Other people’s songs: In my time of dying

By Aaron Galbraith (in the USA) and Tony Attwood (in the UK).

Aaron selects the recordings and emails these with his notes to Tony who tries to write something about the song during the time it is playing.  Links to the previous episodes in this series is given at the end.

Aaron: “In My Time of Dying” was written by Blind Willie Johnson. The lyrics were inspired by a passage in the Bible from Psalms 41:3 “The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness”.

Tony: OK, after about an hour of flapping around back and forth I am more confused now than when I started.   So let me try and explain the source of my confusion.

There are several versions of the lyrics of this song on the internet but none seem to accord with the recording above.

There are also two titles of the song – the second of these “Jesus make up my dying bed” is shown on the Google entry as being the song Dylan recorded as “In my time of dying”, starting

Now in the time of dyingI don't want nobody to moan

So I think the song above is “Jesus make up my dying bed” – as the full heading on the YouTube link above says, but I am really not convinced that this is the same song as “In my time of dying”.   Of course, that is probably just my lack of knowledge, because a lot of people seem to be saying the two songs are linked.  And thematically they are of course, but musically … at the moment I just don’t hear it and hence have ended up going around in circles.

Thus, better that I admit I have no idea what I am writing about, and let you, dear reader, write in and put me straight.   How are the songs, “Jesus make up my dying bed” and “In my time of dying” as performed by Dylan, related?  Apart from being about death.

Aaron: Bob’s version appears on side 1 of his debut album.

Tony: So this is the song I first heard on Dylan’s first album.  Wiki cites the album liner notes as saying “Dylan had never sung “In My Time of Dyin'” prior to this recording session. He does not recall where he first heard it. The guitar is fretted with the lipstick holder makeshift slide he borrowed from girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, who sat devotedly and wide-eyed through the recording session.”

Aaron: Led Zeppelin’s version was released on their sixth album Physical Graffiti in 1975. The album credits list the four group members as the song’s authors, despite the earlier released versions. At a little over 11 minutes, it is the longest studio track by the group. So plenty of time for Tony to make his comments!!

Tony: Yes well, thank you, Aaron.  As it happens I am not a Led Zepplin fan and the thought of listening to 11 minutes of them and finding something to write at the same time is a little challenging.

Does it do anything for me emotionally?  Nope.  Does it entertain me?  Sorry, again nope.  Does it make me want to go back and play it again?   Sorry a third time, but no.

I think (and of course this is just a guess) that the band knew that they were short of material for the album, and so decided to do a long atmospheric version of a blues song.  But the atmosphere doesn’t work for me – it is just a prolonged improvisation around a couple of sets of chord changes and a rhythmic feature.

Now of course maybe I don’t appreciate any of this because I have spent a little too long trying to see if I can find a link between the two songs we have here: “Jesus make up my dying bed” and “In my time of dying” beyond the fact that they are both about dying.  I would love someone to be able to show me the finer points of the link between these two pieces, because I am blowed if I can find them myself.

Aaron: Martin Gore, the main songwriter from Depeche Mode released his version on his debut solo album from 2003, apparently based on the Dylan version.

Tony: And wouldn’t you know it, the version that Aaron has found in the USA is not available in the UK.  But as most of our readers are not in the UK, I’m putting it in…

Tony: And fortunately there is a UK version

Tony: An antidote to Led Zep.   Now here we have an atmosphere which is appropriate to the lyrics of the song.  And just in case you don’t keep up with such things, I should add Mr Gore is/was the songwriter for Depeche Mode as well as being a multi-instrumentalist.

He’s gone for the full atmospheric approach – which is ok, but I think rather than play it again I’d sooner go and make myself a coffee.

I’m really sorry Aaron, maybe I’m having an off day, but I’ve done my best.  Would you like to say what you think of these versions and how they are related to each other?   Normally I feel I can cover up for my ignorance by writing more words (along the lines of “never use 50 words when 5000 are available) but today, I have hit the buffers.   It’s going to take me a little while to recover from that 11 minutes (was it really only 11 minutes – it felt like 11 hours) of Led Z.

I’ll try harder next time!




  1. The confusion arises because Dylan is claimed to be inspired by Blind Willie’s version of Dying above which goes:

    Since me and Jessus got married
    Haven’t been a minute appart
    Put the receiver in my hand
    And religion in my heart

    Versions rendered by other musicians are much closer to Dylan’s choice in so far as lyrics go.

  2. * (sp) Jesus/apart

    Modern biblical translation:

    And as for me, Thou upholdest
    (the telephone receiver in front of)
    me in mine integrity
    And settest me before Thy face for ever
    (Psalm 41: 12)

  3. This seems to be an article primarily designed to incur the wrath of Led Zeppelin fans. Sure, the derivations of different versions of the song is interesting, and I’d not read Dylan’s liner notes so the preposterous claim that the album version is the first time he’d sang the song is also interesting, but the chief goal here seems to be to slam Zep and rile their fans. OK, I’ll play along. Zep’s song bears little relation to Blind Willie’s, so there would be no point giving Blind Willie songwriting credit for it. And Zep’s song packs s powerful emotional punch for fans, who have been known to play the song on repeat. The interviewee seems proud of being a Zep hater; that might be a fine sentiment to express in a letter to the editor, but is pretty tired as the subject of the article itself.

  4. Jerry: An interesting perspective, but as the author not only of this article, but the whole series I can tell you that you are totally and utterly wrong. I know what was in my mind when I wrote the piece, and it was to respond with my personal reflection on the song which was selected by Aaron.

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