Tracks selected by Aaron Galbraith; introduction and comments by Tony Attwood
If you are a regular reader of Untold Dylan, you’ll know that our articles are written by a group of people from around the world; people who’ve never met but share an interest in developing this site.
One such is Jochen in the Netherlands who is currently (May 2021) writing a series of articles tracking “Gates of Eden”. The first two have been published here:
That second episode contains a link to a version of Gates of Eden by DM Stith, whose work I was not aware of, and which I find utterly remarkable and challenging and unsettling. Which made me think, “what have others done with this song?” So I asked Aaron if he could come up with some other covers for another edition of “Beautiful Obscurity” – the series in which we take a look at the same song from different sources.
There is a link to the earlier episodes of “Beautiful Obscurity” at the end of the article, but off we go with Aaron’s selection. The third episode of Jochen’s series will follow shortly.
Here is the first ever Gates Of Eden cover from 1965 – The Myddle Class (produced by Goffin & King)
Tony: the problem for me is that the arrangement emphasises the solid 4/4 beat (meaning four beats in a bar) at the expense of the musical subtlety that exists within the song. In fact the rhythm of the song is more properly expressed as what musicians would call 12/8. This means there are 12 beats arranged in groups of three, with a slight extra emphasis at the start of each set of three. So
The savage soldier sticks his head in sand and then complains
gives us seven groups of 1-2-3, with the 8th group of three being the pause at the end of the line. This construction has allowed Dylan to play with the song in many ways in performances. For example this from Cologne shows up the 12/8 very well. Make it too rigid as the Myddle Class do, and the nuances of rhythm are lost.
Recording the song in 1967, the Etonians however, removed the subtleties totally and give us a straight four beats in a bar…
This is not as bad an idea as might be felt at first, because the percussionist is really up to dealing with this – although I really could do without the pipes all the way through, or the forced harmony from the singers just before the end… nor the odd extra end in a new key for no logical or musical reason I can find.
Aaron: I’m always a big fan of Arlo Guthrie’s Dylan covers, and this one is no exception, from The Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys album
Tony: A very refreshing couple of bars of introduction from the band that shows us that someone is thinking about the music rather than just “doing that Dylan song”.
The problem with this song is that opening two lines of each verse have a very memorable melody which is repeated exactly in each verse – just think of
Of war and peace the truth just twists Its curfew gull just glides Upon four-legged forest clouds The cowboy angel rides
So once we know the lyrics, as we all do, it becomes repetitive, and that means the only variation we can get is through the music – which is what Stith does to extreme. By half way through Arlo’s valiant attempt, I’m finding it hard to keep my focus. I want to focus because it is Mr Guthrie Junior and he deserves attention and respect, but I struggle…
I didn’t like the fade either.
Aaron: Ralph McTell also does some pretty great Dylan covers
Tony: And yes indeed Ralph McTell is always worth considering. And, writing these commentaries as I listen to each song, it is as if Aaron knew what I was going to say, because here the singer, knowing he has nothing to prove, changes the melody.
Yes it fits perfectly, and holds my attention 150%. What is so good is that with each verse I am listening to what he has done to the melody. Of course we all know the words by heart, and yet each time he keeps our attention. And that accompaniment varies as we go. Just listen to what happens with
With a time-rusted compass blade Aladdin and his lamp Sits with Utopian hermit monks Side saddle on the Golden Calf
And even now he hasn’t stopped making us sit up and focus – because then he changes the harmonies. OK the birds of prey is a bit obvious from the guitar but if I’d been producing I wouldn’t have had the nerve to point this out either.
Aaron: Last up, it’s Bryan Ferry from his Dylan covers album Dylanesque
Tony: Now I love Bryan Ferry’s music – and I loved his answer to the question, “What would you say if you ever met Bob Dylan?” He replied suggesting that he would say, “I hope you don’t mind.” And mind some people might, because he changes the time signature into 8/4 (eight beats in a bar) although I suspect anyone transcribing would make it 4/4). But you can hear the difference.
So by now we have dived into atmosphere, which is what we get big time. And amazingly even after listening to all the verses of all the versions above, I’m still entranced and enveloped by his. Including the instrumental break. It is so utterly…. haunting. What other words is there for it?
Given that I am a resolute atheist, they could play this at my funeral, but I won’t demand that of my daughters. It’s too long for that moment, and anyone who does turn up will, I’m sure, be anxious to get to the drinks.
Aaron: Ferry did one of the greatest Dylan covers of all time (in my opinion) so an entire album was an exciting prospect, but it turned out to be fairly bland for my taste. Let’s remind ourselves of what he can do with a Dylan song – A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall
Tony: Agreed, it is a classic. The video is fun too.
Previously in Beautiful Obscurity…
- Beautiful Obscurity: the cover versions of Watching the River Flow
- Beautiful Obscurity: Love Minus Zero and a journey into infinity
- Beautiful Obscurity: Acquaraggia play Dylan: a new experience
- What makes a beautiful obscurity
- Beautiful Obscurity: revisiting the alternative versions of Sweet Marie
- Beautiful Obscurity: unexpected reworkings of “All along the watchtower”
- Beautiful Obscurity: such different renditions of Spanish Leather
- Beautiful Obscurity: Acquaraggia play Dylan: a new experience
- Beautiful Obscurity: Every Grain of Sand, worked, re-worked, and worked again
- Beautiful Obscurity: the amazingly amazing cover versions of Blind Willie McTell
Dylan Covers: the collection
We are also trying to catalogue the cover versions that we have mentioned across articles in Untold Dylan. The latest edition of that listing is Dylan covers, 2nd edition: 50+ new covers added, now over 150 in total – undertaken in early May. If you are reading this somewhat later in time, it might be worth searching in the Search box for “Dylan covers”
What’s on Untold Dylan
If you take a moment to look at our home page you’ll find indexes to some of our current and recent series.
Alternatively if you scroll to the top of this page you’ll see a set of links and indexes to getting on for 50 of the series we have run, or are running, as well as a link to an article giving details of the writers who kindly give up their time to make Untold Dylan happen.
If you’d like to write for us, or have an idea for a series we’ve never tried, please do email Tony@schools.co.uk
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