Bob Dylan Released and Unreleased: 2 – The usual, Pretty Boy, People get ready.

Part 1 of this series appears at Dylan Released and Unreleased

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

For the second article let’s take a listen to three tracks Bob recorded for two late 80s/early 90s soundtrack albums and one tribute album.

Firstly, from Bob’s own starring vehicle Hearts Of Fire here is his version of John Hiatt’s “The Usual”. This was also released as a single and reached 25 in the US Mainstream Album Rock Tracks chart!!

Tony: I am sure I’ve heard this before, but really had forgotten about it, and I do find the lyrics quite intriguing.  A real bite – I think I can see exactly why Dylan liked it.

I'm trippin' over dumb drunks at a party
Girlfriend just ran off with the DJ
I give her everything, but she refused it
It doesn't matter, she don't know how to use it
My confidence is dwindling
Look at the shape I'm in
Where's my pearls, where's my swine?
I'm not thirsty, but I'm standing in line.

I'll have the usual

It is one of those forgotten pieces (well forgotten by me) that I really do welcome back.  It’s just got that great beat, great title line and some superb lyrics along the way.  I mean it is a regular rock song – not something to compare alongside “It’s not dark yet” or “Johanna” but still, great fun.

Aaron: Next, from the Grammy award winning (and genuinely excellent) Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly tribute album Folkways: A Vision Shared is Bob’s version of Pretty Boy Floyd.

Tony: One of the things about Bob is that he can take the old “gather round me people and a story I will tell” which we have heard in a million song starts, and do something quite different with it.  I am not sure this really works, but it certainly made me pay attention to work out what he was up to.

In effect it is a simple variation, but it is so unexpected with such a famous song, it really made me stop typing and just listen.  Fortunately this is not the series where I am obliged to finish my commentary during the playing of the song.

The long pauses are the issue and indeed in the later verses Bob hauls back on the long pauses (at least some of the time – he does really spread out Oklahoma) – perhaps he felt it was a musical idea that seemed good to begin with but didn’t actually relate to the song overall.

But still, it’s a nice listen, and an unexpected one too.   Another good find Aaron!

Aaron: Last one for now comes from the soundtrack to the 1990 Keifer Sutherland & Dennis Hopper movie “Flashback”. Dylan’s otherwise unavailable version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”.

It’s funny – I know how important this song is in the history of the civil rights movement, and indeed how enormous the song is in musical history.   And of course the tragedy of Curtis Mayfield’s accident.  And all that draws me to the song, but it has never really moved me.

Of course I never experienced by civil rights movement – I don’t mean we had race equality in the UK, but the issue (and this is just my impression as an old white English guy) did not have the same intensity in the UK as it did in the USA.  But then I didn’t live in Notting Hill.

So as I watched through my lifetime the fight for civil rights and equality, it was mostly through a TV screen in some of the remoter parts of rural England.  Indeed once my family moved out of north London to Dorset, we simply didn’t have any contact at all with people from any racial background other than our own.

So somehow the song doesn’t have that deep meaning for me that I think it does for so many Americans.  And maybe that’s why it doesn’t lift me in any way.  It’s my failing, but I would say sometimes it is hard to grasp the cultural significance of a piece of music from a different culture.




  1. “The Usual” is also on Tony’s article ‘Night After Night’ if my memory serves me well.

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