Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: As I am going to be busy next week with a medical procedure, I thought I would put together a quick “Other people’s songs” for Tony to look at.

So this time I thought I would do a  two-fer as these two songs are so iconic there is little point looking past the originals and Dylan’s versions.

Firstly then here is Simon and Garfunkel with The Boxer

Tony: There’s a line in this which has stayed with me ever since

Still a man hears what he wants to hearAnd disregards the rest

How true that is and rather relevant in terms of the second song in this article).   And listening to the original again, for the first time in decades, I am reminded how incredibly powerful the harmonies are.  And that is saying something when what one has here is a remarkable melody, beautiful accompaniment and extraordinarily powerful words.  Just listen to it all the way through with the sudden reduction of the massive build up of sound, with the “I love you” line only just audible.  It is extraordinary.

Aaron: Dylan’s version came from 1970s Self Portrait

Tony:  And here, for me (and for many commentators I have read) the harmonies just don’t work – they are the other end of the scale of success from Simon and Garfunkel.  I mean 10 out of 10 to Bob for trying, but given that what he is copying is an utter work of art, one of the most beautiful popular songs ever recorded, one wonders why.    Was it to show that he can sing harmonies?

And that all-important “I love you” tucked away as the last line of “Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie-lie-lie” runs through.

Still a man hears what he wants to hearAnd disregards the rest

How true that is.   But surely someone must have said to Bob, “Actually Bob, this doesn’t work….”   Although maybe it took a really long time to record and get those harmonies right by which time Bob couldn’t bear to throw it away.  Or maybe it is true, no one dares tell Bob what to do.

Indeed I wonder what Paul Simon thought.   Presumably, he didn’t mind because the two appeared together in 38 shows in 1988.

Aaron: Next we have Joni Mitchell with Big Yellow Taxi

Tony: Another of my much loved artists, and I always enjoyed this song which gave such great opportunities to show off her amazing vocal range reaching every part of its range with perfection.   The repeat of “bees” is just beyond belief.

So yes I do love the music of Joni Mitchell, and indeed appreciate many of her political / religious quotes, such as “Lord, there’s danger in this land, you get witch hunts and wars when church and state hold hands.”  (Tax free).

Aaron: Bob’s version appeared on his 1973 studio album, Dylan

Tony:   Oh.   I hate the twinky organ.  And virtually all of the recording, because the accompaniment has nothing to do with the lyrics although at the same time this version includes elements from the original.    The “Do bop” female chorus is taken from the original as is much of the rhythm.   But oh….. this is horrible.   Horrible horrible horrible.

The organ part is the key element that puts me off, but I am not at all sure about Bob’s singing here.  (Surely there must be a deserted part of the world where the organist can be put).   Just listen to where Bob sings “DDT” and the organ part that follows and ask, “what on earth has this organ part got to do with the lyrics?”

And maybe it was this recording that made Joni Mitchell say of Dylan, “Bob is not authentic at all.   He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake.”   Although most commentators I seem to recall, said the spat started in the Rolling Thunder years.

Anyway I need something strong to distract my mind after that.  So here it is.  Sorry Aaron, but I just couldn’t leave this article with Bob’s destruction of a song I really do like.   Get well soon, mate.

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
  51. Other People’s Songs: Melancholy Mood

One comment

  1. From:

    Of every glove that laid him down ~ Simon & Garfunkle


    Of every blow that laid him low ~ Bob Dylan

    (Universalizes the theme)

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