Other People’s Songs No. 51: Melancholy Mood

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: The song is best known from its 1939 recording by Harry James and his Orchestra, with Frank Sinatra on vocals.

Tony: It was very common in the music of the first half of the 20th century for there to be an orchestral introduction of a minute of more – as here.   My assumption is that what ended the approach was the arrival of rock n roll, where the singer became much more of a personality than was the case before.   But that’s just an assumption on my part – all thoughts on what caused that move away from the instrumental introduction are very welcome.

But to be exact there were examples of the change happening before rock music, for there is another 1939 recording which doesn’t use that device.   I’m sure you’re right about which came first Aaron, but it is interesting that there were two very different versions released in the same year.  So around 85 years ago there were “cover versions” just as now.

Aaron: Bob’s version appears on his 2016 album Fallen Angels. The Big Issue listed the song as #56 on a list of the “80 best Bob Dylan songs – that aren’t the greatest hits”.

Jay Lustig noted that, there is “something to be said for resurrecting a forgotten gem such as ‘Melancholy Mood'”, which he cited as his favorite track on the album.

Indeed it is the 69th most performed live by Dylan with 248 performances, the most for a cover. More than Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (243), One Too Many Mornings (237) and even Blind Willie McTell (226)

Tony: I think the success of Dylan’s version is that he retains that notion of an instrumental introduction as per the Kenny Baker version above.  And most of all Bob doesn’t pretend to be he’s a natural crooner – he just sings it as Bob Dylan.  Which in turn allows him to put more emotion into the recording, which singers in earlier eras couldn’t do, simply because it was not done.   I’m not always a huge fan of Bob’s reworking of ealier classics, but this one I do enjoy.

Aaron: Here are two recent versions I like a lot.  First, Satin Ragdoll & The Misfit Toys

Tony: That is a sublime performance and I do like the fact that we see the four musicians all the way through – I wish more recordings were captured in this way.   And a neat idea to give two of the band woolly hats so that their headphones would fit.  (Well either that or the studio was too cold for them.)   Great performance; excellent video.  Thanks for that, Aaron.

Aaron: Hashfinger

Tony: So back to the original concept of a one minute musical introduction, except I rather feel they’ve gone too much into the zone of music as a direct representation of the mood, which quite often seems a bit false to me.  And indeed that feeling increases as the piece continues.  There is some really good orchestration within this piece, but the crackles and sound effects seem to dominate.   Not really right for me – especially when I’ve got the Dylan version and the Satin Ragdoll & The Misfit Toys approach.

Hashfinger to me is one of those pieces of music which comes about because someone has said, “hey why don’t we….” and everyone nods and they do it, and no one comes back and says, “did that really work?”

Previously in this series…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues
  38. Other People’s Songs: The Little Drummer Boy
  39. Other People’s Songs: Must be Santa
  40. Other People’s songs: The Christmas Song
  41. Other People’s songs: Corina Corina
  42. Other People’s Songs: Mr Bojangles
  43. Other People’s Songs: It hurts me too
  44. Other people’s songs: Take a message to Mary
  45. Other people’s songs: House of the Rising Sun
  46. Other people’s songs: “Days of 49”
  47. Other people’s songs: In my time of dying
  48. Other people’s songs: Pretty Peggy O
  49. Other people’s songs: Baby Let me Follow You Down
  50. Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow

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