A Dylan Cover a Day: Queen Jane Approximately

By Tony Attwood

The question is always: why is this artist or this band covering this particular Dylan song?  And sadly the answer is too often “because it is a Dylan song and people like Dylan songs”.   What that then often means is either “do it pretty much as Dylan did” or “take the song and make it sound like one of ours”.

The problem is that the former will obviously add nothing to the song, and the latter is often just a case of wedging a valuable piece of art into the wrong frame.

For me, a decent cover version of a song will always add something more to the song and our understanding of what it offers and so with Queen Jane (which has had a surprisingly large number of cover versions) I’ve looked, as ever, for the successfully different.  But it has been a bit of a struggle.

And of course Jochen has got in before me, nominating his favourite as the version Jimmy LaFave.  I’ll leave you to read Jochen’s exposition and listen to his choice, because I can’t add anything to it, and besides, I think I’ve found a few other covers that are at the very least, worthy of a mention.  Although by the end, whether they go much beyond that “worth a mention” group I’m not too sure.

Surprisingly delicate is the Grateful Dead version, which I so like from its careful introduction followed by a gentle build up.   Although there is one issue that this version makes me aware of from the start – how does one (as a performer) cope with that repeated “Won’t you come and see me” line.  Are we just going to get it twice, or can something else be done with it?  I mean it is not the most profound Dylan line ever, and the music is always the same, and well, we’ve heard it before, so… what’s new?

But that’s everyone’s problem – what this version particularly gives us is a super instrumental verse which most certainly is worthy of a listen.

Punk is not my favourite type of music – somehow for me it is almost anti-music, as all the delicacy is removed and replaced by that pounding inevitable beat.   What’s interesting is that the song is about asking the lady to come back when her grand adventure is over because he will still be there, still thinking of her, still patiently waiting.   But here one verse becomes just like another…. except for the instrumental verse which I really do rather like.  But delicacy?  No, it’s punk.

And so to a total contrast, Muscle & Bone: a way of playing with the melody and finding the delicate harmonies which are appropriate to the lyrics.   And that harmony over the chorus line suddenly gives it a reason for that line to be there twice, after each verse.

There’s also a superb harmonica part added for the instrumental voice, which is Dylanesque, but not quite – a sort of haunting reminder to us of where this song came from.   And its return at the end offers a perfect haunting conclusion.

But of course a new version of a song does not have to be different, it can just be beautiful – and if one has a beautiful voice then why not.  Emma Swift has it all, and so can just deliver the lyrics while doing very little to change the song.  It simply is there, that’s it.  There is nothing else one needs to do but perform with gentle feeling.  And this version, yes, I could listen to over and again.

I am going to finish with something I would never have thought of doing: an instrumental version of the song.  And I wouldn’t have even imagined it as possible, because there is not enough variation in the music to make me think this could work.

So does this work out?  Actually I am not sure, for the simple reason that the essence of the song is the lyrics and melody, and taking the lyrics out, leaves us with something that charming, but for me not much more than that.

In the end it just stops, which I guess is what I have to do with a conclusion that in the end, despite all these valiant efforts, once a beautiful voice has tackled the song, there is not that much more anyone can do.

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
  108. Only a pawn in their game
  109. Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
  110. Oxford Town
  111. Peggy Day and Pledging my time
  112. Please Mrs Henry
  113. Political world
  114. Positively 4th Street
  115. Precious Angel
  116. Property of Jesus

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