By Tony Attwood, delving a little further and comparing some of the recordings from the Never Ending Tour, based on the comprehensive NET series by Mike Johnson (for which there is an index here).
Previously I’ve taken a look at
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- Visions of Johanna
- The Hard Rain of 1988, 2003 and 2015
- Tangled up in Blue 1988 to 1993
The earliest recording that we have featured in of “Blowing in the Wind” from the Never Ending Tour series is one that sounds utterly different from the way the song sounded on “Freewheelin” 28 years earlier. We’ve got a new melody and a real beat to the music as if to say, “The future really is going to be better than this” – which is certainly not how things sounded in 1962 when Bob composed the piece.
In fact, this 1991 version it is so different I had to go back and remind myself just how it did sound at the beginning. Now of course I won’t suggest your memory is as likely to trip itself up as mine regularly is, so I won’t insult you by including that original recording here – we’ll go straight to the 1991 version. But just in case you feel like hearing the original again, I’ll see if I can remember to slip it in at the end.
One year later Bob had changed key (something that we noted him doing quite often, in the last article). And this time he is back to playing it as a solo; there is no hint of anyone else accompanying him, but the melody has gone onwards once again and it is only the chorus line that remains the same.
There’s also quite a shock with the harmonica break which takes the whole song down a few levels too, and I really would love to know what Bob is thinking when he does this kind of thing. Is it just to make a difference, just because it is a crowd pleaser, just because he can do it, or because he feels this extends the meaning further, or indeed changes it? Certainly, the audience loves it.
We next come across this song seven years later, and the change that then occurred was once again enormous, as Bob now has the band behind, and he delivers a slow, plaintive, meaningful version, in which the essence of the lyrics is emphasised by the full arrangement, and of course by the harmonies in the chorus lines at the end of each line.
I’m not 100% ok with the instrumental verse, which feels a little as if the lead instruments are falling over each other, but of course I am being picky. For it is hard immediately to think of Bob being more plaintive than he sounds here – although of course if I sat down and worked through the hundreds of recordings that we now have we would certainly find something.
Listening to this today really does emphasise to me, not for the first time, the incredible value there is in the Never Ending Tour recordings that have been made by numerous fans and collected together for Untold by Mike. Sometimes I feel that we ought to be getting in touch with a museum where they can be stored for posterity.
Bob was obviously happy with this approach as this 1999 style of delivery continued into 2000, although with occasional slight adjustments to the melody. But as Mike showed by presenting several versions of the song from 2000, there were subtle changes happening as the tour continued…
By next year, the uplift of the vocal at the end of the lines was firmly established, as indeed it became in other songs. But just listen to what has happened to the chorus line at the end of each verse.
There is also a feeling of Bob playing with an old friend – consider for example “and pretends that he just doesn’t see”. Plus there is a feeling that Bob himself is presenting the song as a classic piece – which of course it already was, as it approached its 40 year anniversary.
And in this 2001 version I really get a feeling of that – a total awareness by Bob himself that this was written coming up to 40 years ago. I mean, what must it be like to have written such a work 40 years before, and then not only be recognised for that work, but to have been playing it to audiences ever since? I find it impossible to imagine, except that I think this retrospective version gives us something of an insight.
To finish this edition, here, as promised is the original, just in case you have forgotten what a different piece it was in the beginning.
Postscript: I’m very pleased to say that this relatively new series has been met with some encouragement and so I will be continuing it, and I hope with songs such as this and Tangled, which I looked at last time, to return to in days to come with recordings from later events. But I think five NET versions in one article is enough to be going on with! It certainly is for me as I try to grasp exactly what Bob has done from one version to the next.
If you have been, thank you for reading.