A Dylan Cover a Day: Only a Hobo

By Tony Attwood

I have written about this song before, and it troubled me then.  And it still troubles me now.   It is a desperate reminder of the appallingness of aspects of our society, and yet cover versions of the song tend to treat it as a jaunty piece to be sung without any consideration of the lyrics.

But just consider them…

As I was out walking on a corner one day
I spied an old hobo, in a doorway he lay
His face was all grounded in the cold sidewalk floor
And I guess he’d been there for the whole night or more

Only a hobo, but one more is gone
Leaving nobody to sing his sad song
Leaving nobody to carry him home
Only a hobo, but one more is gone

A blanket of newspaper covered his head
As the curb was his pillow, the street was his bed
One look at his face showed the hard road he’d come
And a fistful of coins showed the money he bummed

Does it take much of a man to see his whole life go down
To look up on the world from a hole in the ground
To wait for your future like a horse that’s gone lame
To lie in the gutter and die with no name?

I’ve listened again to the recordings that there are available on the internet of other artists re-working this song, and I remain as appalled as ever as to how artists not lacking for talent can choose to take these lyrics and then deliver them without appearing to have any concern or interest in the story they tell.  Why, if the lyrics mean nothing to you, would you record the piece?  Just for self-aggrandisement?

How can anyone with any artistic integrity read that last verse and then perform it as a jaunty little piece that just fills a few minutes before the next number on the song sheet?  It is quite beyond me.

In case you are interested I have written on this before and in an earlier article placed recordings of the songs that are the antecedents of “Only a Hobo” which I still think are worth hearing, if you have the time.

As for Dylan’s recording below however, it remains a clear statement of what he intended – if the lyrics were not enough to make this clear… And if you want another one, there is a second version available through the link above.

So as I have suggested, I really can’t bring myself to include other cover versions here because I think they show such total ignorance of what the song is about and such a lack of artistic integrity they make a mockery of the whole notion of doing a cover a Dylan song.


Except, as I have mentioned before there is one version that gets it.  And it comes from a slightly unexpected source – but then the unexpected is what keeps me writing on this blog.  And maybe it being unexpected is a reflection of my prejudice.

If you don’t know this recording I do hope you have time to listen.  And if you do, I hope you’ll always have time to listen again.

The Dylan Cover a Day series

  1. The song with numbers in the title.
  2. Ain’t Talkin
  3. All I really want to do
  4.  Angelina
  5.  Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
  6. As I went out one morning
  7.  Ballad for a Friend
  8. Ballad in Plain D
  9. Ballad of a thin man
  10.  Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  11. The ballad of Hollis Brown
  12. Beyond here lies nothing
  13. Blind Willie McTell
  14.  Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
  15. An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
  16. Blowin in the wind as never before
  17. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  18. You will not believe this… 115th Dream revisited
  19. Boots of Spanish leather
  20. Born in Time
  21. Buckets of Rain
  22. Can you please crawl out your window
  23. Can’t wait
  24. Changing of the Guard
  25. Chimes of Freedom
  26. Country Pie
  27.  Crash on the Levee
  28. Dark Eyes
  29. Dear Landlord
  30. Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
  31. Dignity.
  32. Dirge
  33. Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
  34. Don’t think twice
  35.  Down along the cove
  36. Drifter’s Escape
  37. Duquesne Whistle
  38. Farewell Angelina
  39. Foot of Pride and Forever Young
  40. Fourth Time Around
  41. From a Buick 6
  42. Gates of Eden
  43. Gotta Serve Somebody
  44. Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
  45. Heart of Mine
  46. High Water
  47. Highway 61
  48. Hurricane
  49. I am a lonesome hobo
  50. I believe in you
  51. I contain multitudes
  52. I don’t believe you.
  53. I love you too much
  54. I pity the poor immigrant. 
  55. I shall be released
  56. I threw it all away
  57. I want you
  58. I was young when I left home
  59. I’ll remember you
  60. Idiot Wind and  More idiot wind
  61. If not for you, and a rant against prosody
  62. If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
  63. If you see her say hello
  64. Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
  65. I’m not there.
  66. In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
  67. It ain’t me babe
  68. It takes a lot to laugh
  69. It’s all over now Baby Blue
  70. It’s all right ma
  71. Just Like a Woman
  72. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  73. Lay down your weary tune
  74. Lay Lady Lay
  75. Lenny Bruce
  76. That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
  77. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
  78. License to kill
  79. Like a Rolling Stone
  80. Love is just a four letter word
  81. Love Sick
  82. Maggies Farm!
  83. Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
  84. Mama you’ve been on my mind
  85. Man in a long black coat.
  86. Masters of War
  87. Meet me in the morning
  88. Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
  89. Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
  90. Most likely you go your way
  91. Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
  92. Motorpsycho Nitemare
  93. Mozambique
  94. Mr Tambourine Man
  95. My back pages, with a real treat at the end
  96. New Morning
  97. New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
  98. Nobody Cept You
  99. North Country Blues
  100. No time to think
  101. Obviously Five Believers
  102. Oh Sister
  103. On the road again
  104. One more cup of coffee
  105. (Sooner or later) one of us must know
  106. One too many mornings



  1. “Only A Hobo” released in 1972 on vinyl bootleg Trade Mark Of Quality album ~ ‘Blind Boy Grunt”

  2. is given by only one source as the date of the “Blind Boy Grunt” version of “Only A Hobo”, but 1963 by a number of others …. the short “Talking Devil” included on the same track with “Hobo” on the ’72 TMQ bootleg.

  3. Dylan also sings ‘Only Hobo’ on Winnipeg-born Oscar Brand’s publc radio show in US(WNYC) in 1963 (not 1961 as mislabelled).
    Oscar be a singer/songwriter/ musician himself,

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