by Jochen Markhorst
II I believe in Hank Williams
While the lyrics may be somewhat distinctive in form, the musical accompaniment is not, nor is there much to enjoy in terms of content. In terms of content, the lyrics offer little or no sparkling poetry or other fireworks; it is mainly a string of country clichés. This starts with the theme, which is probably the trigger for the entire song text: one more night – the bittersweet farewell of a love affair. A theme like Kris Kristofferson elaborates on around the same time, much more movingly, in one of his most beautiful songs, in “For The Good Times”;
Lay your head upon my pillow Hold your warm and tender body close to mine Hear the whisper of the rain drops flowing soft against the window And make believe you love me one more time For the good times
A song that would only be catapulted into the stratosphere after Nashville Skyline, in the version by Ray Price, who scored a huge hit with it in 1970, after which the song was definitively elevated to the canon by Elvis and Al Green, among others. Kristofferson himself recorded the song in 1970, but maybe Dylan knows Bill Nash’s version from 1968.
Or not. “Before You Accuse Me”, Ray Charles’ “Get On The Right Track Baby”, Jimmy Dean’s “One Last Time”, Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me”… the theme is obviously generic enough to have entered Dylan’s repertoire without any immediate cause or current trigger. Bing Crosby’s top hit from 1931, “Just One More Chance” even uses literally the same words;
Just one more night To taste the kisses that enchant me I'd want no others if you'd grant me Just one more chance
… as well as plenty of other songs. Oh well, we even hear this word combination in one of The Monkees’ most enjoyable songs, in the 1966 world hit “Last Train To Clarksville” – a rather transparent “Paperback Writer” rip-off, but no less enjoyable for that.
'Cause I'm leaving in the morning And I must see you again We'll have one more night together Till the morning brings my train and I must go Oh, no, no, no Oh, no, no, no
Much the same applies to Dylan’s choice of words in the verses. Dylan has found his lyrics for “One More Night” by browsing through country classics left and right. Although not necessarily in the standards. “Kaw-Liga”, for example, echoes in more songs on Nashville Skyline, and is actually a rather atypical song in Hank Williams’ repertoire. Recorded during Hank’s very last recording session, September 23, 1952, the same session that yielded the immortal “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Take These Chains From My Heart”. “Kaw-Liga” was co-written with Fred Rose, has an unusual chord progression, an unusual story (about the wooden statue of an Indian with an unfortunate crush on a “Chocktaw maid over in the Georgia store”), and is the only Williams song with a fade-out.
Yet, or perhaps because of this, the record company sees hit potential. It is the A-side of the first single released after Williams’ death (1 January 1953), storms the charts and eventually spends 14 weeks at No.1 on the Billboard Country Chart. And impresses the young Robert Zimmerman, as we can read in Clinton Heylin’s The Double Life of Bob Dylan, Volume 1: A Restless, Hungry Feeling, 1941-1966 (2021):
“I heard Hank Williams. I think [it was] ‘Kaw-Liga’, and [the DJ] said he was dead. Hank’s voice stopped me in my tracks. It was from the same world as the Stanley [Brothers] but from [a] more focused part of it – it was more explanatory [sic] and less mysterious, more jolting and spine-tingling, especially the voice.”
Hank Williams’ repertoire seems to be etched in the creative part of Dylan’s brain, to which we probably owe the jumpiness of the musical accompaniment and the simple poetry of the lyrics of “One More Night” anyway, but we also see it more explicitly. “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” varies quite literally on Hank Williams’ “You Win Again”, from “Kaw-Liga” a lyric fragment like “Is it any wonder” moves to “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and Hank’s refrain
Kaw-Liga, ooh Standin' there, as lonesome as can be Ah, just wishin' he were still an ol' pine tree
… echoes in Dylan’s opening couplet:
One more night, the stars are in sight But tonight I’m as lonesome as can be Oh, the moon is shinin’ bright Lighting ev’rything in sight But tonight no light will shine on me
In which, of course, we hear more Williams traces. “Wait For The Light To Shine”, “I Saw The Light”, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”… this first verse can be cut and pasted from Hank’s oeuvre quite effortlessly, as can almost all of the lyrics.
It is, all in all, clear that Dylan is not driven by a thirst for originality. He trusts – rightly so – in the power of the familiar. “My songs, what makes them different is that there’s a foundation to them. That’s why they’re still around, that’s why my songs are still being performed. It’s not because they’re such great songs,” says Dylan in 1997, in the interview with Jon Pareles for the New York Times. The same interview in which he says: “Those old songs are my lexicon and my prayer book […] I believe in Hank Williams singing I Saw the Light. I’ve seen the light, too.”
Nevertheless, “One More Night” is neither “still around” nor “still being performed”. Dylan himself performs the song only once, and not even really. It’s 6 June 1990, Dylan is in Toronto, has just played the fourteenth song on the set list and then says:
“Hero of mine … Ronnie Hawkins! Where is he? He said he would come up and sing a song … called One More Night. It would be awfully nice if he would come up. If he doesn’t want to come up that’s okay too! … All right … Oh, here he comes now!”
… and then has Ronnie The Hawk Hawkins sing “One More Night”. A gesture of appreciation, presumably – Hawkins is one of the very few artists to ever record a cover of the song. And was there early; Ronnie’s cover is the opening song of his eponymous 1970 solo album, produced by Dylan producer Jerry Wexler, with Duane Allman on guitar. The real highlight is the opening song of Side Two, Hawkins’ brilliant cover of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings”, but Ronnie himself apparently thinks “One More Night” is a stronger entrant.
Not exactly an unforgettable performance, but then again, there’s nothing wrong with it. And we have to hand it to The Hawk: although he approaches the flatness and the emotionlessness of Dylan’s original, he can’t suppress a little sob here and a half-breaking of the voice there.
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
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