A Dylan cover a day: Mama you’ve been on my mind

By Tony Attwood

Musically “Mama you’ve been on my mind” is extremely unusual in Dylan terms – it might even be unique, although I’d have to go through the whole catalogue to verify that point, and I have other bits and pieces to do, so let’s say for the moment, “extremely unusual.”

Dylan’s songs, like most songs in the pop, rock and folk genres don’t modulate – which is to say, they stay in one key all the way through, mostly starting and ending the song on the chord based on the key.   So if the song is in the key of C major, it (or at least the accompaniment) starts on C major, and finishes there.

“Mama” does this, but immediately changes to the chord of E major, which has no place normally in a song in C.  Then on to A minor (which is a chord associated with songs in C, but not with songs in E) and then goes to D7, which isn’t normally associated with songs in any of these keys.   It gives the song a unique sound and feel.  Here is how Dylanchords.info shows it

   C                                  E
Perhaps it's the color of the sun cut flat
    Am           D7/f#
An' cov'rin' the crossroads I'm standing at,
   C              /b      Am G              C/g
Or maybe it's the weather or something like that,
    G              G6 G7 C

This is so unusual I can’t imagine why anyone would ever dream of changing it, or simplifying it to make it sound like a more conventional song.   But they do.

And just as extraordinary, Judy Collins who has the ability to make even the blandest piece of music into something extraordinary, in this case turns the extraordinary into the bland.

Even more bizarre, the normally ultra-reliable Second Hand songs website manages to include Förlåt mej by Dan Tillberg under “Mama you been on my mind” which it isn’t.

But rescue is at hand.   Jeff Buckley’s version is delicate and charming, his voice is on perfect form, reminding us that if only he had survived what glorious gems he might have offered us, and how much he could have enriched our lives.

Gentleness is of course the order of the day, and here I am not sure there is anything else to do with this magical piece other than just performing it with all the delicacy it demands.

The only challenge then is what to do with the instrumental break and I’ve got no problems with that.

Andrew Kidman follows the requirements and takes it as gentle as you could wish.  He is not an artist that I know much about but he does seem to turn up in many media doing many different things.  If you know more of him, please do write in.

Finally, I’ve selected one of the versions that does put in some musical variations.  I’ve no problems with these, but I think they make the point that the song is so perfect, it really doesn’t need any amendments.

It is an absolute gem as Dylan delivered it, and I’m not at all sure we have to go any further.  But in case you think otherwise, here’s one alternative.


In addition to this blog we also have a very active Facebook page with over 11,000 followers.  It is highly moderated to keep out adverts, abuse and just plain daftness of the “Bob Dylan phoned me yesterday” variety.  If you’d like to join the conversations please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/UntoldDylan/about/ or alternatively just type in Facebook Untold Dylan


The Dylan Cover a Day series


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *