A Dylan cover a day: Love is just a four letter word

By Tony Attwood

Jochen has written an excellent series on “Love is Just a Four Word” (links at the end of this piece) and at the end he considered the cover versions of the song.

And in reality, there’s nothing to add about the song, which is what I invariably find with Jochen’s commentaries (although that doesn’t always stop me) – but I thought I would do a little exploring to see if anything else had turned up since he wrote his piece.  And to remind you, in case you need reminding, of the covers that Jochen covered (if you see what I mean).

One that Jochen did find was the recording by John Winn which is quite remarkable

And he surprised me (even if no one else) with this version from Darren Holter – and returning to that today I really did enjoy it again.

Anyway, trying to find something new, what was new (for me at least) was the Sound Symposium…

which just shows what can be done with a song if one starts with a desire to go in a new direction.   Of course, it is the lyrics that power the song as much as the music, so a lot is lost here, but it made an interesting diversion on a wet saturday morning in July.

I did find one which is a version by Earl Scruggs and Joan Baez.

And I know this is going to look like the Joan Baez show but it is interesting to contrast this with her original recording, and what really is surprising is that someone thought that it was a good idea to put in an extra bit of instrumental whatnot after each line.  It is particularly pronounced in the first verse, although the twangy guitar does get occasional outings throughout the piece – which I find extraordinarily annoying.  I mean, what sort of person listens to this song and then says, “Hey, let’s put in a bit of twangy guitar.”

Besides, didn’t anyone then reply, “Errr… why have we got that in there exactly???”

It really is as if the producer thought, “Actually this song is rather dull, we’d better throw in some random sounds here and there – I know let’s put in some twang, twang is always good.”

For me the accompaniment in this piece absolutely destroys the song and all its meanings.

Thankfully Ms Baez later realised that she had been betrayed by the production team and doing it her way was a much better idea.  That doesn’t mean singing it solo, but it means keeping the accompaniment in the background.  The song has a natural bounce, the lyrics really are fun (which is why the repeated melody works so well), and yes it can be an enjoyable experience.

Why the Lord allowed humankind to invent musical producers is completely beyond me.

Which finally brings me to the ultimate, ultimate.   And if you have been plodding through the examples I have offered above will come as a contrast.  The melody is dropped to a new lower key, and everything starts off sounding a little bit more like a song with an edge – which is what Dylan wrote.  “Kept my mouth shut” stands out now, those changing and unexpected vocal harmonies add back in the element that Dylan had in the lyrics from the start.

We no longer need and certainly don’t want any more meandering ideas in terms of accompaniment.   Who needs instrumentation when this sort of inventiveness in terms of harmonies is on offer?

If you have a mind to, and the time, please just listen to the multiple vocal lines and how they change the meaning of the lyrics, as well as change themselves verse by verse.

It is a stunning masterpiece of performance.

In fact, this is a song that has quite a covering on Untold Dylan.  We even included it in our Dyaln Obscuranti album – of which more below.

First, here’s the index to Jochen’s series on the song…

And to conclude, a reminder of the Dylan Obscuranti album we created

As you can see, it is a bit of a favourite.

If you feel you’ve something new and different to say about Bob Dylan or his music, and would like to offer it to Untold Dylan for publication, we’d be delighted to hear from you.  Please write to Tony@schools.co.uk

If you’d like to explore other thoughts on Dylan and his music please do visit our Facebook group which has over 14,000 members.  Just go to Facebook and search for Untold Dylan.

And finally, here’s a list of the earlier articles from Dylan Cover a Day

Here’s a list of most of the articles from this series…


  1. There is nothing as absurd as a Dylan song that has lyrics being half- performed (ie,without them ), and likewise with overproduced accompaning music that overpowers them

    “Cooking” meshes the music and lyrics together well, being faithful to the latter except for the addition of spoiling “in my mind” which is supposed, I guess, to add to the theme of ideal love of innocent youth lost due to the reality of experience (Blake).

    Lest, god forbid, the ‘unwashed” doesn’t get it.

    The meaning, the sentiment, expressed, doesn’t change from that intended by the original Dylan lyrics – it’s just performed by ‘Cooking’ better, come across better, in relation some other renditions.

    I think that is that is what you are saying….if so, the lecture is appreciated (lol).

    In “Good Fences Make Good Neighbours” by Frost, the narrator disagrees throughout with the words in the title; in the Dylan song, the narrator in the end comes (reluctantly) to agree with the words in the title.

  2. Or it could be said that the song is more like Frost’s and the narrator does not agree at all that true love is like the words in the title ….

    The ideal is attainable in reality ….

    Take the middle path…

    Paradise might get lost, but paradise can be regained

    It’s hard as always to concisely pin down Dylan’s meaning.

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