole box set to devise the lyrics.
Here’s the Haiku itself, wonderful as ever
Mean old bumblebee,
He keeps taking my candy
Right from my front door.
And that I think is about that.
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