Dylan cover of the day 40: Gotta Serve Somebody

By Tony Attwood

Being an atheist the notion that I have got to serve somebody doesn’t sit very well with me – except in the sense of being as kind and helpful to my fellow humans as I can.  It’s a very simplistic view of the world; a sort of “do the right thing” with the “right thing” regularly being redefined as befits a constantly changing world around me.  But most importantly, being defined by me, not be some deity looking down.

As a result “Gotta Serve Somebody” doesn’t sit well with my view of reality.  The religious context is right out for me, but I try to have a moral compass within my daily life and obviously within that I have a sense of morality.

So is there anything in this song for me?  Certainly when I first heard it, I didn’t think so.  A simple 12 bar blues structure, and a clearly spoken message which has always sounded to me ludicrously anti-individualistic.

Thus I didn’t expect to find anything to my taste meandering around the cover versions, but I did like Sweet Little Band’s take.   To me they convey the simple message by giving me a simple but enjoy tune over bar after bar of 1234123412341234.   And they make it work.

What it really makes me think is the world without end, world without change, just going on and on and on until it fades away.  It is indeed a sweet little band.

Michael Des Barres gives me a new emphasis which again I enjoyed despite myself.  This time the lyrics don’t have a religious connotation at all (and of course this is just my impression, not a definitive judgement).  “If you want to get on,” the song is now saying, “you will have to be subservient.”

Also a lovely deviation from the rigid chord structure by bringing in the flattened seventh as if this is a major act of defiance.

And then of course if I listen to the song in a foreign language I don’t have to deal with the religious context that I have always heard from Dylan.

Put like this, it is rather an enjoyable basic blues song.  Who knows that the recitation is about – I’ve no idea if he is sticking to a strict translation of the original, but the music is removed enough from Dylan’s version for me to imagine it as a new song.

I also like the way the chorus comes in, and the way the music varies just a little.  For when stripped down to its basics, there really is not that much there.  And yet that little more is added as we go.

I’m not sure if I’d want to play this again – at least not for a while – but in itself it is quite good fun.  And that lasts all the way through.  Indeed it is remarkable how the band managed to find more and more to do.

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