- Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
- Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
- Other people’s songs: They killed him
- Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
Aaron: I have always considered “World Gone Wrong” as my favorite of Dylan’s covers albums. However, in picking the songs for this series, “Good as I Been to you” is fast rising up the rankings.
Yet another track from the latter album worthy of reappraisal is Dylan’s version of Tomorrow Night.
Tony: This song has the utterly perfect blues opening, and this continues with the simple guitar part.
But what is strange about the song is that the chords are nothing like the chords we normally hear in blues music. I am sure there is an F diminished in there, which is really unusual in the key of E. (Or F#dim if you are playing it in F). And it is because of this, I think, that Dylan simply strums the accompaniment with no attempt at anything beyond this. The chords are telling us a story by themselves.
As our good friends at the Bob Dylan Project confirm (but I looked it up to be sure as my memory is getting very dodgy these days) the piece was written by the Austrian composer and conductor Wilhelm Grosz (1894-1939) and Sam Coslow.
Although you may only be familiar with this song beyond Dylan’s recording, you probably do know “Red Sails in the Sunset” by the same composer Or, if I may be sold bold as to tell you what you ought to know, you ought to know it if you don’t. Written in 1935 by which time Wilhelm Grosz was writing under the name Hugh Williams.
But I digress. Back with “Tomorrow Night”, I have no evidence for this but I wonder if Dylan’s interest in the song came from this Lonnie Johnson recording
This version brings out every element of the beauty of the song and ok there is the odd moment of perhaps unnecessary virtuoso guitar runs, but in essence the song is presented as itself – which of course is all it needs. It is an absolute classic.
Aaron: Here are a couple of other versions of this song for Tony to compare with Dylan’s. First, Elvis Presley.
Tony: It is interesting that the producer felt there needed to be a touch of echo in this – I mean Elvis had a superb voice so why add anything to this?
The basics are all there, but if you have a moment I would urge you to play a bit of Elvis’ version and then Lonnie Johnson’s. I so much prefer the latter to what seems to me the horrible over-production of the Elvis performance.
Also, I lose touch with those gorgeous chord changes against that beautiful flowing melody in the Presley production. So no, this is not for me. But I could go on listening to Lonnie Johnson over and over. And in fact I have been.
Aaron: And last, Tom Jones
Tony: I can’t turn this link into a cover shot for some reason, so you’ll have to click here to hear it.
I think there is something about my musical taste which somehow always takes me back to days way before I was born rather than enjoying contemporary versions of older songs. The addition of violins in the latter stages of this version really isn’t necessary, in my view, nor are the moments of vocal solo without accompaniment.
To make the singer the forefront of the piece, rather than let this wonderful song speak for itself seems ludicrous to me, but of course I know that the producers were wanting to maximise the fact that each (with Elvis and with Tom Jones) had a star performer in the studio.
And that is the difference between Bob Dylan and these other latter-day performers. Bob delivers the song, reveres the song, nurtures the song, caresses the song… It is all about the song, not about Bob Dylan. Elvis and Tom Jones make the song nothing more than a vehicle for their own glorification.
Which is one of 10,000 reasons why I like the work of Dylan so much. He rarely if ever puts himself before the music. With Bob, the music is always everything. It’s not the singer, it’s the song.