Dylan cover a day: No 144 – The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar

By Tony Attwood

This is one of my favourite songs, and I’ve always felt there is a lot one could do with it not least because of those opening lines…

Prayed in the ghetto with my face in the cementHeard the last moan of a boxer, seen the massacre of the innocentFelt around for the light switch, felt around for her faceBeen treated like a farm animal on a wild goose chase

The most obvious thing would be to slow the piece down, and really put an emphasis on those extraordinary words.   Then if you wanted to go further you could change the line breaks just to add to the chaos, so you get

Prayed in the ghetto with my face 
in the cement heard the last moan of a boxer seen the massacre 
of the innocent felt around for the light switch, 
felt around for her face Been treated like a farm animal 
on a wild goose chase

OK maybe that’s just me slipping back into a surrealism mode, but there is some fun to be had somewhere.  And yet so few have experimented with the song, even though simply emphasising the words will give the performance a huge amount of umph.

And yet many that have have just reiterated what Bob did.   Take Stef Kamil Carlens & The Gates of Eden

That sounds at the start like it is going to be good fun with taking it faster, but really the lyrics, line after line, become a gabble, and the contrast with the Rock of Gibraltar line doesn’t really take us much further.   The musical interludes show promise, but just don’t seem to get beyond that.

Elkie Brooks however going the other way restores my faith that there is something else to be gained from the song.   Everything comes from her wonderful voice: she’s not forcing anything but we just have to go with her, and the al-al-al-alter line works really well.

This how the old 12 bars need to sound these days.   The backing chorus helps as well.

It is of course just a strophic song (verse / chorus / verse etc etc) but just listen to that last verse (“Cities on fire, phones out of order”) for an extra bonus.   Superb.

Steve Wynn takes 30 seconds to get the band to realise they are there to perform, but they have some fun – it’s worth persevering with.

Moses Wiggins gives the song a good bash but the problem is that there is no variation – it is once more verse after verse with the occasional bit of lead guitar fun in between, but it is not one of those songs that makes us want to focus on Dylan’s lyrics by itself – the band need to work harder to make that happen.

I think it is worth returning to Bob himself at this moment to contrast what he did with the song – which was slow it right down.  That gives him a real chance to explore the lyrics, which is essential if we are to keep our interest up.

And that’s about it, which means Elkie Brookes has to get the vote for keeping me interested in the song through the whole six minutes of her performances.  In fact her version is a perfect example of how to hold interest across one of the longer Dylan songs.  And the interesting thing is that she makes it all seem so obvious that this is the way to perform the song; I’m amazed anyone has tried to do anything else.

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
  131. Sign on the window
  132. Silvio
  133. Simple twist of fate
  134. Slow Train
  135. Someday Baby
  136. Spanish Harlem Incident
  137. Standing in the Doorway
  138. Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
  139. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  140. Sweetheart Like You
  141. Tangled up in Blue
  142. Tears of Rage
  143.  Temporary Like Achilles. Left in the cold, but there’s still something…

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