By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
In this series Aaron in the US selects versions of a song which Dylan did not write, but has recorded, and Tony in the UK writes a personal commentary as the song is playing. It does, on occasion, take us down unexpected pathways, as is most certainly the case here…
Aaron: The song was a number one country music single for The Davis Sisters in 1953. It was the first hit for the duo of Skeeter Davis and Betty Jack Davis, and also their only one, as Betty Jack was killed in an automobile accident the week the record was released.
Tony: I find it impossible to say anything positive about this recording. The singers obviously can sing and the not-so-good acoustics of the recording are due to the technology of the time. But the accompaniment with the slide guitar is just about bearable until the instrumental break just after the two-minute mark, when it was all I could do to force myself to listen to the rest of the recording. OK it is from a different time and in a different style of music from that which I like, but ohhhhhh, it really hurts.
Aaron: Here is Skeeter Davis performing it solo in 1961
Tony: This version (I take it the performance is mimed) has removed much of the mawkishness, and it just becomes a piece of background music. Goodness me, if these are the recordings that Bob knew, I just cannot understand what he saw in the song. The only thing I can imagine is that in his youth the family had a copy of a 78rpm record and played it quite often, and Bob associates this with happy early memories. (The truth or otherwise of that supposition is probably revealed in a book somewhere, but I can’t remember).
Aaron: And here is Bob’s version from Self Portrait
Tony: Anyone coming to this for the first time now would surely never guess this is Dylan. And certainly, he does a good job of turning it into a rather likeable lost love song. There are elements of the accompaniment of the song which are similar, but the changes from the early versions (such as the piano part) really do make much more sense of the song.
There’s a way in which Bob plays a little with the rhythm of the lyrics that gives it an extra something, and which stops it plodding along. I’m not 100% sure what it is, but I do think that the production here in Bob’s version is perfect. They’ve got his voice sounding exactly right for the song, and the accompaniment seems to veer away from that mawkish approach in the earlier versions. It’s not a song I want to play over and over again, but it is now something I might well play again.
Aaron: Subsequent versions include this one by Bryan Ferry from 2002
Tony: Now that is a surprise. I don’t recall ever hearing this before, and I really do like it. Nice bouncy fun. Mind you I always liked Brian Ferry, and I wonder who came up with the idea of the speed and bounce. From what I know of Mr Ferry it could well be him. Suddenly this is not an emotion-wrenching piece but a jolly bit of fun. The singer is now boasting that he really knew her and you don’t, whereas in the early versions it is all sadness, sadness, sadness. This time the singer has won.
Aaron: Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs from 2012
Tony: And now I think for the first time in this series I am defeated. The video below was selected by Aaron, who as I have oft mentioned is in the USA, and this video won’t play in the UK. We’ve had that before and previously I have been able to find a version that will play in my country, but this time not. Even more curiously, I can’t find a recording on Spotify’s paid-for service. So I am at a loss, but I will leave this in, as we have more readers in the US than in the UK.
Thus my instruction if you can hear this is: make up your own commentary. If it just says “video unavailable”, carry on for there is more below.
So I have just been searching, and of course, the song has been covered by loads of artists. I’ve not had the time to go through every cover version, but here’s a couple that I thought were interesting.
First, taking the accompaniment at speed…
And a totally unconventional bit of playing around with the whole concept of the piece, while remaining true to the original – which sounds like a total contradiction, and of course is.
And finally, this version which is by Sonny James – and I noted that it was arranged and conducted by Hub Atwood. OK I only included it because of the name of the musical arranger, and hearing what he did for the violins in the middle 8 I can say there is no link in our musical tastes!
Of course there is also no connection beyond the sounding of our surnames, mine is with double t, and his with a single t. In the UK we have both spellings of the surname, and the double t version is less common (or as I would put it, the aristocratic branch of the ancient family).
But having written that little bit of nonsense I have been brought down to earth by doing a little research into Hub Atwood. Secondhand songs tells me that Hub Atwood born June 14, 1918, died September 21, 1988 was a “Staff writer for Capitol Records, composer and arranger. In the 1960s, he became a jingle writer in Memphis. Atwood died by suicide, as his father before him.”
I am completely overcome by the awfulness of that simple statement, not least because we started this piece with a singer who died in a car crash the week the record was released. Hub Atwood’s desperately awful end to his life, as his father before him, has got nothing to do with the theme of this article, nor, as I have just said, with my family, but it utterly brings me down to earth. And it makes me thankful, that although I’ve had some significant ups and downs in my life, I’m still here, and by and large these days, still enjoying myself.
Previously in this series…
- Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
- Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
- Other people’s songs: They killed him
- Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
- Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
- Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
- Other people’s songs: Love Henry
- Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
- Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
- Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
- Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
- Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
- Other people’s songs: You go to my head
- Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
- Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
- Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
- Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
- Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
- Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
- Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
- Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
- Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
- Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
- Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
- Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
- Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
- Other people’s songs: You’re no good
- Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
- Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes