Dylan’s “Once Only” File: 10,000 men and 20/20 Vision

By Tony Attwood

Reaching the end of the working day I occasionally mooch around (as my dear mum used to say – meaning, meander aimlessly), surveying Dylan facts and figures, with no particular destination in mind.  And doing this yesterday I found myself chancing upon the list of songs the Bob has played once, and only once on tour.

Now the first song I tried out was “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, and playing it I felt I could see and hear why it was tried only once – it sounded to me singularly unrehearsed, and not really something I cared to share with my esteemed audience at large.

But I decided to try my luck again and so moved on to 10,000 Men which was played at Keaney Gym, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, on 12 November 2000.  It’s the original song ok, but not all the verses are covered.


It’s a fun and bouncy

Ten thousand men standing on a hill
Ten thousand men on a hill
Some of them going down, some of them going get killed

Ten thousand men dressed in Oxford blue
Ten thousand men dressed in Oxford blue
Drumming in the morning, in the evening they’ll be coming for you

Ten thousand men on the move
Ten thousand men on the move
None of them doing nothin’ that your mama wouldn’t disapprove

Hey! Who could your lover be?
Hey! Who could your lover be?
Let me eat off his head so you can really see!

Ten thousand men looking so lean and frail
Ten thousand men looking so lean and frail
Each one of ’m got seven wives, each one of ’m just out of jail

Ten thousand women all sweepin’ my room
Ten thousand women all sweepin’ my room
Spilling my buttermilk, sweeping it up with a broom

Ten thousand men digging for silver and gold
Ten thousand men digging for silver and gold
All clean shaven, all coming in from the cold

Ooh, baby, thank you for my tea!
Baby, thank you for my tea!
It’s so sweet of you to be so nice to me

It is a song from the generally forgotten “Under  the Red Sky” album and came at a time when Bob was searching to find a new way to write protest songs.  The songs of that time are generally appearing to be about childhood or adaptations of nursery rhymes but in the end are about something much darker.  Here’s how I categorised them in the review of songwriting in 1990.

I think this live version goes rather well; there’s nothing wrong with it as a rocking R&B song.  Good entertainment all round.

So having started with a song sung only once, which starts with a number, I then found another: 20/20 vision a song by Jimmy Martin.  It was performed at City Coliseum, Austin Tx on 25 October 1991.

Now this is most curious because the Bob Dylan site doesn’t seem to list this song on its list of songs Dylan has performed on tour, not even under Twenty/Twenty.
I been to the doctor he says I'm all right
I know he's lying, I'm losing my sight
He should have examined the eyes of my mind
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

She's gone and left I feel so alone
I carry a heart as heavy as stone
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

With my eyes wide open I lay in my bed
If it wasn't for dying, I wish I was dead
But this is my punishment, death is too kind
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

You just couldn't know her the way that I do
You say that she's wicked and I know it's true
I know that she cheated, I knew all the time
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

Since she's gone and left me I feel so alone
I carry a heart that is heavy as stone
I know she cheated, I knew all the time
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

She's gone she's gone oh what will I do?
I bet your not happy if she's there with you
The eyes of your heart will have trouble like mine
20-20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

20-20 vision and walkin' 'round blind...

So where did it come from?  A search reveals something like fifty songs that have this title, although just to make it more complex some are written “Twenty-twenty” some “2020” and some “20/20”.  And then some.

But with a bit of intrepid investigation, I’ve found this…

It is an amazing transformation by Bob from this original by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.  And hearing Bob’s version and the Gene Autry original really makes me think the whole notion of finding Bob’s “once only” performances is worth it.

I didn’t find too many other versions but here is one that is fun

Chris Thile and Michael Daves playing 20/20 Vision and Walking Round Blind at the Crocodile in Seattle on May 12th 2013.

But no, the original recording was by Jimmy Martin it seems.  and the song was written by Joe Allison and Milton Estes.  And here it is

Now you may have thought this a total waste of your time, but I quite enjoyed the searching and the music too.  So I might well do another.   Any suggestions of particular songs you would like investigated please do say.  And indeed if you would like to contribute an article on this theme, just send it to me.  Tony@schools.co.uk

As ever, thanks for reading.

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  1. Interesting research, but I gotta say that Jimmy Martin video is unbelievable. Where did you dig that up?

  2. Hi Tony, always enjoy your analyses. What about Caribbean Wind and where are the lyrics headed? Back to Biblical or forward to Modern Times?

  3. Thank you Nancy. I did a lot of thinking about Caribbean Wind when I did the fanciful set of articles about the mythical album “1980”. I’ve not taken my thinking further since then:
    1980 Part 1: Bob says to Tony, “Make me an album” https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/14616
    1980 Part 2: Make me an album part 2 https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/14675
    1980 Part 3: The hopes and fears and dreams of the discontented https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/14639

  4. On Bob’s radio show Theme Time Radio Hour, I believe he played this song in it’s original version by Jimmy Martin. He even quoted the line about “He should’ve examined the eyes of my mind.” Pretty sure that’s where Bob heard the song. He mentioned that it was always a bone of contention for Jimmy that he wasn’t invited to join the Grand Ole’ Opry, adding that he was “No jive turkey!”

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