Beautiful obscurity: revisiting the alternative versions of Sweet Marie

By Tony Attwood

This new series is an experiment – as indeed all of Untold Dylan has been as each series has started.  One or two people have an idea, we try it out, see what comments we get, get a bit of a feeling among those who write the series, and then decide if this works or not.

Personally, I value this experimentation, and I value the fact that virtually everyone is very tolerant of what we do, recognising the value of exploration, rather than indulging in instant criticism because something is not perfectly right or clear first time around.

So off we go, and for no particular reason apart from an alphabetical one, I’m having a bash at the covers of Absolutely Sweet Marie.  If I’ve not included your favourite please do write in, and I’ll try and add a recording or a video of it, to the article.

This was suggested by Dave Miatt and I rate the fact that the band has given us an unusual and engaging video, to go with a fantastic upbeat version.  The simple trick of repeating the “where are you tonight” line” and then changing the orchestration for the middle 8 really does make it work.

The energy doesn’t tire throughout, and it just holds my interest all the time; as time goes by the repeating of the main line works.

And this is a good point to kick off the series with, it seems to me, because we surely all know the song inside out and back to front, so we really do need a difference if we are going to listen.  Given the context of the music the video works as well.  What else do we want?  (PS I think this is called cowpunk).

This George Harrison version was suggested by Imam Alfa Abdulkareem.  George Harrison, goes down a different route, but through his distinctive voice he gives us a different feel, without adding anything particularly new to the song.  And that is one hell of a trick – to deliver the song without major variations and yet still make it a version we want to hear.

This is what is known as “Dream rock” and I find it fascinating.   The Boston Globe said “She has a voice that, in mythological times, could have lured men to their deaths at sea, an intoxicating soprano drenched in gauzy reverb that hits bell-clear heights, lingers, and tapers off like rings of smoke”.  Quite a thought.

So the song is taken somewhere else.  Instead of the rollocking “come here where are you” we have the plaintive lost love voice.   And what totally turns me over are the harmonies.

I am really sorry to say that because of the eternal muddle that my desk and my computer are I can’t see who introduced me to this recording.  Apologies, my thanks to you, whoever you are.

Looking back to the song’s origins it was of course Jochen who found the original or one of the original mentions of Sweet Marie in music.  I just have to include it.

And while on the subject of origins…

But lest you think Jochen was simply picking up old songs with a similar title let us move on to another of his selections and note the Flamin Groovies, a band that dates back to the 1960s and which remarkably continued to tour until recently.

Moving on, if you are a regular here you may have noted my devotion to the Old Crow Medicine Show.  Their version of “Visions” is the one I rate above all others.  Here I find them dutiful and complete, but not so innovative.  It’s interesting that no one really tries to make much of one of the most famous of all Dylan lines (“To live outside the law…”) – it is always left within the song as a regular line without special emphasis.  Make of it what you will.

But yes of course an excellent instrumental break.  With Old Crow you’d not expect anything else.

OK if you are still with me then here we go: Robin Williamson and now it gets weird.  Robin was part of the Incredible String Band, and if you were there, you would remember.   We covered the band and Bob’s feeling about them in the review of the wonderful “October Song” 

Last one, selected from the vast number of options because of its beautiful guitar playing.  This is Stephen Inglis

It is gentle, it takes me through the song beautifully; a lovely way to end this little exploration.  I hope you found something you liked.

I quite enjoyed that.  If you want to put a collection together please do and send it to me (ideally as a word document with the links to the songs as the full URL).  And please do put your name on the document – or at least the name you want to be identified with when we publish.  Just send to and write Beautiful Obscurity in the subject line.  You can if you like just send in the selection of recordings and leave me to add the comments, but I’m happier if you send a complete article.

What else?

There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page.  You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down



  1. Gather want you can from coincidence:

    Sometimes it gets so hard, you see
    I’m just here, beating on my trumpet
    With all these promises you left for me
    But where are you tonight, Sweet Marie
    (Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)

    End rhymes be ~ ‘see’/’me’ / ‘Marie’

    Come to me, Sweet Marie, Sweet Marie, come to me
    Not because your face is fair, love to see
    But your soul, so pure and sweet, makes my happiness complete
    Makes me falter at your feet, Sweet Marie
    (Ada Jones: Sweet Marie ~ Moore/Warman)

    Again ~ ‘me’/’see’/’Marie’

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