Songs and performances selected by Aaron Galbraith, commentary by Tony Attwood
Aaron: Clinton Heylin writes, “‘Copper Kettle’…strikes all the right chords…being one of the most affecting performances in Dylan’s entire official canon.” The track opened side 3 of Self Portrait in 1970.
The song was composed by Albert Frank Beddoe in 1953 (or 1946!) and made popular by Joan Baez.
Tony: Bob’s voice is in good form, and sustains the slow tempo. The big difference to the feel that he gets from that delivered by Joan Baez is in the chord sequence – she emphasises the minor chords, particularly at the end of the verse, which gives an utterly different feel to the song. The sadness comes through – a sadness for the days past, and concerning perhaps the battle with the authorities, which somehow to me is lost in Bob’s version.
Aaron: Bobby Womack , recorded in Lookin’ for a Love Again, 1974
Tony: The emphasis of one word per bar rising quickly to the virtuoso vocal performance seems to me a little too much for what is in essence a folk song. It becomes “listen to my voice, look at one I can do” and I am not at all sure that is right for this song. Really one has to abandon the lyrics to listen to this, and I get the feeling that maybe the singer and producers expected no one to know what the song was about. Or maybe they didn’t
As for repeating “the moon” three times – what is the point? Sorry, but it does nothing for me except to suggest an awful lot of showing off, which turns me off. In fact as I come to think about it, one of the wonderful things about Bob is that he never ever shows off, neither in his studio work nor on stage. There never is any feeling that he is saying “Look at me, listen to me”. It’s much more, “Here it is, take it or leave it.”
Aaron: Jump, Little Children recorded a fantastic version last year during lockdown
Tony: That’s a great way of making the video and yes, finally Aaron, I am with you. This is a terrific recording, with brilliant harmonies and exquisite orchestration. Now at last I am not bothered by the lyrics…
And notice the return of the minor chord at the end.
As for the instrumental break – I just wish it was longer. And that pause around 3 minutes 15 seconds is brilliant.
But above everything else, I think a word of thanks must go to the producer for the way the whole thing is mixed, and the thought that goes into the arrangement. One might think that around four minutes it is coming to an end, but then they pick it up again.
And still, there is more as we get the coda starting around 5 minuts 20 seconds. The pianist does something very odd showing us a picture, and then trotting away for a while before returning for the last exciting run-through.
Oh, that is what the contemporary re-enactment of folk music is all about. Done with a complete understanding of the origins of the song, using quality musicians in sympathy with each other and with the music and with the arrangement. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
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
- Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
- Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
- Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
- Other people’s songs: You go to my head
- Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?