Dylan cover a day: Sign on the window

By Tony Attwood

It appears that Dylan has never performed “Sign on the window” in any concert – at least according to the official site.  (My guess that could in part be because of the key change in the middle – and I approached this little review wondering how each artist was going to cope).

And yet despite Dylan’s non-performance, and its notorious modulation, it has not escaped the attention of the cover artists.

Melanie starts with an emphasis on the plaintive with a simple accompaniment, but her voice gets forced, and then suddenly, well, everything changes, except then it changes back again.    And I am left thinking, “why?”   I suspect the answer was that they couldn’t think of much else to do, except tell each musician to do his/her thing.   And they do, but not to much effect in my view.   Except strangely in the last repeated line, which made me think – that could have been the starting point for something quite enjoyable.  So not for me…

On the other hand, many of the cover versions of this song just perform it straight, adding little of their own input, which always makes me wonder what the point is.  I might not always like the way other artists treat Dylan’s song, but at least by reinterpreting the song they do give us a chance of new insight, even if as with Melanie there’s nothing there for me.

But, fear not and read on, for things are about to start happening…

Al Tuck and No Action (great name!) really do take the song somewhere else – and particularly makes sense of the key change into the middle eight.

That change of key which runs D, C#minor, B (just about the most incomprehensible chord sequence ever in terms of a song which is actually in F#) has never made any sense at all – until here, where it works.  (Interestingly, so weird is this song that the unbeatable, definitive Dylan Chords website actually refuses to write out the song in F sharp and instead transposes it to E even though Eyolf Østrem knows everything about everything in terms of chords and Dylan, and so normally reproduces the music as is.)

But back to this cover – the rhythmic change is superb, as are the harmonies (which is what in part makes the “looks like nothing but rain” line work here, in a way that no one else seems able to do.  (And that includes Bob).

Sarah Jarosz has a voice just made for this song, and very sensibly lets her voice drive the song, accompanying the vocals with herself on guitar plus a softly played double bass.   She again also manages that key change with a very effective slide up through the chords.  Really after the previous version and this one, I am warming to this song for the first time ever.   This lady not only knows how to play, she also knows to keep it simple – and believe me keeping it simple while making it interesting and beautiful, is much harder than throwing the kitchen sink into the mix and hoping something comes out.   Superb – well may she smile at the end.

So having found myself a couple of covers that I really like I was about to stop when I happened upon a version in Sicilian.  Just the one guitar and a language of which I don’t know a word (although I do remember being told that each town has its own variant of the language, so perhaps I should say I don’t know a word of any of them).   But I can still appreciate this.  Which is interesting, because before I started this article, I would have said this was a song of Dylan’s I really had no feelings for at all.

Which I suppose just goes to show us the value of covers.

The Dylan Cover a Day series

  1. The song with numbers in the title.
  2. Ain’t Talkin
  3. All I really want to do
  4.  Angelina
  5.  Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
  6. As I went out one morning
  7.  Ballad for a Friend
  8. Ballad in Plain D
  9. Ballad of a thin man
  10.  Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  11. The ballad of Hollis Brown
  12. Beyond here lies nothing
  13. Blind Willie McTell
  14.  Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
  15. An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
  16. Blowin in the wind as never before
  17. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  18. BoB Dylan’s 115th Dream revisited
  19. Boots of Spanish leather
  20. Born in Time
  21. Buckets of Rain
  22. Can you please crawl out your window
  23. Can’t wait
  24. Changing of the Guard
  25. Chimes of Freedom
  26. Country Pie
  27.  Crash on the Levee
  28. Dark Eyes
  29. Dear Landlord
  30. Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
  31. Dignity.
  32. Dirge
  33. Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
  34. Don’t think twice
  35.  Down along the cove
  36. Drifter’s Escape
  37. Duquesne Whistle
  38. Farewell Angelina
  39. Foot of Pride and Forever Young
  40. Fourth Time Around
  41. From a Buick 6
  42. Gates of Eden
  43. Gotta Serve Somebody
  44. Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
  45. Heart of Mine
  46. High Water
  47. Highway 61
  48. Hurricane
  49. I am a lonesome hobo
  50. I believe in you
  51. I contain multitudes
  52. I don’t believe you.
  53. I love you too much
  54. I pity the poor immigrant. 
  55. I shall be released
  56. I threw it all away
  57. I want you
  58. I was young when I left home
  59. I’ll remember you
  60. Idiot Wind and  More idiot wind
  61. If not for you, and a rant against prosody
  62. If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
  63. If you see her say hello
  64. Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
  65. I’m not there.
  66. In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
  67. It ain’t me babe
  68. It takes a lot to laugh
  69. It’s all over now Baby Blue
  70. It’s all right ma
  71. Just Like a Woman
  72. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  73. Lay down your weary tune
  74. Lay Lady Lay
  75. Lenny Bruce
  76. That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
  77. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
  78. License to kill
  79. Like a Rolling Stone
  80. Love is just a four letter word
  81. Love Sick
  82. Maggies Farm!
  83. Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
  84. Mama you’ve been on my mind
  85. Man in a long black coat.
  86. Masters of War
  87. Meet me in the morning
  88. Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
  89. Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
  90. Most likely you go your way
  91. Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
  92. Motorpsycho Nitemare
  93. Mozambique
  94. Mr Tambourine Man
  95. My back pages, with a real treat at the end
  96. New Morning
  97. New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
  98. Nobody Cept You
  99. North Country Blues
  100. No time to think
  101. Obviously Five Believers
  102. Oh Sister
  103. On the road again
  104. One more cup of coffee
  105. (Sooner or later) one of us must know
  106. One too many mornings
  107. Only a hobo
  108. Only a pawn in their game
  109. Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
  110. Oxford Town
  111. Peggy Day and Pledging my time
  112. Please Mrs Henry
  113. Political world
  114. Positively 4th Street
  115. Precious Angel
  116. Property of Jesus
  117. Queen Jane Approximately
  118. Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
  119. Quit your lowdown ways
  120. Rainy Day Women as never before
  121. Restless Farewell. Exquisite arrangements, unbelievable power
  122. Ring them bells in many different ways
  123. Romance in Durango, covered and re-written
  124. Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands, like you won’t believe
  125. Sara
  126. Senor
  127. A series of Dreams; no one gets it (except Dylan)
  128. Seven Days
  129. She Belongs to Me
  130. Shelter from the Storm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *