Other people’s songs: Love Henry

Previously in this series…

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: My favorite performance from the two acoustic albums would be Bob’s take of “Love Henry”. It’s another song which has gone through many variations, lyrics and titles over the years

Here are the lyrics from the official Dylan site

1. "Get down, get down, Love Henry," she cried.
"And stay all night with me.
I have gold chains, and the finest I have
I'll apply them all to thee."

2. "I can't get down and I shan't get down,
Or stay all night with thee.
Some pretty little girl in Cornersville
I love far better than thee."

3. He layed his head on a pillow of down.
Kisses she gave him three.
With a penny knife that she held in her hand
She murdered mortal he.

4. "Get well, get well, Love Henry, " She cried,
"Get well, get well," said she.
"Oh don't you see my own heart's blood
Come flowin' down so free?"

5. She took him by his long yellow hair,
And also by his feet.
She plunged him into well water, where
It runs both cold and deep.

6. "Lie there, lie there, Love Henry," she cried,
"Til the flesh rots off your bones.
Some pretty little girl in Cornersville
Will mourn for your return."

7. "Hush up, hush up, my parrot," she cried,
"And light on my right knee.
The doors to your cage shall be decked with gold
And hung on a willow tree."

9. "I won't fly down, I can't fly down
And light on your right knee.
A girl who would murder her own true love
Would kill a little bird like me."

Tony: This song goes back to Scotland in the 18th century, and possibly before, and was collected both by Francis James Child and by Cecil Sharpe as they attempted to record the musical traditions of the two nations before they were lost forever.

The name of the song varies enormously across the British Isles and the United States, including Henry Lee, Earl Richard and the rather obvious, The Proud Girl.

Across all the versions the young man tells the woman he’s in love with another, she gets him drunk (although not in all versions), seduces him (ditto) and then murders him, throwing the body into the river.

The bird (sometimes a parrot) then talks with her but refuses to come to the woman for fear of being murdered also.    When challenged later the woman denies killing her lover, but later still admits it and is burned at the stake for her crime.

Dylan performs it without embellishment which gives us a lot of time to appreciate the excellent guitar work throughout.

Aaron: Here are a couple of other more recent versions for comparison

Ralph Stanley from 2002

Tony: This shows us at once just how the accompaniment can be varied to give a totally different feel to the song and here we don’t get any of the bleakness that comes from Dylan’s accompaniment.  Indeed Dylan’s decision to play an instrumental verse at the start adds to the sense of loneliness and desolation not to say hopelessness across the whole song – and I think this is missing in Henry Lee’s version.   This version makes me feel that the song has been adapted to the musical accompaniment he wants to add.  With Dylan it is the other way around.

PJ Harvey & Nick Cave

This 1996 recording from the “Murder Ballads” album and has a different set of lyrics.  It is one of the recordings where Nick Cave’s singing was recorded in one place and Harvey’s in a completely different location, and was one of a series of murder ballads the band recorded – hence the name of the album!  I’m not sure I need the video – I rather like the music to speak for itself.  Besides these two are musicians, not actors.

But that’s just me.   I’ll stick with Dylan’s version.

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