Beautiful Obscurity and the Covers Index
- 220 selected cover versions of Dylan songs
- Beautiful Obscurity: The man in me
- Hollis Brown, and why does it all have to be like this?
- The album of extraordinary rarities now has its own page.
- Beautiful Obscurity: The Dignity Covers
- Beautiful Obscurity: John Brown (but not beautiful)
In this series Aaron selects a Dylan song and then a collection of cover versions which he sends over to Tony on the other side of the Atlantic, for his comments. The game we play is that Tony has to write his comments during his hearing of each recording (almost always hearing this version for the first time).
Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
Tony: Immediately I am with this, because it is notably different from Bob’s versions, and that is what I am after. I mean, what is the point of singing and performing it as Bob does?
I was enjoying the first verse, but then my enjoyment escalated upwards when the harmonies came in – this does what I want a cover version to do – it gives me new insights and feelings in relation to the original.
Personally I am not sure they have got the arrangement of the two guitars together, but that may simply be the positioning of the microphones – and it doesn’t distract from a really beautiful re-interpretation. It makes it all so much more gentle and so much more believable.
Hmmmm… a quasi church organ effect? Really? OK, it works in a way of surprise because the voice was not what I was expecting, and so yes it works. But the chord change over “with you”? Hmmm (again) … this time methinks now he is trying too hard.
And that is the feeling that continues with the unusual lead guitar sound, the bass guitarist going through every virtuoso line he knows – in the end it is all too much for me… and that tremolo on the vocal part before the instrumental break… no sorry not for me.
It really is one of those tracks where things are tried but there doesn’t seem to be a musical director who is able to say, “ok guys but this isn’t working, let’s go back to basics for a moment.” And that guitar solo just before the fade where the guitarist hits a particular high note several times… actually I found that rather painful. Goodness me I am getting old.
Ben E King
From that introduction I’d never have guessed what the song was going to be, and although it goes on much longer than I needed, the transition into the song proper, itself worked for me. Of course it is helped by the fact that Ben E King has a faultless delivery, but behind him there seems to be a race going on to see who can get out of the studio and into the bar first.
But oh, please, no effects like the descending guitar part or the pause around the 2 minutes 35 mark. The guitar solo that follows is perfectly good, it doesn’t need that.
And I think that is the idea that is really taking hold with me. I don’t need all these effects and games, and treating this like just another soul song. OK, it is perfectly reasonable for arrangers and musicians to find new meanings is songs, but Ben E King is not really doing that with the long postscript complete with “come on come on come on come on come on” etc and lots of “baby” calls. What is the point?
If it were not for writing this piece I wouldn’t have got to the end.
Aaron: The Charlatans – wasn’t sure about this one to start with but it grew on me. If you don’t dig the falsetto, just wait til the 2 minute mark when he drops down.
Tony: I really found the video wretched – what on earth is the point of putting one of the most famous Dylan vids with this song?
But the music – yes I’ll go with this. I don’t know why it is sung as a falsetto, but that doesn’t matter. It works because it intrigues and interests me, and engages me in and gives me different thoughts about the music and its meanings. (And I am writing “me me me” because that is the point – the song has to appeal to the audience of one, if it is going to appeal to the many.)
Not that these meanings can be transcribed into words – if they could there would be no point in having the music, but they are there if you want to take them. And this piece works somehow because the falsetto does reflect the possibility that the lyrics are all bravado and the singer doesn’t have the certainty that the line “Tonight I’ll be staying here with you” suggests. When I think of it, the singer is pretty damn sure that the lady listening is not going to say, “Oh no you’re not!”
Aaron: Several other “big name” acts have tried this one out (Jeff Beck, Tina Turner, Cher and Albert Lee) but I want to finish up with two new acts (to me, anyway). I’d never heard these before and I loved them so I wanted to share them with everyone
Tony: Now this video I like. It is totally honest; it is what can happen in recordings – and if you’ve not been through the studio experience you have to remember that quite often the recording we get to know can be take 20, by which time a several members of the band may well have (metaphorically) died.
But this is beautiful and gentle and when I’ve finished the comments I am going to play it again and quite probably again. They really do get this song right, and also give us a moment or two of insight into what such sessions are all about.
Absolutely love it.
Not sure about the opening second of vocalisation, but once it starts I’m fascinated by the way the vocalist has utterly changed the chords. Fascinating, but I am not sure it adds to my understanding of the song. These unexpected and complex chords contrast so much with what Dylan wrote – he used everyday chords to reflect an everyday expression of desire – that I can’t quite feel the link. If you are going to change this much, why not write a new song?
The lyrics are not magical, they are in fact simple. The emotion is powerful, it doesn’t need such complexity in the music. Although to be fair a lot of my reaction here could be because I know the song so well, and this changes it so much.
But clearly, if this were a competition, Michelle Moonshine would win for me, utterly, totally, 100%. With a very honourable mention to Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings. Both are stunning re-workings.
You can read more about all our regular writers here
If you would like to read more commentaries, Untold Dylan also has a very active Facebook group: Untold Dylan.
If you would like to see some of our series they are listed under the picture at the top of the page, and the most recent entries can be found on the home page.
If you would like to contribute an article please drop a line to Tony@schools.co.uk