Beautiful Obscurity: Love Minus Zero and a journey into infinity

Beautiful Obscurity 

This series takes a new look at some of the more unusual cover versions of Bob Dylan’s music.  It started out from a previous series which was summarised in

In this new series we have had…

In today’s article the music has been selected by Aaron Galbraith, with a commentary commentary by Tony Attwood.  Throughout we are looking at Live Minus Zero

1: Chrissie Hynde

OK, I’m positive from the off because I like Chrissie Hynde – and the slight hesitancy she has brought into the recording – it is as if she is not trying, just saying it as it is.  Which is how this wonderful song should be performed.  Mind you this is a singer who claimed that her unusual approach to the timing in songs was down to an inability to count!

But counting is the antithesis of what is needed for a song that begins “My love she speaks like silence…”  Of course that is a contradiction for a song – apart from John Cage no one can write songs of silence.  (Although incidentally the Sound of Silence came out in 1964; Love minus zero in 1965.  I’ve oft wondered if Dylan was influence by the notion in writing his opening lines.)

And since I am writing this I’m going to sneak in something else by Chrissie just because I like it (and I love the fun of naming the album “Learning to Crawl” – a reference to Tom Petty perchance?).

But to conclude her Love Minus, this is a standard to which others should aim to emulate.

Rod Stewart (recorded for a Princess Diana tribute album)

It’s not a reflection of what I think of Rod’s version of the song, but I genuinely can’t get the link to pop up.  But you can hear it here.

I do like Rod, but in this rendition he loses me.   Is he trying too hard to say something?  Is he doing it like this because it is for Princess Di?  It is possible to slow down this song but here it is slowed down with a level of hesitancy that makes it sound (to me) utterly false.  So just as I loved Chrissie, I can’t bear Rod.

Jackson Browne

If that link doesn’t work in your country try this one.

Now this is more to my taste.  Jackson Browne keeps the feeling of the original but still manages to bring in his own vision of the meaning.  But what kills it off for me is the instrumental break; that organ sound is, for me, so dated, whereas the song itself lives on forever.  It’s such a shame, his voice is perfect for this song.

Instrumental breaks can be a real problem, and there is always the temptation for the band to choose one of their number for a solo, and leave it at that.  Dylan is of course famous for having instrumental breaks that just continue the music without letting someone have a virtuoso performance.  One doesn’t always have to go that far, but whatever is done the instrumental break must be in keeping.  Indeed the whole backing of the singer must be in keeping with the meaning and emotions of the song.

But here we get just that we’ve heard organs do that so often.   The second instrumental break with the guitar lead is much more satisfying, even when the organ comes in as the music fades.

Eric Clapton

Of course we know our Eric is going to do something different; and he keeps the melody plaintive but lurking behind it is a real Clapton guitar doing its thing.  And somehow he gets the two to work perfectly.

I don’t feel there is any lack on continuity between the lyrics, the melody, the backing and the instrumental verse.  Better, Eric doesn’t feel tied to the guitar jump at the end of each line; it’s there but he doesn’t make anything special of it; it’s been done before.

And even if you don’t like this too much, do stay for Eric’s solo.  It is still “Love minus zero” but it is also “plus one guitar”.

Buck Owens

This is strange; minor changes to the words, and no concept of love speaking like silence.  I don’t mind people totally taking a song in a new direction, but I find this almost painful, because I can’t understand why it needs the full-on vocal attack.  It is like saying “Hey listen to me!” in a song that says, “Here I am nothing, she is everything.”

Sorry Aaron, not for me.  I just don’t understand how you can make yourself the centre of a song as delicate as this.  Also I don’t think there has been much thinking as to what the meaning of the lyrics is.  Each line is sung as if the words are the same.

And what’s with the humming?

The Turtles

Ah the sound of the sixties.  At least seeing it is the Turtles I had an idea of what I was going to get.  A gentler vocal and jingle jangle accompaniment. Oh and then a full-on “ahhh” vocal backing.  Hmmm.

What I think is needed is something extra in the vocals – a feeling that the singer actually understands the surrealism of what he is singing.   The Turtles do however draw back from the brink by having the harmonies in the latter part of the performance.  But why that chord change in the last ah-ah-ah section.

Just because they can, I suppose.

I do remember the Turtles for Happy Together – and having not heard that for several thousand years I played it again before moving on.   Yes, it was fun, but just because it was, doesn’t mean they can interpret a delicate Dylan song.  Mind the picture of the stage set on the front of the video above is just wonderful.

So let’s move on with Aaron’s collection.

Ricky Nelson.

Yes, he gets it from the off.  It is a delicate song – I mean it has the line “My love she laughs like the flowers”.  Of all those so far, this is the one that I think gets the emotional feel.  It is simple, he can sing, and although the pianist wants to show off a little (something on which I can comment from experience being endlessly guilty of that myself), it is all acceptable for it doesn’t destroy the song.  Even the unnecessary repeat at the end is acceptable.  You really were one of the good guys.

Walker Brothers

Now I hold my breath, because if ever I am asked to name the three greatest recordings of all time (not that this is an everyday occurrence), and excluding anything by Dylan, then I jump straight in with the Walker Brothers recording of “No Regrets”.  I really have never found anything that has dug deeper into my heart and soul than than song.  So here we go with their version of Love – Zero.

And at once those voices and those harmonies… oh these guys really did have it.  I’m still not sure of the accompaniment involving a piano, and then the violins come in with an oversugared background until… everything is destroyed by the lead guitar.  What the hell is he or she doing?

If we can ignore the guitarist and just the voices and harmonies – how could anyone ever improve on that.

But it really does me realise that throwing a musical interlude into this song is nigh on impossible.  And actually by the second verse the violins are become unnecessarily sugary.  I don’t know who played the guitar instrumental break, but oh no, not for me.  It has nothing to do with the song.  You have here two guys with perfect voices who can sing in perfect harmony.  You don’t need much more.

Judy Collins

OK I am getting desperate now.  I love Judy’s work as I have commented here before, and of course her singing is perfect.

But I am still not convinced  by the accompaniment.  Everyone seems to want twiddly bits.  What is it with musical arrangers and twiddly bits?  The full title is Love Minus Zero / No limits.   And yes “no limits” is a very difficult concept to replicate in music, but I am not sure these orchestrators have even thought about it.

However it is a very sympathetic vision of the song, as we would expect from such a sublime artist.

And we have Joan Baez (of course)

And the moment we start, you know she’s going to get it right.  Except, why is the guitar doing all that between each line?  I can’t even find words.   As for what happens after “Cloak and Dagger dangles”… well.  I truly found it hard to go on.  Really as a recording I found this truly awful.

So, I am mostly not fulfilled by these recordings.  But I have mentioned the Walker Brothers, and have written about accompaniments and how they can destroy rather than enhance a performance.  And therefore, just in case you are still here, I am therefore going to offer an example of how to write an accompaniment that enhances the song, rather than puts a lot of jingly dangly bits in just because you can.   If you feel moved to explore what I am trying to say, listen to the Walker Brothers below, and then if you can, ignore his staggeringly wonderful voice, but listen to a) the orchestral accompaniment and b) the harmonies.

That is how you do it.   It gets me every single time.  Keep the ghosts away, indeed.  Yes you can have violins and guitars and everything; you just need to know what to do with them.

If someone could record Love Minus Zero in the style of “No Regrets” (contradictory though that sounds, and actually is) I think I would be in musical heaven.  Complete with orchestra, and brilliant lead guitar as we approach the ultimate climax, and a musical arranger who knows what she or he is doing.

If you can’t see how this relates to Love Minus Zero, that is entirely due to my lack of ability at explaining it.

What else?

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

You’ll also find, at the top of this page, and index to some of our series established over the years.  Series we are currently running include

  • The art work of Bob Dylan’s albums
  • The Never Ending Tour year by year with recordings
  • Bob Dylan and Stephen Crane
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

You’ll find links to all of them on the home page of this site

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk 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

 

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