Why does Dylan like “The World’s Gone Wrong” – it’s the blues turned upside down.

By Tony Attwood

“The World’s Gone Wrong” was the opening track, and title of Dylan’s 29th studio album released in 1993.  It was a return to the approach of the first album – consisting of songs written by people other than Bob Dylan.

However according to BobDylan.com this song was “Written by Bob Dylan (arr)”.  That phrase, which they have used elsewhere, is, for me at least, highly misleading if not downright incomprehensible, and I really wish they would not do it.  

The song was written by Walter Vinson, who was born on 2 February 1901 and died on 22 April 1975 – so sadly never got to know just how famous his song would become.  However his estate (ie the inheritors of whatever he left after his passing) would probably have been able to claim income from the recording.  (I don’t know US law in such matters but in the UK they most certainly would have been able to make such a claim and it could not have been contested.)

The song is referred to in many quarters in its original form as “The world is going wrong” but when you listen to the original music, the vocal clearly does sound like “gone wrong”.

Walter Vinson was a member of the Mississippi Sheiks, and he also co-wrote the famous blues song Sitting on Top of the World“.   This song is not  to be confused with “I’m Sitting on Top of the World”, a popular song written by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis and Joe Young (recorded by Al Jolson in 1926) which is now more widely known in popular music than the Vinson song that Dylan used.   Vinson, we should notice also wrote “Blood in my Eyes for You” which again on BobDylan.com is noted as “Written by: Bob Dylan (arr)”

The composer’s name is sometimes written as Walter Vincson and he turns up in some places as Walter Vincent and other times as Walter Jacobs   The lyrics of the song however don’t change and Dylan took the song exactly as Vincson had written it.  Here’s the original…

Strange things have happened, like never before.
My baby told me I would have to go.
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

Feel bad this morning, ain’t got no home.
No use in worrying, ’cause the world gone wrong,
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

I told you, baby, right to your head,
If I didn’t leave you I would have to kill you dead.
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

I tried to be loving and treat you kind,
But it seems like you never right, you got no loyal mind.
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

If you have a woman and she don’t treat you kind,
Praise the Good Lord to get her out of your mind.
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

Said, when you been good now, can’t do no more,
Just tell her kindly, “there is the front door.”
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

Pack up my suitcase, give me my hat,
No use to ask me, baby, ’cause I’ll never be back.
I can’t be good no more, once like I did before.
I can’t be good, baby,
Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.

Dylan mentioned the Sheiks in the notes on the LP saying that “rebellion against routine seems to be their strong theme. all their songs are raw to the bone & are faultlessly made for these modern times (the New Dark Ages) nothing effete about the Mississippi Sheiks.” 

But what Dylan has done here is slowed the song down considerably from the original version, so yes, the claim that he “arranged” it is valid.  It is the claim that the song was “traditional” (ie composed in the dim and distant past, with knowledge of who wrote it lost in the mists of time) that is false. 

The Sheiks broke up as a band in 1933, and after that Vinson travelled, working with a range of musicians in Jackson, New Orleans and Chicago.  He stopped performing in the mid 1940s but returned in the 60s before being taken ill in the early 1970s, dying in 1975 at the age of 74.

In 2009, a concert raised the money needed to place a headstone on Vinson’s grave which was erected in October of that year.   That suggests to me that the musician’s estate did not get royalties from the two tracks on the Dylan album, but of course I don’t have any sound evidence for or against.  I can only hope that the “traditional arranged Dylan” line did not lead to the composer’s estate not getting the money due.

Aside from Dylan’s reworking of the song BB King also recorded it…

What Dylan does do in this song is play with the chord sequence, alternating in the first line between a chord we would write as Csus4 (ie C major with the fourth note of the scale – F – added to it) and the straight forward C major chord.

There is more such use of unusual chords as with the alternation of the chord of F with what a chord made up of D, F, Ab, C – it all adds to the sense of loss and abandon.

Dylan also modifies the last line of music for each verse, and the link between each verse – he’s clearly worked on the song and thought it through in great detail – this is not just a guy who likes the song, playing it – this is a proper re-arrangement (although that still doesn’t mean he wrote it).

What makes the song so fascinating is the way the first two lines of lyrics (the only lines that change from verse to verse) develop through the song.  It opens with a variant on the classic “My baby left me” approach

Strange things have happened, like never before.
My baby told me I would have to go.

The singer now has the blues

Feel bad this morning, ain’t got no home.
No use in worrying, ’cause the world gone wrong,

But he is not averse to suggesting violence even to one he loves…

I told you, baby, right to your head,
If I didn’t leave you I would have to kill you dead.

For in classic blues style it is always the woman’s fault never the man’s.

I tried to be loving and treat you kind,
But it seems like you never right, you got no loyal mind.

However it seems he doesn’t actually intend to go through with the threat…

If you have a woman and she don’t treat you kind,
Praise the Good Lord to get her out of your mind.

And he leaves the world of violence towards women behind and allows her to go – not with kindness, but at least he is allowing her to leave

Said, when you been good now, can’t do no more,
Just tell her kindly, “there is the front door.”

And he admits it is over, he just has to get on with it

Pack up my suitcase, give me my hat,
No use to ask me, baby, ’cause I’ll never be back.

As such it is quite a remarkable blues song – in effect the woman is not blamed except for saying she has no loyal mind, and it reflects the composer’s vision – for the same approach appears in his other most famous song, “Sitting on Top of the World”

Was in the spring, one summer day
Just when she left me, she’s gone to stay
But now she’s gone, and I don’t worry
Oh I’m sitting on top of the world

And it is the fact that the song is so famous, and indeed this twist in that the woman is not to be punished for leaving – it is the man who gets up and goes – that probably attracts Dylan.  The blues is in fact turned upside down – just as Dylan did in the lyrics he wrote.  The world has gone wrong because the woman has broken up the relationship, and the man is not threatening the woman – he’s just getting up and moving on. 

You will find other articles from the “Why does Dylan like” series through the series index.

 

 

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