Dylan Cover of the Day No 8: Ballad in Plain D

By Tony Attwood

I think that having bought the album upon its release I played “Ballad in Plain D” once, along with everything else on the album, and then never played that track again, lifting the stylus at that point.  It seemed nasty, boring, repetitive and dull.    But then I was very young at the time.

Although to be truthful, I am not sure that as I have aged I have ever gone back and listened to it again that much.  But I must have done occasionally, because I find I can recite quite a few of the lyrics.  “Screaming battle ground” and “victim of sound” and “all is gone all is gone admit it take flight”.

And that ending, I absolutely know by heart

The wind knocks my window the room it is wet
The words to say I’m sorry I haven’t found yet
I think of her often and hope whoever she’s met
Will be fully aware of how precious she is

My friends from the prison, they ask unto me
“How good, how good does it feel to be free?”
And I answer them most mysteriously,
“Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

How do I know that if I never listened to it?  The mysteries of old age.

But it seems Bob Dylan didn’t like it much either, and indeed has never performed it in concert.   So would anyone actually make a cover version?

Well, yes, but one would have to be pretty daring, not to say highly imaginative and accomplished to do it.   But there are two such recordings (in my opinion).  And even if you share with me the dislike of the song I would urge you to venture forth at least with the first of these two examples.  This version, in particular, is exquisite and divine in its pain.

Paul Anquez & Isabel Sörling

Paul Anquez is a French pianist and vocalist Isabel Sörling is Swedish, and if you don’t know of them, I would urge you to explore their work if you can.  I’ll add another piece by them at the end, just in case you are interested.

But first the second cover (if you see what I mean).  Michael Chapman, below, I found less easy to listen to, but you may be made of sterner stuff than I.

And just in case you are still with me…

I do hope that if you are following this series you are getting something out of it.  It turns out (for me, even if no one else) to be one of my better ideas in terms of the pure enjoyment of listening to these versions again.

More tomorrow (all being well).

Footnote: if you have ever had an idea for an article or a series, whether you can write it or just want to put it forward for someone else to write, please do send it in.   Tony@schools.co.uk


  1. Like you, I have almost ‘blipped’ this song from my memory, finding it pretty so-so. But the Anquez/Sörling version is quite lovely.

  2. Loving it Tony, thank you.
    Just wish I had more time to participate as I am still working more or less full time. My personal Dylan ‘live’ events span I.O.W. 1970 – Bournemouth -2001 I think it was – Love & Theft and Fuengirola May 2019.
    Last time I saw Michael Chapman was at the Bridge Inn, Topsham but Fully Qualified Survivor was one of my favourite bits of late sixties, early seventies nostalgia.
    Keep up the good work. Greatly appreciated.

  3. I take that ‘take fright’ is merely a typo …..something I’d never commit myself
    Of course (lol)!

  4. That’s very kind Alan. I’m started writing the series just for my own amusement as winter sets in, but it is good to know others are enjoying the ramble.

  5. Well it goes without saying that I’m made of sterner stuff, but the torture inflected on me by Chapman’s version I was barely able to endure.

    Don’t do that again, Tony! (lol)

  6. I must disagree, on getting another side of in 1985 it was the song that most transfixed, and it’s lines, whatever their corrosive meanness, take an incisive scalpel to a situation where the singer is looking in with unrelenting perception whilst retaining, for my money, sufficient heart to recommend them ( he’s on her side)….there’s only magnificence on show….

  7. I fully appreciate your point Mark – and in my defence I would say that I was rather young when I first heard it. I think the point I could have added is that early perceptions can influence one’s view for years and decades to come, and it can take a total transformation of the song to change one’s views.

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