The Dylan nobody knows: John Brown & Tomorrow as never before

By Tony Attwood and Aaron Galbraith 

In the initial article for Dope Fiend a Robber we said….

“If you have never tried to come up with a completely new arrangement of a Dylan song, perhaps we might be permitted to reveal that it can be incredibly hard, not least because it is so difficult to get Dylan’s distinctive original version of the song out of one’s head”.

Now Aaron has found two pieces where the performer does exactly that… one by a group called Heron and one by Dylan himself!

First up, here is Heron with their take for John Brown…with completely different arrangements and music!


It appeared on their 1972 album Twice As Nice & Half The Price… 

The music here gives a more gentle introduction to the song, and we are inducted into the mother’s pride both with the accompaniment and the harmonies of the first chorus.  And even after the first singing of the chorus when the electric piano plays a few “twinkly” notes the other emphasis of the brilliance of what John Brown was doing is maintained.

Indeed the whole song becomes almost intolerable – no more than that – it is intolerable, because we know where this is going.  The “good old fashioned war” is unbearably horrible as it leads to the return of the son and the mother being unable to raise her eyes to look at the mangled body that is now all that is left of her pride and joy.  It is painful in the extreme.

And all the way through the melody bounces along…  It is a brilliant rendition because of the contrast it achieves.  A masterpiece of pathos and misplaced patriotism.

Here is the band’s website with some additional info.

Next up is Dylan’s 1970 take of Tomorrow Is A Long Time…it was recorded during the New Morning sessions with George Harrison I believe!

What is so interesting is that Bob does this as a 12 blues with what I think is (according to Tony) the back riff from “Smokestack Lightning” and then a do-wop type chorus backing.

This is one of those tracks that (in my view) doesn’t actually work as well as the version we know, but it is invaluable to those of us who love to understand what Bob does.  Clearly he does not get fixed on one version of a song, but explores it and experiments with it to see where it might go.

Here the music transforms the meaning completely – it virtually concocts a completely new style do-bop + blues around a song that I doubt many of us would ever have imagined could be played in this way.

And the Howlin Wolf riff in case you are not familiar with it…

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But what is complete is our index to all the 604 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found, on the A to Z page.  I’m proud of that; no one else has found that many songs with that much information.  Elsewhere the songs are indexed by theme and by the date of composition. See for example Bob Dylan year by year.

One comment

  1. Whether the use of upbeat music and vocals to accompany a sorrowful tale – an incongruous objective correlative, as it were – works depends a lot on how a listener takes it, especially on more than one listening, and the listener’s mood at the time – thumbs up or thumbs down being a rather subjective judgement,….but it is attention-getting for sure.

    Rules are there for the breaking!

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