Bob’s Once Only File: Elvis, Tom, Shadows and one by mistake

By Tony Attwood

August 16 2009, Bob Dylan decided to play a song for the one and only time.  It was “Heartbreak Hotel”.   The venue was Harvey’s Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena, Stateline, NY.

So why that song on that day?  Well, that’s where you come in, because I don’t know.

The Elvis single was recorded on 10 January 1956 in Nashville, and issued two and a half weeks later.

The song was co-written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton who is also credited with introducing Elvis to Colonel Tom Parker, and was involved in getting RCA to sign Presley to their label.  The song then got into the top of the Country and Western, pop, and Rhythm ‘n’ Blues charts simultaneously, which when one comes to think of it, is rather bizarre.

Durden began writing the lyrics for “Heartbreak Hotel” when he was inspired by a Miami Herald story about a man who committed suicide, leaving a note that read “I walk a lonely street.”   However I suspect Durden did not get his songwriting contract properly sorted because although he wrote songs for  Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash and Johnny Tillotson he later worked as a dishwasher repairman which is really sad.  I think we should honour the composers (even part composers) of masterpieces.  He died in 1999 at the age of 79.

Heartbreak Hotel was top of the Billboard and Cashbox charts for seven and six weeks respectively and became a millon seller.  Elvis last performed in on 29 May 1977.   In 1995 (four years before its co-writer’s death) “Heartbreak Hotel” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  I can only hope someone remembered to invite its co-composer.

It is just about the only song I can think of that has its first chorus accompanied only by the double bass.  Indeed the whole accompaniment is a stunning masterpiece.  Even if you know the song inside out, I’d urge you to play the Elvis version and try (if possible) to ignore the voice and just listen to how the accompaniment changes, verse by verse.  It really is adventurous orchestration – especially considering when it was written.

As for my second selection from the once only files today, this is just absolute pure emotion on my part, for I don’t think I have ever been so upset at the passing of one of my life time heroes as I was when the news of Tom Petty’s death was announced.

Bob played “Learning to Fly” on 21 October 2017, just under three weeks after Tom Petty’s passing on 2 October.  The venue is 1st Bank Center, Broomfield, CO, USA

There are so many recordings of Learning to Fly that could be inserted at this point but I am going to cheat and insert a double header “I Need to Know” and “Learning to Fly”.  If you want to skip the first track starts at 2’43”.

I don’t know anyone who could work with the audience like Tom Petty, and this is a perfect example.  What’s more the song is so incredibly simple, and yet so stunningly powerful, it is an absolute masterpiece of the genre.  I still find the final lines completely overwhelming.
Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I've started out for God knows where
I guess I'll know when I get there
Next something I don’t understand at all.  What follows is, according to the normally very accurate and helpful website the one and only performance of “We’d better talk this over”

This was performed at the Sun Theater, Anaheim, CA on March 10, 2000.

But, but but, according to Bob played this 15 times between July and December 1978, and with 2000 performance being an isolated subsequent performance.

Now I only double checked this because I felt sure that I had come across the song at other times.   I’ve included this recording both because I really like, but also because it reminds me that when it comes to Dylan all sources might not be as accurate as we might hope (particularly including anything I write).

To me this is a superb Dylan song, the arrangement makes some interesting changes from the recorded version with the way Bob holds onto one note in the verse and deliberately comes in fraction of beat before that in the recorded version.

And having made  the mistake I now have the chance to offer you this.   It is an extraordinary re-working of the song, which I utterly adore, from 1978.

Many thanks to mr tambourine for this.  I know it shouldn’t be here in the “Once only file” but in a yet to be started “Total re-working” series.  But it is so good I couldn’t resist.

But now I’ll finish with one that I am fairly sure is right.  “Shadows,” the Gordon Lightfoot song performed at Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta, on 9 October 2012 – performed there in recognition of Lightfoot’s origins.

Here is the original

Of the album, Gordon Lightfoot, said it was “the music industry’s best-kept secret”.  If you like the song there is a second version following the recording above.

Although I can’t find the source of the quote, Bob is reputed to have said, “Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”

Which is about as high a recommendation as one might get, and a good place to pause this review of the songs Bob has only played once.   More anon.

Dylan’s once only file: the concert.   Aaron has created a Youtube file of the songs Bob has played once only and which we have reviewed.

Here are the individual sessions…

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  1. Yes Toby beat me to it…. obviously a tribute to Elvis on the anniversary of his death.

  2. Thanks for the correction on We Better Talk This Over. A
    Another entry that needs a correction is When You Gonna Wake Up? According to it has been played 148 times including the Poughkeepsie, NY (October 20, 1989) date you mentioned.

  3. Thanks Bill. I will (eventually) go back and double check all the entries, but the main point from now on is that I will cross check the two sources and then only pick songs where both agree to a once only performance. I suspect is going to be more accurate; not sure if SetList has any checking – certainly although their links to recordings are helpful these do need to be taken with a certain level of caution as well.

  4. I was there…in the venue carved out of Harvey’s Hotel parking lot in Stateline, Nv. Willie Nelson opened the show. Feels good to have been there and it was a great show. We went fishing in Lake Tahoe the next morning for Mackinaw and caught some beauties…it was a great trip!

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