Beautiful Obscurity: Just like a woman

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

On this website we look at cover versions of Dylan songs in two ways.  One is simply by listing covers that we enjoy, song by song as in: Covers of Dylan songs

The other is via  Beautiful Obscurity in which we consider the covers in more depth.  In this series Aaron picks the cover versions and Tony, on the other side of the Atlantic, writes a commentary as the music plays (to stop him getting too pretentious and looking stuff up, and going on and on and on…).  The rule is the writing must finish by the time the performance stops.

Today, it’s Just Like a Woman.  Aaron’s provided the list as ever, but this time left no clues for me (Tony) so the rest of this article is just my ramble…

Jeff Buckley

I have to admit “Just like” has never been one of my favourite Dylan songs.  I think it’s the chorus that I can’t link to, and the opening line doesn’t endear me to the song.  It’s the notion of just pointing at a desperate broken young lady and not offering to help that I can’t take.

But this this… I’ve never heard it before, and the guitar introduction leaves me quite unsure where it is going, but I certainly want to know… and the opening of the vocal just bemuses me.   Listening, I am a struck by the incredible creativity that pours out for Jeff Buckley.  What a stunning musical talent – and all that talent lost at the age of 30.  What could he have given the world if only he could have survived.

I don’t only mean the performance here, but the conception of the musical approach in the first place.  It is quite utterly overwhelming.   When we get to the middle 8 (“…from the first”) I really didn’t know what to expect.

The only downside is that knowing what happened to Mr Buckley adds to the pain expressed in the song, and there’s only so much pain I can take each morning before my second cup of coffee.

Richie Havens

Now that is a contrast – just listen to the introductory bars of music and you know it is going be a completely different interpretation.  And not for the first time I am struck by how amazing it must be to be a composer such as Dylan having musicians of such merit turning up all the time, re-working your music.  I wonder what he thinks of it all – if he listens to that much, that is.

For me the rhythm from the guitar is a little too bouncy – it works at times – but the lyrics are so dark – I mean this is a song which has as its opening line “Nobody feels any pain” and somewhat later “With her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls” and then again

And your long-time curse hurts
But what's worse is this pain in here
I can't stay in here

No, in the end I find the instruments clashing, not in the notes but the rhythm.  Nearly, but not really for me.

Hugh Montenegro

OK so I have started each time writing about the opening instrumental work, and here for a second or two I think, yes this is going to be the one that wakens my desire to hear this song, but ohhhhhhhh by the time we get to that bouncy chorus…. No!!!!  Are we supposed to be bopping along with the ladies singing in the background????

The lyrics don’t reflect this sort of emotion at all.   “Yes she takes…” bouncy bouncy bouncy.  No I can’t imagine what the arranger was thinking about – unless really he or she had no idea about what the lyrics mean.

And then when the middle 8 happens I was utterly, totally, flabbergasted.  Surely this must be a joke in the most appalling of all tastes.  Sorry I had to stop the track playing.  It is too awful.  Not because the music is bad or out of time, or anything like that, but it has no feeling at all in any direction in relation to the lyrics.

Joe Cocker

That’s one hell of a picture on the cover!  And the music…  it starts ok and Joe’s voice is well suited to this and it sounds like he has understood what is in the lyrics here.  This is a woman in a state of turmoil and collapse we are hearing about here, and I don’t think this is the time to be showing off what one’s voice can do or how clever the arranger is.

And to my relief Joe, who can in my view occasionally go a step too far, keeps himself well under control.

I suppose my problem with some versions is that the pain and collapse of the woman in the song is used as an excuse for a quick bout of “look at me listen to me, aren’t I wonderful?” and for me that won’t do.   Of course that is just my view, but it seems rather strongly fixed inside my mind.

Bill Medley

But now at last I am immediately drawn to this by the simple but brilliantly performed accompaniment, and the vocal kept under control.  Yes Bill Medley has actually listened to the lyrics and understands what they are saying.

He seems to me to be singing as the outsider looking in, without being able to do anything and without any blame.  Just neutral observation from without.

I love the simplicity and quality combined here, and I find myself listening in the desperate hope that Bill doesn’t get carried away into showing off his stunning qualities as a musician.  But no, he knows far too much about music to get taken down that false road.  He shows us what he can do, but not too much, not too far.   That’s the version for me – unless Rod Stewart can go further (which I doubt, but of course I will listen).

Rod Stewart

I take it he is miming for a pop video as they used to do, so I stopped worrying about the video which I felt was pretty awful with Mr Stewart’s moving about for no reason whatsoever.

Musically I felt he, and the producers, were only interested in him, not in the music.

“Anyone got a song we can do?”

“How about ‘Just like a woman’?”

“Yeah ok, try it in G shall we?”

First run through over.  Director says, “Hey Rod can you move around more?”

———————-

But Bill Medley and Jeff Buckley: brilliant.  Still not a song I want to be drawn to, but if I am going to listen, it will be those two.

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2 Responses to Beautiful Obscurity: Just like a woman

  1. This song sounds a bit like a confession after hearing accusations of D molesting a minor in 1965 at Chelsea Hotel:

    She takes just like a woman
    Yes, she does, she makes love just like a woman
    Yes, she does, and she aches just like a woman
    But she breaks just like a little girl

    The protagonist of the song doesn´t want to be reminded of the affair later on:

    Ain’t it clear that I just can’t fit
    Yes, I believe that it’s time for us to quit
    But when we meet again, introduced as friends
    Please don’t let on that you knew me when
    I was hungry and it was your world

    Sounds like the protagonist has been seeking for innocence and purity, but he is disappointed – “she´s like all the rest”. He was (sexually) hungry and was at her mercy – the purity was touched and it was gone?

  2. TonyAttwood says:

    I certainly hear it the other way around – she is a woman in age, and in behaviour, but then occasionally she can cry like a child.

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