Play Lady Play: the alternative rockers

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: I thought I’d look at more alternative rock acts to see if they a) consider Dylan cool enough to cover and b) if they are able to do something interesting enough with it to make it worth a listen. For me, the answer to both would be a resounding “yes”, you may feel different of course…so here we go again!

PJ Harvey

Tony: OK this fooled me, and in case you don’t know this track I’ll warn you, it starts very quietly.  As in very very very quietly.

Now my approach to unusual musical arrangements is to ask “is this just done to be different? or does it have a meaning integral to the composition?”

The lyrics of the song “Highway 61 Revisited” are a challenge to all our understanding of the blues, as I think Dylan intended, for as he said, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was the same road, full of the same contradictions, the same one-horse towns, the same spiritual ancestors … It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

And of course others come along and want to sing it and it is NOT their place in the universe.   Highway 61 goes through Duluth, they were not born in Duluth.  But Dylan was, and Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, and Charley Patton were all born near its route. And there is the eternal Robert Johnson story too.

So yes for people who come to this song NOT born close to the highway, the song has a different meaning.  And yes, the silence has a meaning for those not born there which is different.  A silence is a way of symbolising it and indeed it reminds me of what’s going on here.  I’ll go for that.  

And indeed having got over that uncertainty I go for the whole re-working.  The blues like rock n roll is the music of the people, everyone can treat it as they want.   And in fact I do love the shouty insistence that says “I want to be heard”.

What I didn’t realise was that Polly Jean had been awarded an MBE (the order of most excellent member of the British Empire).  Shows how out of touch one can get.

Shot of Love

Here again all the original meanings from Dylan’s song are stripped away.  And I did feel the need to go back to Bob’s original after listening to PJ, before then playing her version again.

This really is a way of turning a song upside down, inside out, back to front and round and round.  And that’s just the intro.   Try it  – as PJ’s version ends, play Dylan’s version below and then go back to PJ.  If you are short of time, the first 30 seconds will do in each case.


Courtney Love & Hole: It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Again from the very first second we know something has been re-written here, and oh yes it sure has

I do like the arrangement of the musical interludes between the verses.  It is all too easy to continue at the same powerful rate of performance without giving the audience a chance to take a breath, but that is exactly what we need here.  And so we are given it.

The re-arrangement of the lines at the end of the song helps us keep focus and allow us to accept the very different ending too.  I enjoyed it, and it did really make me want to hear Dylan’s versions again — for all the right reasons.

Karen O (singer from the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs): Highway 61 Revisited


I am not sure why we’ve been taken back to “61” but  a re-visit is always welcome, although here we are getting Dylan’s lyrics, melody and  the essence of the original accompaniment.  But still it’s lively, it’s fun.

Maureen Tucker: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Maureen Tucker joined the Velvet Underground when Angus Maclise left because he felt the band sold out when it took a paying gig.   At least that is the story.  I must say I never did that.  But then I never had a chance of fame.

And the story of this version of “I’ll be your baby tonight” is… well, in essence, that Maureen sings out of tune, and the instruments play out of tune.   And…

Rolling Stone called it “counter culture cool”, and yes I did get a lot of the Velvet Underground and what they were doing, and indeed went to see the band several times, and bought the albums, etc, but eventually got fed up with the approach.  After all, how many times can you play a track like this and feel it is enjoyable, or that you are getting something special out of it, or…

But once was enough and it was as relief to see that the next artist Aaron selected was Chrissie Hynde.  And just the introduction of this next piece is enough to make me feel that earlier thoughts were not too unworthy.

This is a fantastic re-working of song I find hard to admire because my views on religion, (in the same way that many might find a song which urges young men to leave their homes, join the army and march to war as a song that is worthy of praise) but this piece always fascinates me because of what happened to Bob in the months after writing this song.

As far as I know Bob has never played this in concert; an interesting thought in itself.  And then when we remember what came next – the set of songs that took Bob away further and further from the earlier Christian songs, from Every grain of sand to the song I know everyone has got so bored with me going on and on and on about over and over again “Making a liar out of me”…. all written in the space of a few months after “Property”.

But despite my prejudice, this version did make me listen again, not just to the musical quality and the arrangement but to the actual lyrics.  And that lovely harmonica interlude.  Just listen to that last verse as Chrissie speaks it

You can laugh at salvation, you can play Olympic games
You think that when you rest at last you’ll go back from where you came
But you’ve picked up quite a story and you’ve changed since the womb
What happened to the real you, you’ve been captured but by whom?

Where was Bob (metaphorically, emotionally, intellectually) when he wrote those lines.  If I had the chance to ask him one question that would be the one.

Patti Smith

And now what would the punk poet laureate make of Changing of the Guard?

Oh, that is good.  Not a version I have heard before (which generally means that the recording was a number 1 hit from a platinum album while I was meandering around China), and I love the way she insists that it is lyrics that are the key to everything here: we will listen.  Yes we will.

Because we don’t have a backing group repeating certain lines, those lines become more important, and the occasional lines sung as harmonies manage not to stand out while standing out.  OK, that’s nonsense, but I can’t think of any other way of expressing the astonishing effect of certain lines sung in close harmony and others not, within the song.

No, this isn’t good.  This really is stunning.  What the band does when Patti isn’t singing is brilliant, and even the bass guitarist needs a mention here, for being neither invisible nor visible (which is also a dumb statement since I am writing about music, but again I am stuck for words.)

This singer and this band has done something utterly brilliant with this song.  I am overwhelmed.  Even the la-la-la at the end is imaginative and perfect.

Siouxsie And The Banshees

Having been overwhelmed I am not any more.  This is all right, but, well just that.   I am committed to reviewing the songs in the order that Aaron presents them to me, but if I were not I’d have this one earlier in the list, so I could have finished with Patti Smith.

So I will


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