Other People’s songs: When did you leave heaven? Plus Jack White and Pokey LaFarge

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

This article is part of the series on Bob Dylan’s recordings of songs not written by himself.  A list of the previous articles in the series is given at the end.

The songs and example recordings are selected by Aaron in the US and passed over to Tony in the UK for commentary.  But sometimes (as here) something different finds its way into the article – as will become apparent in a moment.

Why did you leave heaven?

Aaron: Track 2 on the 1988 album Down in the Groove was Bob’s take of this Walter Bullock/Richard Whiting song

Heylin offers an explanation for the selection of the album’s tracks, “As it is, Dylan’s intent all along may have been to show the rich vein of music he listened to when growing up in Hibbing.”

Tony: The accompaniment to this song sounds very un-Dylan to me.  The strong drum beat at the start of each bar and then on the half beat at the end of the bar… I can’t recall anything quite like this on any other Dylan recording or performance.  And then the sudden cutting of half a bar of music before the resumption of the verse after the middle 8.  It is very, very unBob.  A triumph of production over the music, it seems to me, which is sad because although I find the lyrics somewhat mawkish, it is a fine song in its own terms.

Aaron: Some wonderful early film clips to show you here including the original version: Tony Martin from the 1936 musical film ‘Sing Baby Sing’. This was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936.

Tony: That’s an all lady orchestra, including a female conductor [I wrote that before watching the whole video, from which it becomes quite apparent it is an all female ensemble!]  And apart from that it’s a bit of a shock to hear this as a straight 1930s popular song, which it does not resemble in any way in Bob’s treatment of the song.

It is actually from the movie “Sing Baby Sing” released in 1936.   It was written by Richard A. Whiting and Walter Bullock.

Aaron: Big Bill Broonzy recorded it for a short film on Broonzy called “Low Light, Blue Smoke” from 1956 (available on YouTube if you want to watch the whole film)

Tony: Wow, that’s an unexpected transformation.  I wonder (and maybe someone can help me on this), did this sort of reworking happen very often in the 1950s?  It is not something I have really looked at before – taking a popular song from the 1930s and transforming it into having something akin to a blues feel in the 1950s.

Aaron: Here are two modern artists’ versions of the song.

World Party from 2012

Tony: The opening guitar work sounds to me as if they are going to break into “Desolation Row”  And I wonder why it is there, because very quickly the guitars move right away from that.   Is it an admission to the fact that musicians had discovered the song through Dylan?

I rather suspect it is for World Party was in effect Karl Wallinger, and it is the sort of thing I can imagine him doing (World Party was, I think, what he did after leaving The Waterboys.  He also wrote “She’s the One” which Robbie Williams had a hit with.)

Of the examples so far this is the one that I like – and sorry to say I like it much more than Bob’s version, which still sounds to me, even on playing again, as if the accompaniment was added later by the production team in an attempt to beef the whole thing up.

Aaron: Pokey LaFarge from 2015

But now… Where on earth to begin writing about Pokey LaFarge?  Well first off I am going to have to admit that I have changed the recording from that which Aaron provided, because this live recording allows us to see the artist in person.  Hope that’s ok Aaron – won’t happen again, promise.

There is no way I can do justice to him and his work, but if I tell you that “Chittlin’ Cookin’ Time in Cheatham County” was produced by Jack White (yes that Jack White) and released on Jack’s own label, you will start to appreciate how highly this guy is valued by musicians.

Jack White also collaborated with LaFarge on “I guess I should go to sleep” from “Blunderbuss”.

OK, I have meandered a long way from Aaron’s starting point.  I can only hope that Aaron will forgive me and that you may have found something of interest here.

Previously in this series…

One comment

  1. He got an all girl orchestra and when he says
    “Strike up the band”, they hit it
    Handy dandy, handy dandy

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