A Dylan cover a day: Only a pawn in their game

Reminding me of just how lucky I have been.

by Tony Attwood

“Only a pawn” is such an idiosyncratic song, and a song sung by Bob in such a particular way, with the variations of timing and verse lengths, that at first sight it looks pretty well impossible to do anything with it that isn’t just a straight copy.

But I am delighted to say that this is not the case – delighted because I think it is a wonderful song, and one that the album recording by Bob doesn’t take to its ultimate point.

Fortunately however other artists seem to have been very reluctant to have a go.   Sadly not all recordings are available on the internet, but I’ve selected a few covers from those that are…

Lenny Nelson

Lenny Nelson turns the song into rock, which before I heard this I thought would not be possible.  And yet I found everything about this interesting, and indeed exciting except what happens with the title line.   But that of course is just a personal point – I don’t think “game” needs emphasising as happens here, but it’s a musical decision.   The problem for me is that doing that ending to each verse means that the ending of the whole piece doesn’t have much impact… but still that is a personal view.

Rich Robinson

This takes us right back to Bob’s version and I am not sure what the point is of doing the song in a way so similar to the original.  But if you find something in this version that Bob doesn’t manage to find in his own recording then fine.  And that brings me to what I think  is an interesting point – Bob only played this eight times in concert, concluding in 1964.  I wonder what he would make of it now.

Roy Bailey

Now this recording I treasure – not my favourite but one I am so glad I found.   This solo performance really does show us the incredible power of this song which seemingly Bob set aside having written, presumably deciding it was not suitable for concerts.

I write these commentaries sitting upstairs in my house in the countryside, looking today with winter firmly established, at the leafless trees and the frost on the grass.   There is no wind, and just a few birds circling.   The red kites have long since migrated.   I sit here alone.    This performance is utterly and totally overwhelming – although there is yet more to come.


Hearing the drum beat used here, it seems utterly obvious – as if it should have been there in every recording.

What makes the song unusual is that it is in 6/8 time – meaning six beats in a bar in two groups of three, but that phrases are of uneven length so we never know what is going happen.

This is one of my absolute all time favourite cover versions of any Dylan song.  If I ever feel I have forgotten how privileged a life I have been granted, this is the recording I use to remind me of just how lucky I have been.  How dare I ever be sad or anxious or worried.

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
  107. Only a hobo

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