Tonight I’ll be staying here with you (part 9)

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 9

by Jochen Markhorst

IX         Music from the Big Mushroom

evil charlatans masquerading in pullover vests & tuxedos talking gobbledyook

(Bob Dylan, World Gone Wrong, 1993)

 The spirit of Bob Dylan hovers throughout the British Charlatans’ oeuvre anyway, and openly and unashamedly comes to the fore on their successful fifth album, Tellin’ Stories (1997). The album is stuffed with references to Dylan songs, like in the answer song to “Like A Rolling Stone”, the more melancholy “Get On It” (no matter how you’re feeling, you’re never on your own), like in The Charlatans’ cheerful answer to “Girl Of The North Country”, the swaggering “North Country Boy” (I threw it all away / I don’t know where I put it / But I miss it all the same) and as in the charming, understated Dylan reverence “You’re A Big Girl Now”, probably the only other song in the world with the word combination “jet pilot eyes”;

See her through jet pilot eyes
Mysterious and thin
Like a raven breakin' free
From the towers they keep you in

… borrowed from the obscure 1965 outtake “Jet Pilot Eyes”, which The Charlatans know from Biograph. That compilation box leaves more traces, by the way. For the intro of “Blue For You” (Up At The Lake, 2004), guitarist Mark Collins boldly incorporates Biograph‘s live version of “Isis”, for instance.

 

And the box set inspires the October 2021 release of their own Biograph-like box set, A Head Full of Ideas: The Best of Charlatans; “We were all at The Charlatans studio and there was a Bob Dylan box set lying around and it was there shouting at me that we should do one of these,” singer Tim Burgess tells Headliner. That studio of The Charlatans is called Big Mushroom – a nod to the Big Pink. The name of the box set, A Head Full Of Ideas, is a line from their biggest hit “One To Another” (1997), the song whose last verse opens with the familiar words Can you please crawl out your window.

In his 2012 autobiographical book, also titled Tellin’ Stories, Tim Burgess then reveals that Biograph actually marks a kind of beginning for The Charlatans:

“Martin Kelly and I became inseparable at this time. I remember going to his flat in Ladbroke Grove and spending the whole evening talking about Bob Dylan. I was into Dylan, and getting in deeper. Martin pulled out Biograph and asked me whether I had it. I didn’t. He played me ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, a version only available as part of this box set. Martin thought it was the best thing Dylan had ever done. He had two copies of Biograph, a CD and vinyl, and he generously gave me the vinyl. Mates for life!”

(Chapter 4: Garlic Bread and Britpop)

Tellin’ Stories is followed by the somewhat snowed under Us And Us Only (1999), an album with at least as much staying power as its predecessor, and with even more and even stronger traces of Dylan – not only in the lyrics, but now also in the music. Still pleasantly unobtrusive, and still loving.

The Dylan worship starts already in the opening song, in the hypnotic “Forever”. The long, instrumental intro mainly evokes associations with The Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, but when Tim Burgess starts singing after 2’38”, he soon returns to his Bob roots: Love is all there is (from “I Trew It All Away”), I wonder what you people do with your lives (paraphrasing “Tangled Up In Blue”), I see my true love coming, my little bundle of joy (quoting “Down Along The Cove”)… and like this, there are more half and whole references to Dylan’s catalogue. The opening song is followed by a trio of songs that form the most Dylanesque trio in The Charlatans’ output. “Sounds like Bob Dylan and The Band on ecstasy playing at the last night of the Heavenly Social,” as bassist Martin Blunt admits in an interview with New Musical Express (15 June 1999).

“Impossible” is one of the best mercurial-period-Dylan songs not written by Dylan. Every verse seems to come from an unreleased Blonde On Blonde song. From the opening verse onwards;

Impossible raw women
I you know you're all too hard to please
I can help you
If you only ask me kindly
Don't make me get down on my knees
God bless these hungry women
Impossible to ever keep
Your breath has never tasted as sweet

… up to shining Dylanesque put-downs like Y’know he looks like a plastic surgeon and Your new friend he seems to love you / I hope he cries himself to sleep. All framed by acoustic guitar, Al Kooper-like organ playing and Nashville piano. Plus, for dessert, a perfect imitation of Dylan’s harmonica playing.

The song flows smoothly, in many ways, into the next track, “The Blonde Waltz”. Again acoustic guitar, mercurial organ and piano, the title is lovingly stolen from Tarantula (chapter 40, “Subterranean Homesick Blues & the Blonde Waltz”) and the opening line is the biggest giveaway: Oh! my love my darling young son… “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” revisited. After which one subtle hint after another follows (I heard the sound of thunder in the place where all the poets sing, for instance).

 

And the “Dylan terzet” closes with the beautiful rock song “A House Is Not A Home”. With the most catchy tribute to Dylan: the driving lick is love & theft from “I Don’t Believe You”. The song is again embellished with the by now usual half-quotes and paraphrases (I can’t believe this is the end and blowing on your trumpet from Blonde On Blonde, and I think I used a little too much force from “Tangled Up In Blue”, for example), but that half I Don’t Believe You-lick is the real anchor.

 

The Dylan storm then seems to die down a bit. In tracks 6, 7 and 8 (“Senses”, “My Beautiful Friend” and “I Don’t Care Where You Live”), one or two modest Dylan references pass by (Our lives are a-changin’, for example), but towards the end of the album, on track 9, the hurricane picks up again. The wonderful “The Blind Stagger” is actually much more than a vehicle for a few sympathetic Dylan references: the song is in fact one big tribute to the great hero of The Charlatans. Take a fragment like

You're invisible, is there something I can give to you
I see my light come shining
There is good on the horizon

Daylight sneaking through my window
I will give you a rainbow and a bucket full of gold
You've been bitten by eleven hungry kittens
Who will go the whole distance while the blind stagger

… which is successively cut and pasted from fragments of “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Boots Of Spanish Leather”, “I Shall Be Released”, “You’re A Big Girl Now”, “Watching The River Flow” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. More subtle is the reverence in the musical setting; the chord progression G-G7-C-G6, on which the song rests, seems to be inspired by Dylan’s most favourite chord scheme – the bard does use the G-G6-G7 figure in combination with the C in dozens of songs. “Percy’s Song”, “With God On Our Side”, “My Back Pages”, “Don’t Think Twice”, “The Times”, “Hattie Carroll”, “Restless Farewell”, “To Ramona”, “I Don’t Believe You”, “Mama You Been On My Mind”… you probably can’t find a chord combination that Dylan uses more often than this one.

The lyrics to the opening couplet of “The Blind Stagger” are no less Dylanesque;

Lord, it's been a long, long time
And people don't you find always leave their troubles at your door
I, I live on my own
I don't need a bitter soul beatin' on about my country anymore
Don't you think your daddy needs you home right away
Your daddy needs you home right away

… the most striking is of course the last line, copied from the early masterpiece “I Was Young When I Left Home”. But almost unnoticed, the “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” reference to throw my troubles out the door slips through. It leads to the only Dylan cover The Charlatans recorded in the studio (2002), to one of the most beautiful “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” covers of the twenty-first century. Borne by the extraordinarily beautiful, driving Hammond organ, larded with elusive Madchester psychedelia, especially in the bridge, and above all: Burgess’ irresistible, weirdly attractive singing, alternating back-and-forth between falsetto and tenor.

 

The Japanese release of Us And Us Alone, by the way, has two more great bonus tracks. “Your Precious Love”, The Charlatans’ version of “Tombstone Blues”, and “Sleepy Little Sunshine Boy”, in which Burgess wishes the sunshine boy: may you grow up to be righteous. Yes, Dylan staying forever young is also thanks to the love of The Charlatans.

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To be continued. Next up: Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You part 10 (final): Smooching with Lisa Bonet

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Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

 

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4 Responses to Tonight I’ll be staying here with you (part 9)

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    Staying with beautiful music, but unless considered a parody, the worst rendering of Dylan lyrics I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to in the 21st century…

    Tiny Tim, tiptoe the two lips right out the door….or the window…I don’t care which one.

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    The Charletons take Dylan lyrics (often conceits ) including ” I’ll Be Staying” , and low burlesques them too – turns them into a travesty (ie,Boy From The North Country).

    Mocking can hardly be called a ‘tribute’.

    Dylan low burlesques Bobbie Gentry, for example, but pays tributes to others by ‘borrowing’ lines or style from them, but not making fun thereof.

    The Charletons’ singer does not emote such pasted lyrics as meant to be taken seriously- they are not an expression through words befitting of the narrator’s feeling in regards to the subject dealt with.

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    Mockery reinforced by the video.

  4. Larry fyffe says:

    Then of course, Jochen’s article could be itself a parody in regard to the
    interpretations of Dylan’s songs – a level so vulgar that I could never stoop to myself (lol).

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