by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
This is a look at the Bob’s various Grammy nominations over the years, including the other nominees in the category and the winner (if not Bob). And as with other series that the two of us have engaged in together, while writing from different sides of the ocean, we’re going to explore every angle that happens to pop into our minds, whether it is about the song that won, or why we think the panel made the correct decision or come to that anything else that pops into our mind.
To be clear, this isn’t going to be a chronological run through each event. Instead we’ll just pick a year/category if something strikes Aaron (who is making the choices) as interesting and then as in other series (details at the end) Tony chimes in with a view.
So let’s start with Bob’s 1969 nomination for Best Folk Performance.
Winner: Judy Collins – Both Sides Now
- Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding (album)
- Peter, Paul & Mary – Late Again (album)
- Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (album)
- The Irish Rovers – The Unicorn (song)
- Gordon Lightfoot – Did She Mention My Name? (album)
This was one of those odd categories where a nominee can be either a song or an entire album. So “Both Sides Now”… is a most staggeringly amazing song, worthy in my (Tony’s) view of award after award. But, could there be challengers, and if so, what version stands out?
The story is that the was inspired by a passage from Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King: “I dreamed down at the clouds, and thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them, and having dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no other generation of men has done, one should be able to accept his death very easily.”
And knowing it as I am sure we all do it can be quite a shock to hear what Ms Mitchell could do with it…
And here’s the problem, having heard the earlier versions throughout my life, it is a stunning shock and a half to be reminded of what the composer ultimately did with the song.
The critics who love to discuss finer art (as opposed to what just sounds good) hated the top 10 version, and it is reported that Joni Mitchell didn’t care for it much either. And although I am deeply moved by the composer’s rendition of her own work (see later), I would also admit to enjoying the pop version. It’s been part of my life for a long as I can think.
Since then everyone’s had a go from Frank Sinatra to Leonard Nimoy… but please do relax because I’m not putting that edition up. Instead, to move on to the other nominees…
The PP&M album “Late Again” which was nominated contains a couple of Dylan covers. One is “I shall be released” which for me (Tony) is destroyed by its over the top production. May the Almighty save us from arrangers who do this sort of this! PPM never deserved to be treated this way – they had enough natural talent.
But the reverse is true with “Too much of nothing”. I read a report that said that Bob was outraged by this performance and refused to deal with the band again… but Bob recorded two different versions of the song. One takes us to the verge of insanity, the other has strong similarities to Bob’s own recording. I’m choosing not to believe the story.
Looking back I can’t think that the PPM album has really stood the test of time but that song is still enjoyable.
The Irish Rovers
Now I really am lost. If you were on a jury and you were judging these songs against each other, on what basis do you work? How do you judge this song against what we have heard before? I can’t even begin to think – and I am really not wanting to give a view of this nomination for fear that I have simply failed to understand what was going on.
So next the Incredible Strong Band, the centrepiece of the album being …
“A Very Cellular Song”
I think I still have this album in my house among the collection of LPs – “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter,” – and I absolutely adored the band, going to see them a few times. What I loved was that they took us in a totally new direction with amazing, stunning musical ability, that made me realise that I wasn’t anything like as good as I thought I was. Just listen to the harmonies in the track above, and then get caught out by the extraordinary lyrics…
You know it ate all the children when they wouldn't be good Goodnight, goodnight
Play the whole album – for me it is as fresh now as it was all those centuries ago (and no I am not going to reveal my age).
Gordon Lightfoot – The Last Time I saw Her Face
Of course this is exquisite, it is after all Gordon Lightfoot. And indeed I recall Bob performing “Shadows” and “I’m not supposed to care” – and in fact the two of us have done and article on Bob and Gordon.
So it is against this line up that we place Bob’s JWT album which of course you will know and we have covered in depth. You’ll know also it came after Blonde on Blonde and was a shock to most of us, but a very welcome shock to many, and was very highly rated. Such things as we know and can guess tell us that it was written very quickly, that the minimalist band was taught the songs in the studio as they went along, and that at the end they had run out of material but didn’t have enough for a whole album, so Bob slipped in a couple of country songs.
The song everyone now knows, Dylan fan or not, is of course Hendrix playing the Watchtower – one of the few songs (perhaps the only song) where Dylan adopted the cover version for himself to play at gigs. (If you know of others, please do tell me although preferably without ticking me off for my lack of knowledge. If there are several we could do a series).
And because of that I am going (yet again) to sneak in not an original from the album (because you know that any way) but a cover version which I’ve highlighted so many times, and of which, if you are a regular reader, you will be bored stiff. But I’m not.
Should Bob have won the award? I am not at all sure that the album trumps the magnificence of “Both Sides Now” – that is one of those songs that just goes beyond all heaven and earth, by-passes reality and gives us a hint of a life beyond. Much as I love Bob’s music, “Both Sides Now” is one of those amazing moments in music that still surpasses everything.
Below is the version I grew up with and loved with all my heart, wishing that somehow the Almighty (which even then I didn’t believe in) had given me the talent to be able to write like this. This song, and this recording, still stirs me emotionally, and can take me to tears of joy and pleasure.
It is a monument in popular music. They can play this at my funeral – which I do hope won’t be for quite a while yet.
Other series by Aaron and Tony…