Previously in this series…
- 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
- Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
- Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
- Other people’s songs: Love Henry
- Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
- Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
By Aaron Galbraith (in the USA) and Tony Attwood (in the UK)
Aaron: Bob’s version appears as the opening track on Saved.
The song was written by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes and has been recorded scores of times. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Porter Wagoner all had a go, amongst many others. Here are three versions I like which attempt to do something different with the song.
Tony: I really can’t get anything out of that Dylan recording at all – but that is probably primarily due to the style of performance which I just don’t like – it really does nothing for me at all (and it is not often that I have said that about one of Bob’s songs on this site!)
It was written in 1955, and the composer claimed that his father-in-law had once asked him who he thought the richest man in the world was, and then told his son-in-law that “it is the man with a satisfied mind.” The song reached number one in the country charts and was a top 40 hit in the year of its composition for Ella Fitzgerald.
Aaron: The Byrds
Tony: The guys do their best, and the harmonies are of course perfect, although I find the accompaniment a little uninspiring, with the verses running one onto the next. I’m not sure the guys were really doing what they wanted to here – it’s a bit like putting the three exclamation marks in “Turn! Turn! Turn!” – it all seems a bit desperate.
Aaron: Lindsey Buckingham
Tony: The Ella Fitzgerald version is definitely in 4/4 (four beats to the bar) so turning this song into a 3/4 rhythm (mostly associated with a waltz) is an interesting possibility … which sadly doesn’t work for me because of the incessant drumming. I wonder if they actually made the drummer play those three beats over and over. (Although there is one moment where he does slip in an extra quaver beat). The instrumental verse doesn’t do anything to relief the tedium either.
Aaron: Ben Harper with the Blind Boys of Alabama
Tony: OK if you have really studied Untold Dylan you will have come across me raving about the Blind Boys, not least concerning their recording of Dylan’s “Well well well” – and if you don’t know that song or that recording then the moment you’ve finished working through my rambling here please do take a peek at the article on “Well well well”
But back to this recording above – and what a relief to come to it. Aaron, you had me near utter desperation until I saw you had put this in.
It has buoyancy, light, rhythm, meaning, enthusiasm, power, drive… you name it, it has it. And now I see the point of including the earlier versions – as a pure contrast with this recording which is magnificent.
The point about the Blind Boys recordings is that the people involved are thinking about the music they are going to perform, what it means, where it is going, how to make it original, how to keep up interest… exactly the opposite from the recording sessions where the engineer says, “OK guys we’ve got half an hour before the next booking, so let’s get on with it ok…” and on with it they get.
I think you left this one til last Aaron just to wind me up!
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