A Dylan cover a Day 44: Highway 61.5

By Tony Attwood

Highway 61 is such an original concept, and we have all now heard Dylan’s version so often, that it is stuck.  Most people who play it, stick pretty close to what Bob did.  The beat, the melody, the accompaniment… that’s what Bob did so that’s how we’ll do it, seems to be the key.

Except there are just a few who will take a gamble and go somewhere different.

The first video from Joan Osbourne has a pretty ropey sound to the recording, but I’ve included it because they’ve taken a daring part and changed the chord structure completely, putting the song in a minor key.   From here all other changes follow and give a totally different feel.

I’m not saying this a great recording, or indeed that the new approach gives a totally new perspective, as can happen sometimes, but rather it is a perfect example of tearing up the rule book and starting afresh.  Which is what is needed sometimes.

It is the sound balance that is all wrong for me – and maybe that is just the problem with the club they are playing in, but full marks for seeing a way of taking this song forward that no one else has tried.   I think given a studio to record in and a few hours work this could really turn into something.

And of course that trio were not the only people to realise what is possible.  You don’t need the same rhythm, or a police siren… change things around and you get a totally new meaning.  This Ben Sidran version gets it just right because everything flows from the relaxed vocals.  Well may he smile during the performance because the sound works so perfectly.  So do the variations on the text.  And the decision to cut out the instrumental bars at the end of the verse.

Love the ending too.

Mountain go for a shouty approach which might not work, but the arranger and the quality of the musicians keeps me listening.  The pauses between the lines work to as does the change in vocal style.

I’m not saying this is something I’ll want to listen to over and over but it has done its job in showing me another approach into the song.

When I hear a virtuoso performer do his stuff at the very start of a song, I’ll listen, just to see what else he can deliver.  And what Pat Flynn delivers is a beat and a half – as well as a nifty harp commentary on each line.

In fact there is so much clever thinking going on here – as with the instrumental verse, followed by the cut back following verse… yes it all works.  Great harmonica too.  Perfectly in tune with the whole occasion.

Ah I rather enjoyed that little trip around.  Whoever would have thought that with a bit of imagination so many different things could be done with just an old 12 bar blues.


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