By Tony Attwood
A while back Aaron came up with an idea for a series in which we might look at a very early performance by Dylan of a song and then what it sounded like around the time when when he played it for the last time.
In keeping with the other writing I’ve done with Aaron I’m going to try and write this straight off, without planning or plotting and re-writing. I did have an email a while back asking why I was doing this, and there is a reason: it seems to me that this is the closest I can get in writing to what Bob does in performing – improvising as he goes along around a theme. It just seems more in keeping with the music I’m writing about.
So let’s see what happened to “‘Til I fell in love with you”. This song comes right at the top of the official website’s list of Dylan songs in alphabetical order because they count the apostrophe at the start of ‘Til as a letter. As such it just comes behind ‘Cross The Green Mountain. OK that’s trivia, let’s get on…
The site gives us 194 performances from
And we do indeed have what is (or is claimed to be) the world premiere (or “live debut” as they say), thanks to Mr tambourine. (Mr T if you have got a video of the last live, or the nearly last live please do get in touch again. Tony@schools.co.uk as ever).
We can notice the uncertainty of the opening, as if whoever is playing those opening guitar notes (Bob I suspect) can’t quite remember what he is up to. The steel guitar adds and interesting effect on the second chord of this 12 bar blues. By the end of the first first verse everyone has remembered what they agreed to do and it seems smoother.
So now I need a copy from the end of times – and that has turned out to be much more difficult than I expected.
Here it is in 1998
The quality is obviously not nearly so clear. And the key has changed it is something like three tones higher and Bob is putting much more expression into the singing.
This contrasts completely with the album recording which is much cleaner, clearer and slower – but then of course it has had the benefit of the producer cutting the sound in and out, and giving the very slightest of echo on Bob’s voice.
But now the project falls down because I can’t find videos from near the end of the round of performances. Worse, one of the things Youtube wants to do all the time is tell us when the video is put up, not when the video was created.
But… there is always the wonderful Mike Johnson (there’s more on Mike in the “About the Authors” section of this site). Mike as I am sure you know, is writing the first ever complete and absolute history of the Never Ending Tour, and we are publishing it week by week. If you’ve not read it, shame on you, it is brilliant. The index is there.
And what do we find: a live rendition from 2001. Here it is, with part of Mike’s notes reprinted by way of introduction…
‘Till I Fell in Love with You’ (1997) brings the blues into the city. Although the backing on this performance is pleasingly minimal, it still derives from big band city blues. What is called Delta Blues migrated to Chicago where blues masters like Buddy Guy created a particular Chicago style. Again, this is not exactly that music, but points us in that direction. I’m also reminded of the versatile Big Joe Turner, the blues ‘shouter’. Dylan has absorbed these influences and come up with his own brand of retro.
“What’s so good about this performance is that the backing does not overwhelm the song. Foregrounding Dylan’s voice provides for the variations needed in a rigidly repetitive song like this. Vocal variations carry it, while the band manage to keep it interesting all the way through, and it never becomes rote, which can be a problem with blues. This would have to be my favourite performance of this song.”
Till I fell in love with you 1997
So I don’t have a first and last performance – at least not at the moment, but I do have an early and later “on stage” version. That key change that was introduced early on has stayed, but the timing is pretty much the same. Different words are emphasised but most of all the sound is a lot cleaner. Oh yes and there is a rather unexpected hammering of the dominant chord at the end of the each verse (which I really don’t quite understand – it seems totally out of context, almost as if Bob is laughing at his own composition), and some other chords added in en route.
In short the essence of the song has stayed the same, but little bits around the edges have been manipulated. It is almost as if it has become too familiar – the band and Bob forgetting that most of us will not have as intimate a knowledge of the song as they do.
So as an experiment “first and last” turned out to be harder than expected – I thought I would be able to find a “last ever live performance video” but no – life’s never that simple.
But I am going to have another go – and if you can help by providing a link to a first or last performance of any song, it would make my life a lot easier. And of course if you want to write the review yourself, wonderful. I’d love to read it.
If you can help, as noted above just email Tony@schools.co.uk and write Untold Dylan in the subject line, and give a link to what I have found. I always try and give credit to anyone who has helped me, so if you don’t want to be mentioned or want to use a nom-de-plume please say very clearly in the email.
And if no one can help, I might bore you stupid with another attempt on my own, in a few days.
There are indexes to many of our series under the picture at the top of the page.