Play Lady Play: female cover versions of Basement Tapes songs

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Selection and introduction by Aaron, other comments by Tony

Aaron: Now those of us from the British Isles will recognize the Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger cover of This Wheel’s On Fire used as the theme song to the “Absolutely Fabulous” TV show. How many of us would then know that for the Ab Fab movie national treasure Kylie Minogue sang the same track!? I’m not even sure if I like what she does here, but I do love that fact that Kylie has a Dylan cover in her back catalogue!

If that recording doesn’t work in your part of the world try this link.

Tony: I don’t know if I came to like this version through watching the series on TV, but this version still gives me goose pimples.   I think maybe it is the harmonies in the chorus – indeed the only thing that I don’t like is the backing vocals of “oooooo”.

The solid beat seems to me to work perfectly with the notion of the song – it is after a wheel that is travelling and on fire.  It just keeps rolling on and burning all the way through.

Next,  Barbara Dickson doing Tears Of Rage and again two links depending on where you are in the world

and the alternative:

This song gives me a lot of problems – and I am sure they are just mine.  The song is so desperately emotional (what could possibly be more emotional than having a child turn away from a parent) and perhaps because I actually have two friends to whom this has happened, I feel the issue very strongly.   I’m incredibly lucky in that my three daughters have grown up to be my closest friends and allies, but I think of my friends and their lives without contact with their siblings and grandchildren, and I feel so much for them.

And that’s the issue with songs about deep emotions – if one is at all emotional, then one can be touched by events, even when they happen to others – and remembrances of such events are not always welcome.

I can take Dylan’s version because, I guess, I can focus on the music not on the lyrics.  But here Barbara Dickson makes the lyrics to be of prime importance, and so it is not for me.  But of course that is just me – and that is why I am so enjoying this series of “Play Lady Play” articles.  If I was selecting the songs as well as writing these commentaries, I’d never have put this track in the selection – but the deal is that Aaron selects and I comment, and I’m not breaking the contract!

Barbara Dickson was described by The Scotsman newspaper  as Scotland’s best-selling female singer in terms of the numbers of hit chart singles and albums she has achieved in the UK since 1976 and she is also a two-time Olivier Award-winning actress.  Hard to argue with that.

Aaron: Next up, with possibly the best track from The New Basement Tapes, Kansas City, it’s Jessica Paige

Tony: My review of the original release of this track opened with, “May I say from the start I utterly love this song and since discovering it, have played it over and over, time and time again.”

Jessica Paige is not an artist I know, so I had to go searching for her online and found her own site which opens “I spent most of my childhood  running around our Kansas Farm.”

For me Ms Paige’s version doesn’t add anything to the New Basement version of Kansas City which is one of those real standout pieces of music for me from that collection, but she has an excellent voice and the arrangement is very well done.   But that is the problem with covers of Dylan songs – I think the singer and arranger really has to go somewhere else to make the new version something that stops one in one’s tracks.

However, to be fair, the lady is from Kansas, so her recording it makes sense, and she really does have a good voice.

Now Peter, Paul & Mary with Too Much Of Nothing

I doubt that there are many people, in fact I doubt that there are any people, who have been following my ramblings on this site since the days when I wrote a negative review of this song on the original Basement Tapes without realising that there was this second version (which turned up on the complete Basement Tapes) recorded by PPM.  A silly mistake on my part.

I’ve updated my commentary and this site also has a very different take on the song: that of Jochen.  As so often if the case, we take the same song and go our different ways.

Next, The Roches – Clothes Line Saga

This is all about the harmonies, and oh they work perfectly, giving us a clear link back to the original.   And I have to say hearing this version is the first time ever I have really enjoyed this song as a piece of music.   It is also the first time I’ve felt that something really good could be made out of an opening that reads

After a while we took in the clothes
Nobody said very much

Absolutely love it – not least because the music keeps changing to reflect the words.  If you don’t know this, do listen, or if you are familiar with Bob’s version and the original never did anything for you, do try it.   It is wonderful.

Big Mama Thornton with I shall be Released

Now if you have been with us through this series over a period of time, you might have realised that I don’t really have too much time for lady singers who use Dylan compositions as an excuse to show off their extensive vocal range and ability to shout.  I leave this one with you.  Which brings us to…

“Last up today it’s the amazing Sandy Denny (with the equally amazing Richard Thompson on guitar and duet vocals) – Down In The Flood”

That comment was written by Aaron, and I (Tony) looked forward to this as the final track …

… but oh, it is so… ordinary.  Like a track filler.  I love the music of these two and had the honour of meeting them both in the early days.

And so I am going to cheat here.  Earlier this week I offered up a little article on “Why does Dylan like ‘Black Jack Davy’?”  Here’s Sandy Denny and her band with a version of that ancient song.

Sandy died tragically young in April 1978, after a very troubled life, but having known her briefly I have always felt there was such natural talent in her, and still love to come back to her music, even after all this time.

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  1. The obvious solution is to filter out the singer’s vocals, even on Dylan’s recordings, and leave only the music to listen to and so then putting up with the words that just get in the way would not be necessary….Tony and Aaron may be on to something.

    One wonders why Dylan never thought of that and wasted all that time including lyrics.

  2. Òf course, the return of the Nobel Prize may be demanded in that there is none for music per se, but so be it.

  3. Don’t get me going …,
    “Nobody said very much” is but a wistful dream on the part of these two analysts – the song is a satire that requires vocals to parody Bobbie Gentry’s.

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