by Tony Attwood
An unusual – perhaps unique – episode of this long running series which originated from a time when lock down ruled my part of England and I was spending day after day on my own, and really was writing an article every day in the series.
And I’ve always known that we would eventually get to this song, and that I would have to break my own rules by including a version of the song in which Dylan covers his own work, and at the same time refer back to the music that existed before Dylan’s composition.
But let us leave that for a moment. First Mark Knopfler, who opens with instrumentation that makes it sound like a Scottish folk song. And which is quite reasonable since the melody, as we all know, is based around the traditional folk song “The Parting Glass”.
Mark Knopfler shows a real understanding and grasp of what he is singing. Indeed I find this an utterly exquisite rendition, wherein the beauty is reflected both in the singing and the orchestration. Nothing is forced – his voice flows naturally through the whole song, every verse offers a new insight. One can focus on any little phrase one chooses, such as “no special friend” and there is emotion and feeling pouring out from those individual words.
Indeed even oft-used devices such as taking the orchestration completely back to basics for the final verse, works perfectly. As does the decision not to round off the song by ending on the tonic chord (the foundation of the key that the piece is in, which is what normally happens).
So changing direction…. and you may not know the Singing Loins – a band from the Medway, part of south east England, just south of London, which developed its own style of music. Sadly the extraordinary vocalist of the band, Chris Broderick, passed away from cancer in January 2022, and I’m really pleased to be able to include a recording on this site of him in full flow.
His vocals bring a completely different dimension to this song, and listening to this version today I can imagine that this was how it was meant to be – although of course I know that is not the case. But this version does show just how flexible Bob’s songs can be (although of course there is a case here for saying “just how flexible traditional English folk songs can be”). Even if you are taken aback by the way the song is redeveloped I do hope you’ll hear it through.
Moving back to the origins of the song – and I will spend a moment with the actual origins at the end of the Dylan-related recordings – this next recording which was released as part of the tribute to Bob on his 60th birthday, merges the original and his re-writing of the piece. The accompaniment is exquisitely simple with just the single violin and the guitar. Exactly the opposite of the version above, but for me each one adds something to my understanding, and my enjoyment.
It is of course also a song that would appeal to Joan Baez and she handles it most delicately, and I do like the way the arranger reworks the piece for her – although after a while it does start to sound a little forced.
What happens is this: the opening part of each verse is in the standard 4/4 rhythm of four beats in a bar, and then it suddenly moves (as other instruments join in) to 6/8 in which we get 1 2 3 4 5 6 with the accents on the first and fourth beat of each bar.
This alternation of the two rhythms is something that I can’t recall from any other performance of any other song. In a sense it is a little artificial, but it really does make one think again about the lyrics.
There is also the unexpected cadence at the end of each verse – technically it is an interrupted cadence – wherein the chords don’t go where we might expect.
In short this is, musically a complete re-working of Dylan’s original piece.
Moving on to Bob himself (and I know that’s not really allowed because this is a series about cover versions), I can’t leave out the performance by Dylan for Frank Sinatra, who apparently specifically requested this song.
I also featured this recording in the Dylan Obscuranti series in which we created an album of obscure Dylan performances that a record company could pick up and release. Curiously they never did – or maybe Bob vetoed it. (The full set of tracks with links is given here).
I’ve noted this version so often here I can’t say any more, and it is after all not really a cover in the normal sense, but still if you have never heard it or not heard it for a long time, do have a listen. Dylan covering Dylan.
So there we are – four actual covers, and a reworking of the song by Bob himself. And yet I am still not finished. For here is an utterly overwhelming and stunning arrangement of the original. And I really would beg you, if you have never heard this before, to listen now. Block out the modern world totally, and accept this for what it is. A beautiful piece of music.
- The Dylan Cover a Day series
- The song with numbers in the title.
- Ain’t Talkin
- All I really want to do
- Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
- As I went out one morning
- Ballad for a Friend
- Ballad in Plain D
- Ballad of a thin man
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- The ballad of Hollis Brown
- Beyond here lies nothing
- Blind Willie McTell
- Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
- An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
- Blowin in the wind as never before
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- You will not believe this… 115th Dream revisited
- Boots of Spanish leather
- Born in Time
- Buckets of Rain
- Can you please crawl out your window
- Can’t wait
- Changing of the Guard
- Chimes of Freedom
- Country Pie
- Crash on the Levee
- Dark Eyes
- Dear Landlord
- Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
- Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
- Don’t think twice
- Down along the cove
- Drifter’s Escape
- Duquesne Whistle
- Farewell Angelina
- Foot of Pride and Forever Young
- Fourth Time Around
- From a Buick 6
- Gates of Eden
- Gotta Serve Somebody
- Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
- Heart of Mine
- High Water
- Highway 61
- I am a lonesome hobo
- I believe in you
- I contain multitudes
- I don’t believe you.
- I love you too much
- I pity the poor immigrant.
- I shall be released
- I threw it all away
- I want you
- I was young when I left home
- I’ll remember you
- Idiot Wind and More idiot wind
- If not for you, and a rant against prosody
- If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
- If you see her say hello
- Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
- I’m not there.
- In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
- It ain’t me babe
- It takes a lot to laugh
- It’s all over now Baby Blue
- It’s all right ma
- Just Like a Woman
- Knocking on Heaven’s Door
- Lay down your weary tune
- Lay Lady Lay
- Lenny Bruce
- That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
- License to kill
- Like a Rolling Stone
- Love is just a four letter word
- Love Sick
- Maggies Farm!
- Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
- Mama you’ve been on my mind
- Man in a long black coat.
- Masters of War
- Meet me in the morning
- Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
- Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
- Most likely you go your way
- Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
- Motorpsycho Nitemare
- Mr Tambourine Man
- My back pages, with a real treat at the end
- New Morning
- New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
- Nobody Cept You
- North Country Blues
- No time to think
- Obviously Five Believers
- Oh Sister
- On the road again
- One more cup of coffee
- (Sooner or later) one of us must know
- One too many mornings
- Only a hobo
- Only a pawn in their game
- Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
- Oxford Town
- Peggy Day and Pledging my time
- Please Mrs Henry
- Political world
- Positively 4th Street
- Precious Angel
- Property of Jesus
- Queen Jane Approximately
- Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
- Quit your lowdown ways
- Rainy Day Women as never before