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.
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.
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The Dylan Cover a Day series
- The song with numbers in the title.
- Ain’t Talkin
- All I really want to do
- Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
- As I went out one morning
- Ballad for a Friend
- Ballad in Plain D
- Ballad of a thin man
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- The ballad of Hollis Brown
- Beyond here lies nothing
- Blind Willie McTell
- Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
- An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
- Blowin in the wind as never before
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- You will not believe this… 115th Dream revisited
- Boots of Spanish leather
- Born in Time
- Buckets of Rain
- Can you please crawl out your window
- Can’t wait
- Changing of the Guard
- Chimes of Freedom
- Country Pie
- Crash on the Levee
- Dark Eyes
- Dear Landlord
- Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
- Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
- Don’t think twice
- Down along the cove
- Drifter’s Escape
- Duquesne Whistle
- Farewell Angelina
- Foot of Pride and Forever Young
- Fourth Time Around
- From a Buick 6
- Gates of Eden
- Gotta Serve Somebody
- Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
- 42 Heart of Mine
- 43: High Water
- 44: Highway 61.5
- 45: Hurricane
- 46: I am a lonesome hobo
- 47: I believe in you
- 48: I contain multitudes
- 49: I don’t believe you.
- 50: I love you too much
- 51: I pity the poor immigrant.
- 52: I shall be released
- 53: I threw it all away
- 54: I want you
- 55: I was young when I left home
- 56: I’ll remember you
- 57: Idiot Wind and More idiot wind
- 58: If not for you, and a rant against prosody
- 59: A Dylan cover a Day: If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
- 60: If you see her say hello
- 61: Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
- 62: I’m not there.
- 63: In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
- 64: It ain’t me babe
- 65: It takes a lot to laugh
- 66: It’s all over now Baby Blue
- 67: It’s all right ma
- 68: Just Like a Woman
- 69: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
- 70: Lay down your weary tune
- 71: Lay Lady Lay
- 72: Dylan Cover a Day 72: Lenny Bruce
- 73: That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
- 74: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
- 75: Dylan Cover a Day: License to kill
- 76: Like a Rolling Stone
- 77: Love is just a four letter word
- 78: Love Sick
- 79: Maggies Farm!
- 80: Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.