Other people’s songs: The Cuckoo

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Details of this series which looks at songs by other composers that Bob has recorded, can be found at the foot of the article.

Aaron: First published in the 1847 edition of “Popular Rhymes of Scotland”. Also known as “Coo Coo”, “A-Walking and A-Talking”, “Pretty Girl Is Like a Little Bird”, “I’m Sad and I’m Lonesome”. As with all traditional songs, both melody and lyrics may vary a lot, the song tells us the cuckoo is “a fine (or pretty) bird”.

The first recording that we still have was made on October 23, 1929, by Clarence Ashley

Tony: What fabulous banjo playing, and a terrific counter to the melody.   I thought I was going to be writing about that very strange picture above with the record in the guitar until I realised how good the music was.  But that picture:  how weird!

But listening to the music, all the time I was thinking, “I know this…” and then suddenly the Jack of Diamonds line came up, and it all clicked into place.  And then of course comes along the cuckoo line, and yep, my memories are sorted out.

Aaron: Bob’s version comes from the Live at the Gaslight collection recorded in 1962 but remained unreleased until 2005.

Tony: Thank goodness for people will tape recorders in the old days who had the foresight to record Bob even in his early years!  This was the collection that was at first only available through Starbucks.   Not sure how they managed that!

Aaron: Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it in 1965 for the album A Song Will Rise

Tony: I know it is rather unfashionable to admit it, but I did enjoy, and indeed still enjoy a lot of the PPM recordings.  I know they were sanitized for the non-folkclub-going audience, but their harmonies and gentleness always appealed and still day.  A look back to a time when there was hope rather than a world that seems to be falling apart.  Indeed as I have commented often, their release of “Too Much of Nothing” in 1968 really knocked me out.   OK I was so much older then (etc) but I still do think that recording took the notion of re-working Dylan by other artists a major step forward.  In fact, since no one can stop me, I’m going to slip that in at the end.   Sorry to interrupt the flow, Aaron.

Aaron: The late 60s saw several rock bands cover the song including Taj Mahal and this one by Big Brother and The Holding Company

Tony:  Wow that was a surprise.  I’ve never heard that before (which probably says more about the bits of my life when I didn’t pay much attention) and it really is stunning.   I’ll have to go back and listen to some more Big Brother.

Aaron: I love this version by Billy Connolly from the B side to his 1975 single D.I.V.O.R.C.E

Tony:  Immediately I am drawn to this because he retains that wonderful banjo approach that somehow I always associate with this song from its earliest recordings.  Also somewhere in the house is a load of 45 rpms from Polydor in those famous sleeves.

I do hope you have a chance to listen to this version it all the way through.  It is a hoot (as we used to say).   Billy Connolly has devoted himself to art in recent years – if you enjoyed his performances but have not followed him since his retirement from the stage you might find it interesting to look.  Here’s a starting point.

And here’s the recording…

Anyway, that’s the official end of the article.  So here’s my extra bit: Bob’s “Too Much of Nothing” by PPM recorded in 1967, taking me back once more to these earlier days when the world stretched out ahead, when I had no idea where I was going, and when I used to play this over and over and over, and drive everyone mad.  Who’d ever have thought I’d have the chance to foist it on a wider audience (if you are still reading, that is!)


Other people’s songs…

The songs are selected by Aaron in the USA and sent to Tony in the UK, whereupon he adds his comments and quite often seems to subvert the whole article, for reasons that by and large rarely become clear.

This has, I think, turned into one of the most in-depth reviews of the songs Bob has played but not composed, and I (Tony) am so grateful to Aaron for coming up with the idea, and then keeping it running.

Here are the previous editions…

  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. Other people’s songs: The ballad of Ira Hayes
  66. Other people’s songs: The usual
  67. Other people’s songs: Blackjack Davey
  68. Other people’s songs: You’re gonna quit me
  69. Other people’s songs: You belong to me
  70. Other people’s songs: Stardust
  71. Other people’s songs: Diamond Joe



  1. From the BBC play “Madhouse On Castle Street”:

    Oh, the cuckoo is a pretty bird
    And she warbles as she flies
    But she never sings cuckoo
    Till the fourth day of July

    (Bob Dylan : Cuckoo Bird~ traditional, Dylan, et al)

  2. Everyone who writes for or comments on an issue raised in Untold Dylan does so as an individual. Tony [that’s me] is the publisher, and so vets incoming comments, and removes those which are considered inappropriate or irrelevant. As such all writers are free to write whatever they want, but if I feel that their comments or their articles are in some way inappropriate I will not publish the comment or article, and/or instead write back and explain why I’ve taken that decision. I don’t seek to influence what people write, except that I do have a few basic rules, which if broken, I explain to the correspondent or author.

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