Beautiful Obscurity: The man in me

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Beautiful Obscurity is a series in which Aaron in the USA selects a Dylan song and a series of cover versions, and which Tony (in the UK) then listens to and writes his instant reactions, as the music plays.

There is an index to other articles in this series here.

Aaron: At the end of the John Brown piece Tony requested a happy song next time. I thought for awhile about what Dylan’s happiest song might be, and I came up with this one: The Man In Me – probably due to the scene in the Big Lewbowski and the line “but ooh what a wonderful feeling!”

Anyhoo, here’s my selections.

Lonnie Mack from 1971

Tony: I find this rather plodding, which is a shame because the lyrics are far from plodding.  But that instrumental opening just goes plonk plonk plonk so when we get to that most uplifting of Dylan lines “Oh what a wonderful feeling” is just going bomp bomp bomp bomp.

The introduction of the brass also seems inappropriate in the instrumental section.  I just don’t get this arrangement at all.  Sorry Aaron, not this one.  So moving on…

The Persuasions

Tony: I do listen to these tracks and write my ramblings as we go, so in listening to the Lonnie Mack version I had no idea what was coming up next.

But this turns out to be a perfect example of a contrast.  There’s a real lightness in the step here.  It is not the speed that is the issue, it is the liveliness of the approach so that I actually believe the singers are feeling what the song is about.  It has a bounce about it throughout.  Quite uplifting really.

McKendree Spring

This version shows that it is not the tempo that’s the issue but, as I have already insisted, the lightness of touch, and I feel that is ok here, but nothing more.  I wonder, do tracks like this have an arranger who thinks about the song before hand and then works with the performers to achieve that?  Or do they do a Dylan and play it to see what comes out, and then play around with ideas?

The counter melody from the violin is great, but there is simply too much percussion.  Actually I’d love to hear what this sounds like with no percussion at all.  And I’m sure that in the final middle 8 the percussionist is coming in a fraction of a second late.   Maybe that’s deliberate, or maybe it’s just me not hearing straight any more, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

Joe Cocker from 1976

Ah, now this is more like it.  Putting that reggae beat in works… I’m not sure if it is just me (and a white guy commenting on the mechanics of the reggae beat is always dubious at best, downright foolhardy at worst) but that rhythm always feels light and positive.

Apart from where Joe feels he has to do a Joe Cocker voice, it’s great.  Although I could have done without the lady’s couple of lines of scat singing.

I wonder if I could have made it as an arranger / producer?

Aaron: There are plenty other versions of this one out there in many styles, including country, reggae, punk (The Clash & Say Anything). Al Kooper had a go, and Bobby Vee and Emma Swift. There is even a Hebrew version (which as we’ve not had any on these pages before, let’s have a listen)

האחים אריאל – האיש שבי

Tony: the music has the lightness I’m looking for, but less so the singer, but hearing it in a language of which I know nothing, makes it hard to separate the singer from the sounds.  But the bounce is good.

Aaron: But I really wanted to finish with this one, which for me is a wonderful find. Let’s see what Tony thinks!

From 1976 – Matumbi (Aaron’s note: Wow, wow, wow!!)

Tony:  OK another reggae beat to give a gentle relaxed feel, and the vocalist gives us what we need – with the choral effect used sparingly.  Aaron, it doesn’t take me to the wow wow wow level, but it is certainly the most enjoyable of all the versions here.  It’s the one I could come back to listen to again.

But perhaps I may be permitted to enter a version of my own – a version that you actually mentioned in passing but for reasons that are quite beyond me, didn’t put in.  I wish you lived next door mate, so I could pop round, offer my apologies for breaking up the family’s morning, and say, “just listen to this”

If I am being hyper critical, which I probably am, I still think that there is too much emphasis on the beat but her voice … my goodness if a lady ever said or sang those words to me in that voice I’d be on my knees within seconds.  Of course at my age I’d then need helping up off the floor, so that would rather spoil the occasion, but still, old men can dream too.

Publisher’s note…

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One comment

  1. The subjective feelings one has to a song cannot be denied but the criticiam of
    percussion in some songs while giving it a pass in Reggae where percussion dominates is confusing to me.

    The original ‘On The Street Where You Live” certainly lacks percussion while now an annoying out-front regular beat (perhaps turned up by producers) seems a requirement of our times.

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