Dylan cover a day: Rainy Day Women as never before

By Tony Attwood

The problem with Rainy Day is that the instrumental introduction is so distinctive, that as soon as someone starts to play it, we all know what is going on, and where it is going.  So a cover version that is really going to get attention has not only to be different from original, it has to be different from the very start – while at the same time allowing us to appreciate that yes we are going to hear “Rainy Day Women”

And this is Joan Osborne does.

But more than that, she and her fellow musicians and the arranger really work at keeping  the essence of the song (the lyrics) the same and recognisable, while changing the rest.  We hear that from the wordless chorus at the start, and despite the unexpected lack of instrumentation as Ms Osborne starts singing.

However that is not enough to counter the oh-so-famous Dylan version, so there is a new break between the verses as well.

Then there is the simple repeat of “Everybody must get” – dead simple, but still very effective.   Plus there is the fact that in the Dylan version everyone is competing to be part of the recording.  Here we are laid back, every instrument has its place and every performer knows where he/she should be.

Plus there is more, for at 2.41 the accompaniment changes to a descending bass line, which works utterly perfectly – and that oh oh oh background chorus between the verses fits so perfectly that it has a code all to itself.

In short I never really cared for Bob’s original – it seems too much like a throwaway, and the release of the rehearsal recording and the first take does nothing to dissuade me from thinking that Bob was trying to show just how far he could push things without having his contract torn up by the record company, which in essence turned out to mean “as far as you want to go Bob – you’re the genius.”

Yet even with such a throwaway song, it is possible to pick out some genius and play with it, as this recording shows.

But as with all Dylan songs, just doing something utterly different isn’t enough to make a cover version interesting.   Baroque Inevitable are funny in a way, but would I play it twice?  No.  would I play it all the way through?   Well, it’s not really what I want to do.  These woodwind players are very good, and the arranger has had fun, but as we progress, I think, well, yes ok.   Great string work lads, but… is there not something more engaging to spend your time with?

So my day has taken a downturn before it really starts.  Can the day be saved?   Well, yes because Old Crow Medicine Show has recorded this, and they never let me down.

What they do is so simple: they subtly change the rhythm and add harmonies.   And there’s an accordion in the mix too which works perfectly.    And it is not just the music I love with this band it is the fun they seem to be having.

And it all comes out of that subtle change of rhythm.  That’s really clever – because it influences the emphases that are put on the lyrics.  The chaotic overtones of Bob’s original are kept with the shouts of “that’s right” etc from band members, but the music is more controlled and organised, which really makes the contrast work.

Indeed while some songs have no cover versions at all, here with this throwaway song, there are lots of versions out there running from the fairly straight copies to the oh-so-freaky that one ends up wondering what on earth made anyone think of it, let alone spend time recording it.

But for me, personally, I want to have a sense of the original song amidst all the variants – and yes I do like the retention of the fun that is there at the start.  This version, which has a lovely variation of the chorus line as well as within the verse itself, gives me what I’m after.

But of course that’s just me.

This is Willie Nile…

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