Dylan Re-imagined 4: If not for you, the Watchtower and Make you feel my love

Performances selected by Paul Hobson, commentaries by Tony Attwood

You can find the first article in the series here where we looked at Pretty Peggy O, Ring them Bells and the total reworking of Visions.

The second article took in Like a Rolling Stone, Positively 4th Street and Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues.

The third article contained recordings of Tears of Rage, Masters of War, Man of Constant Sorrow

So now moving on we have…

  • If not for you
  • All Along the Watchtower (“so good it actually makes you forget Hendrix while listening”)
  • To make you feel my love

“If not for you” comes of course from New Morning – although prior to the version that appeared on the album Dylan had recorded it with George Harrison – a recording that turned up on the first Bootleg collection with another version appearing on Volume 10 of the series.  The song was also issued in Europe as a single and of course appeared on the Harrison album “All things must pass”.   Olivia Newton-John had a hit with the song.

Dylan performed “If Not for You” with George Harrison during rehearsals for the Concert for Bangladesh in New York in 1971, but did not perform the song at the concert itself.   However he has played it 89 times in concert – the last performance being in 2004.

In this live version Dylan has removed the skippy, jaunty feel that is established from the introduction on the album version.  On that version there is even a three note glockenspiel part to add to the simple “I love you” feel – with a further tinkling in the middle 8.  A very odd bit of orchestration for a Dylan song.

Dylan’s singing develops a feeling of emotion by the second middle 8 – we can hear the emotion in his voice that is expressed in the lyrics from there on.  But in the live version the musical accompaniment has not such tinkling with it, and instead Dylan expresses the need for the subject of the song in the way he sings.  His voice is much more at the centre – and of course there is no fade out – something which on the LP version just made me think it was a simple pop song nothing more.

It is (for me at least, even if for no one else) really interesting to play the album version and the live version next to each other.  The melody has changed, the intensity is much, much greater, and when he sounds laid back it is not because he is disinterested but because the emotion is so overwhelming.

Really – if you have a moment, do play the album track and then the live version one after the other.  It really is a change and quite an illustration of what Dylan does.  He’s not just looking for another way to play a song, but is completely re-imagining what is going on within the lyrics.

Moving on to our second choice this time…

“All Along the Watchtower” is of course the song that was itself transformed by a cover version.  Indeed it can be a shock to go back and hear the Dylan original on the album, if you have not heard it in a while. 

Indeed it is easy to forget that this version was issued as a single – and maybe we forget that because it failed to make the charts.

Maybe it is that, as well as the success of the Hendrix re-working on the piece that made Dylan stick with it so much.

Here he really has reinvented the song, and it is nice on this version from the late 1990s to see the guys have a bit of fun together on stage as they seek to out-Hendrix Hendrix.

On the original album “Watchtower” fits perfectly with the rest of the songs that mostly work in the same format.  Now on tour however it has become something else – as it continued to do in the 2268 times the official site tells us it has been played.

The only other song to get into the 2000s in terms of performance is Like a Rolling Stone with 2063.  The much adored “Tangled up in Blue” is still only on 1685 (at the time of writing this in June 2019).

 And just in case you have forgotten what the Hendrix version sounded like, here it is.

Moving on to the third choice for this collection we have “Make You Feel My Love”.  Dylan has played this from November 1997 on to the present day – 289 performances at the time of writing this review.

It was his review of this song that made me convinced that Heylin was a soulless geek who couldn’t tell a burst of real emotion if it came up and hit him round the face and punched him in the nose.  He says, “Live performances in the winter of 2000 failed to reveal any hidden depths…” and in this and other reviews seems to me to be totally unable to appreciate that the album beings with a fade in (how rare is that) for “Love Sick” and then drags us slowly from desperation to hope.  It was a journey – and a painful one at that – which he seems in his reviews completely unable to grasp.

This live version tells us a lot about what Dylan felt about the song himself – just listen to the way he plays gently with the melody.

This really adds to the emotion of the song by keeping it under control – quite something hard to achieve.  It’s a lovely version.

There will be more in this series in a short while.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

 

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