Other people’s songs: The Usual


Other people’s songs looks at performances by Bob Dylan both of traditional songs, and those written by others, with explorations of their origins.  The song and subsequent recordings are selected by Aaron Galbraith in the USA and then comments are added by Tony Attwood in the UK.  There is an index to the previous articles in this series, at the end of this commentary.

Aaron: The Usual was written by John Hiatt, and appeared as the opening track on his 1985 album Warming Up to the Ice Age.

Tony: It’s another one of those videos that only works in certain countries, so here are two options.  If neither works for you, enter “The Usual John Hiatt” into Google and you might come up lucky.

Tony: Here are the lyrics to the opening verse which give a flavour of where the song is going.  I love the way Dylan sings the chorus line of “I’ll have the usual”.

I'm trippin over dumb drunks at a partyGirlfriend just ran off with the DJI give her everything, but she refused itIt doesn't matter, she don't know how to use itMy confidence is dwindlingLook at the shape I'm inWhere's my pearls, where's my swine?I'm not thirsty, but I'm standing in line.I'll have the usual

And just in case you are interested, the pearls and swine reference comes from the Gospels proverb, “Cast not pearls before swine.”   Indeed there was for many years a band called Pearls Before Swine of which I think I still have the original LP in my spare room collection, and so deviating from Aaron’s script, here’s the opening track of their first album.  Sorry I am going to have to stop, for a few minutes, having listened to that for the first time in more years than I count.  Oh my!

Tony (now recovered): OK That was a total interruption.  Normal service resuming.  We are talking about John Hiatt and The Ususal.  Sorry Aaron, do carry on…

Aaron: Bob Dylan covered the song in 1987 and it appeared as a highlight of the movie and soundtrack Hearts of Fire

Aaron: It would be interesting to know if Bob chose that song or if it was chosen by the producers or directors of the movie

Tony: Indeed, I agree, but either way it is a really fine rendition by Bob.   What also must be added is that Dylan was in the film as a reclusive rock star and there were three songs by Bob in the film (“Night After Night” and “Had a Dream About You Baby” and this cover).

I haven’t seen the film, but the movie was considered pretty awful by those who decide such things, and seems to have been issued only on video.  I don’t think it was ever shown in cinemas in the UK.

Variety magazine said that Bob was “typecast as a reclusive rock star.”  The London-based Time Out magazine said in its review that Bob Dylan, “hovers enigmatically on the sidelines, offering jaundiced comments.”

But I think the song itself is really good and enjoyable, and Dylan’s version really has power and drive, which is what it needs.

Aaron: George Thorogood & The Destroyers subsequently covered the song in 1997 on the album Rockin’ My Life Away.

Tony: It is interesting to hear this second cover version.  It is much lower key than Dylan’s version, where I feel he really puts the power into every line – even the simple “I’ll have the usual”.  From my perspective, Dylan gets it right by adding all the power and drive.  Yes the guy in the bar asking for “the usual” is on the way down, but it still works better with that extra power, giving the impression of raging against the rest of the world.

Other people’s songs…

  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
  59. Other people’s songs: Sitting on top of the world
  60. Dylan’s take on “Let it be me”
  61. Other people’s songs: From “Take me as I am” all the way to “Baker Street”
  62. Other people’s songs: A fool such as I
  63. Other people’s songs: Sarah Jane and the rhythmic changes
  64. Other people’s songs: Spanish is the loving tongue. Author drawn to tears
  65. The ballad of Ira Hayes


  1. Interestingly, Thorogood replaces the pearls and swine line with “Where’s the girl, where’s the wine?”. I wonder why?

  2. I think sometimes lyric changes are particularly thought through but also can on occasion just happen either by mistake or subconsciously. For my own amusement I’m slowly making a set of recordings of songs I worte 20 to 30 years ago, some of which I find I still have all the lyrics for, in my head. A couple of days ago I recorded one song that I have sung and performed in folk clubs occasionally, and found that I have “remembered” a couple of lines quite differently from what is written down in the original manuscript. Things like that can happen: it can be deliberate, it can be the mind playing tricks, it can just happen that a new line springs into the mind.

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