Dylan Cover of the Day No 9: Ballad of a thin man

By Tony Attwood

Ballad of a thin man: oh where to begin?  Having struggled to find any covers at all of oh so many Dylan songs so far, I’m now swamped with choices.

One thing I have discovered since starting this journey is the existence of delightful instrumental versions of Dylan songs… something I love, I think, because of my own musical background.  While many people quite reasonably focus exclusively on the lyrics, there is music there as well as these instrumentals remind us of that.

Of course the instrumentalist has to work so much harder – Dylan’s songs are by and large strophic, meaning that you get verse, verse, verse etc.  And if the lyrics change and are interesting you can get away with that.   But in an instrumental… the challenge is much greater.

Thus these instrumental versions do help us focus on what Bob the musician was doing, and remind us that we are listening to music, not poetry recitals with background sounds.

First off, here are two versions, one of which keeps us in touch with the origins of the piece

the other of which goes into a country related to the original, but for which you certainly need a passport and visa to enter.

For those who try to do the song as the song, the problem is that we all know the lyrics so well, and that chord structure is so distinctive, it is hard not to try too hard, which is what I think most of the re-workers are doing.  In short every one seems to be trying just that bit too hard, forgetting that they can do pretty much anything they like.  It doesn’t have to sound like the original!

And it doesn’t have to get more and more frantic.

I was getting to the end of my search thinking that maybe the closest to my ideal of a vocalised version comes from our old pals, The Dylan Project.  Fond memories here of a great evening out with Pat (who encouraged me so much to start, and then keep going with this site).

But in the end I did find something that was refreshingly original and for me, insightful.  I had almost given up, but it was worth the search.

So a bit of a run around today.  But I found what I wanted in the end.  A new insight.  Is that too much to ask?

Another song tomorrow.


  1. Better with lyrics though to put some meaning into the music:

    She walks in with her bridegroom, he’s gotta utensil in his hand
    He serves up a bun, she tastes it, and says, Ain’t that grand
    He tried so hard not to, but he burned the pan
    Where will I stay, the extinguisher’s outta foam
    ‘Cause the house in on fire, and now I’ve got no home
    Do I, Mr. Jones?

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