Dylan Cover a Day: Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.

By Tony Attwood

Bonnie Raitt does a live version of this song which takes us through the emotions, and does what all the really good cover versions do – hide the fact that is a 12 bar blues in terms of musical construction, which actually is 12 bars long.

What Dylan’s composition doesn’t do however is repeat the first line, and instead has a fixed final line in terms of lyrics.    And this is what keeps us listening – or at least that, along with the fact that the construction gives good musicians every opportunity to show how good they are without actually seeming to be showing off.

And what is interesting in putting together a short collection of versions of this song is just how different is each treatment, even though it is a classic blues in contstruction…

One might be tempted to think that after all these years the 12 bar blues might have had its day, but no, we can go on and on being entertained, and indeed surprised by each new approach.    In this version by Vintage 18 the guitar plods its way through without boring us, not least because its part is suddenly taken over by the bass while the lead guitar multiplies the speed by something like 12-fold.   An extraordinary virtuoso performance, and great arranging.

Bonnier Raith has the voice to carry off the atmospheric version of this song, and she is fulsomely aided by the accompaniment, both in the vocalised verses and in the instrumental break, which I really love.   Everything and everyone working together with the same object in mind.  Superb.

Well may she have that twinkle in her eye when she can deliver a performance like this.  It’s stunning.

So by the time we reach Viktoria T0lstoy, the feeling surely must be, there can’t be much more you can do with what is in essence such a simply constructed song.  Yes the melody is particularly fine, but is there anything else to say?

Well, actually yes…

Once again we can see the importance of the accompaniment – and here the arranger doesn’t just rethink how the instruments are going to perform, he/she also changes the chord sequence.  Not a lot but enough for us to feel.   And I really do feel that works, because, as I say so often we all know the songs so well, sometimes we need to be jerked out of our historic knowledge.

This version is not only my favourite of this song, but also one of my all-time favourite Dylan covers both for the way the vocalised verses progress but also the instrumental break.   It’s a virtuoso performance – but not just that, it is sensitive to the rest of the performance.

The idea of multiple key changes is interesting too.   Generally I think doing more than one is pushing one’s luck a bit, but a really clever idea which this time works.   And a beautiful coda as the music changes from 4/4 to 6/4 and back over the “Yea yea yea yea” sections.  Another great idea – give the arranger an award.   Blues songs very, very rarely have codas, so there is no history of adding that extra section at the end to consider when creating one.   Thus this ending comes out of almost nowhere and works a dream.

Utterly brilliant.  Listen, and listen again.  And marvel.

The Dylan Cover a Day series

One comment

  1. The Sound School of Dylanology likes a regular ‘beat box’ sound to intrude on otherwise beautiful vocals and music covers –
    – Dylan himself usually subdues annoying tikidy-tock beats.

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