A Dylan cover a day 37: Desolation Row

If it were just the shouting it would be nothing, but the vocal harmonies, the slight intermissioins and the guitar solo make it.

Of course we all know the lyrics so well, so an instrumental version is welcome – if nothing else but to find out what exists beneath the lyrical lines we already know so well.

There is a note on Vitamin String Quartet’s wiki article which says, “This article appears to contain trivial, minor, or unrelated references to popular culture. Please reorganize this content to explain the subject’s impact on popular culture, providing citations to reliable, secondary sources, rather than simply listing appearances. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.”

What utter tripe.   Turning anything to do with Vitamin String Quartet into something other than unrelated references to popular culture is to deny what VSQ is about.

The final choice of the day is something that really surprises me.  It is one of two Dylan tracks on the album Les Sauterelles which was apparently released within a year of Desolation Row coming out.  I am surprised that anyone had the audacity to do this so early on.  Hats off to them, in that case, because they must have been one of the influences that said to other artists, really you can try anything you like with Dylan – just to see what happens.

Les Sauterelles played between 1962 and 1971 and then were reformed at the end of the 1980s.  Toni Vescoli has been with the band from the start.

But in the end I still feel the essence of the song needs a certain level of simplicity.  So I leave you with Songdog.   It’s far from perfect in my view, but it takes me back to the original, and then adds a certain something.  Of course I know the words by heart, but somehow I find a little more here than I have thought of before.


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  1. Music’s fine, but I find it a bit difficult to keep up my attempt at a sing-along using Dylan’s lyrics because of the Lone Ranger and Tonto tempo in VSQ’s version of “Desolation Row “….

    So it seems to me that the totality of Dylan’s creation is taken away from by the VSQ’s souped-up rendition rather than added to …

    Perhaps VSQ vocalizing lyrics like ‘”They’re baking the pancakes brown” would get the burlesque batter stirring better.

  2. That’s an interesting bunch of covers, though none of them did a whole lot for me. Perhaps its the familiarity of the original that makes it hard to lean into a different take. If you forced me to nominate my favourite cover of Desolation Row, it would be Chris Smither. I especially like the graceful build, with horns and vocal harmonies working their way in, but in a pretty and unobtrusive way.


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