Other people’s songs: Sitting on top of the world


By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

In this series Aaron looks at songs Dylan has sung but which he didn’t write, and Tony (across the Atlantic) adds some thoughts which spring to mind while reading Aaron’s commentary and listening to the music.   Links to previous articles can be found at the end.

Aaron: “Sitting on Top of the World” was written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon. They were members of the Mississippi Sheiks, who first recorded it in 1930. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Tony: I’m going to add just one thing about Walter Vinson, which like the quotes below that Aaron has found, comes from Wiki.  “Vinson died in Chicago in 1975 at the age of 74.  He was interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, in a grave that remained unmarked until 2009.”  It brings home to me (and by no means for the first time) that no matter how wonderfully talented a person might be, that is no guarantee that the world will recognise that talent.   Now we remember him for “The World Is Going Wrong” and “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes for You” but then…

Aaron: Also from Wikipedia: “As with several songs, it was adapted by rock groups during the 1960s. Some rock-oriented versions showed considerable variation: a version by the Grateful Dead was played at a very fast tempo of 252 beats per minute (bpm), while Cream performed it at a very slow 44 bpm.”

Here’s the Grateful Dead version:

Tony:  I love the way that Wiki can go into technical details about the speed, but without any reference as to why or what this means to the listener – or indeed the musicians.

But of course it is fun with the way it plays with the original, although knowing how the song originated makes it even more fun to listen to, I think.   And I suppose that is the sad side of contemporary music; the origins of a song are often not known by many people listening.     And for me although this is fun, I’m not sure I’m going to go back and play it again.  One thing is for sure, I’m never going to dance for this.   (Actually, that’s a bit of a sore point since last night I picked up an injury on the dance floor, and will be out of action for a while I think.  Ah well, more time to listen to music, I guess).

Aaron: Here’s Cream…

Tony: Very Cream isn’t it?  After playing this I went back and played the Mississippi Sheiks version, and for me there is an elegance in that original version that is not only lost by Cream, but is lost and not replaced by anything else.   And that is interesting because all we have is the incredibly simple guitar part and the violin playing the melody line along with the singer.  Indeed one can’t get simpler than that – and yet it works perfectly and for me outdoes a recording by a supergroup with every resource imaginable avaliable to them.

I guess 99% of people who hear the Cream version don’t know where the song came from, and approach it that way, makes that version ok.  But compared to Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon version, it now seems a poor copy to me.   But as ever that’s just me.

Aaron: Bob’s version was included on his 1992 album Good as I Been to You

Tony: And immediately we can hear that Bob had gone back to the original and is paying a fulsome tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks.  I still prefer their accompaniment but I do enjoy the fact that Bob paid a proper tribute to the originators and their music.

Aaron: Van Morrison & Carl Perkins recorded a version for the ”Good Rockin’ Tonight – The Legacy of Sun Records” tribute album in 2001.

Tony: Now this is interesting because although the rhythmic base of the song has been removed, this version contains enough of the concept of the original to make it recognisable, and so more enjoyable for me.   And as ever I am writing these comments as I work through the selection provided by Aaron, so that’s my immediate reaction.

This is light and bouncy in a way that of course the original is not, but the meaning of the lyrics is retained just enough for it to be the same song, if that makes any sense.

Aaron: Jack White recorded an acoustic version for the soundtrack to the 2003 film Cold Mountain.

Tony: And of course being Jack White this is going to be a fulsome tribute to the original with his own amazing technical ability added.  And what an amazing performer he is!   So glad you put this one in last, Aaron, taking us right back to the start.  All the pain is there, all the irony; which most performers just ignore.  Brilliant ending too.

In fact brilliant all round.   Thanks Aaron.

Other people’s songs: the 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
  52. Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi
  53. Other people’s songs: Early morning rain
  54. Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On
  55. Other people’s songs: “Can’t help falling in love”
  56. Other people’s songs: Lily of the West
  57. Other people’s songs: Alberta
  58. Other people’s songs: Little Maggie

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