Beautiful obscurity: One more one more one more cup of coffee

Research by Aaron Galbraith, commentaries and random thoughts by Tony Attwood

This is part of an ongoing series of reviews of covers of Dylan songs under the title Beautiful Obscurity.  There is a link to other articles in the series at the foot of the page.   We’re also, very laboriously trying to putting together a complete index of covers of Dylan songs that we have commented upon over the years.  There are links to both at the foot of this article.

Tony: There is only one mention of “One more cup of coffee” on that list so far, so I’m delighted Aaron went searching for more.  It is a song with great challenges because of the unique qualities of the melody line against the very commonplace descending bass and chord sequence in the verse.  How does one make originality of out both without losing the essence of the song?

Aaron: Let’s start off with the very first released cover of One More Cup Of Coffee by Hard Nutz from 1977

Tony: Obviously the explosive chord after a the gentle guitar intro tells us there is going to be something unusual here.  And the key to carrying that off is by having total security in the very unusual (for Dylan) first melodic line of each verse.

By the time the dramatic explosive chord hits us for the third or fourth time we’re getting it and there is a danger of tedium by repetition, but the extended instrumental moment around the 2 minutes 30 mark, which includes some energetic bass guitar work too gives a musical justification for it all.  The intro of the violins (or maybe it an organ sounding violinish) helps too, and thus everything works.

So throughout the song keeps us going.  I imagine lots of young men doing air guitar work as an accompaniment. Very enjoyable.

Aaron: Now, almost certainly the best cover of this one, The White Stripes

Tony: Of course one of the big problems is that the melody and instrumentation in the original is so, well, utterly original, even though the chord sequence has been heard 10,000 times.  Thus we know where this is going but it is the Stripes, so we don’t know where the accompaniment will take us.  Novelty is needed to hold attention as we all know the words so well, and that is indeed what the Stripes always delivered.

Sudden pauses, perfect singing, that highly distinctive drumming of the Stripes, and slightly changes to the melody throughout… exactly what is needed.  Oh yes.

In fact I agree with Aaron this is brilliant – indeed an absolute triumph of talent and inventiveness over familiarity.   Even the line “One more cup of coffee for the road” is sung as a variation on the Dylan original.  Brilliantly done.

Aaron: Now, something a bit different by Robert Plant

Tony: Robert Plant MBE can always surprise, and he certainly does it with his vocalisation here.  Not for nothing did Rolling Stone rate him as the greatest of all lead singers.  Not for nothing did Hit Parader name him the “Greatest Metal Vocalist of All Time” and not for nothing did Planet Rock call him “the greatest voice in rock”.  I’ll go with all three.

And here we not only hear that but also the instrumentation behind him works wonders.  The Indian feel to the acoustic guitar (at least I hear it as an acoustic guitar) is a fabulous addition.  Oh goodness, to have talent like that…

Aaron:  Talking of different, take a listen to this by Bic Runga

Tony:  We are immediately reminded of Dylan’s original, only to have it whisked away by the full orchestration – which is a little lacking in originality.  It is exactly how I would have written it, by which I mean, its rather obvious.   The sudden drop of the strings downwards… oh no surely a pro can do better.  I know I couldn’t, but that’s why they didn’t hire me.

And it is the strings that are the problem – the playing is of course perfect – but it is the arrangement which seems to be a little too obvious, using every trick in the book to give a touch of the mysterious east and all that stuff which is actually not mysterious any more.

And yet, and yet, this is highly listenable.  I don’t mean I will go back and play it again at the end of writing this little article, as I certainly will do with Mr Plant, but its good.  Indeed if it suddenly was played while I was on the dance floor I’d be there doing the full interpretation, and enjoying myself like crazy.  In fact when my dance partner comes back from wherever she’s meandered off to (Yorkshire I think) we’ll be back in the studio and I’ll try this.  (Stop giggling, some people think we’re quite good.  Not very good, but quite good).

Aaron: Roger McGuinn with Calexico

Tony: This soundtrack really really does throw up some extraordinarily interesting elements, and having just listened to four tracks that is what I need.   There is a subtle change of chord on the singing of “One more cup” and that really is arresting.   Plus the backing is so subdued, it works brilliantly.

As this moves on second by second, minute by minute, I am transfixed.  And that is remarkable because of course like everyone I know the song inside out, and yet these arrangers really know how to introduce something new, different and yet fitting.  It is exactly what is needed, and what we have not always had in some of the other renditions in this series.

I love this.

Aaron: Now let’s bring things right up to date with the most recent cover, from his new album (out today as it happens) it’s Tom Jones!!

Tony: Not my favourite performer, but one cannot deny his magnificent voice.  And just listening to this orchestral opening…  Oh my oh my.  I’m transfixed, and relieved at the way Mr Jones approaches the vocals.  He’s not trying too hard, but letting his natural talent shine through.

I think the restraint of that backing over the constant percussion really is an inspired bit of arranging.

So there we are, a remarkable collection, and Aaron mate, I’m really indebted to you for this.  I’ve no idea how long it took you to dig this lot out, and whether they were in your head already, but that was really, really great.  I can only hope I did the selection justice.

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From the existing file of covers: One more cup of coffee by Frazey Ford; listen to the harmonies in the chorus lines.  Exquisite.

122 outstandingly wonderful covers of Bob Dylan songs

Beautiful Obscurity: the songs considered so far

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