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 innocent Felt around for the light switch, felt around for her face Been 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
- The song with numbers in the title.
- Ain’t Talkin
- All I really want to do
- Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
- As I went out one morning
- Ballad for a Friend
- Ballad in Plain D
- Ballad of a thin man
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- The ballad of Hollis Brown
- Beyond here lies nothing
- Blind Willie McTell
- Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
- An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
- Blowin in the wind as never before
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- BoB Dylan’s 115th Dream revisited
- Boots of Spanish leather
- Born in Time
- Buckets of Rain
- Can you please crawl out your window
- Can’t wait
- Changing of the Guard
- Chimes of Freedom
- Country Pie
- Crash on the Levee
- Dark Eyes
- Dear Landlord
- Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
- Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
- Don’t think twice
- Down along the cove
- Drifter’s Escape
- Duquesne Whistle
- Farewell Angelina
- Foot of Pride and Forever Young
- Fourth Time Around
- From a Buick 6
- Gates of Eden
- Gotta Serve Somebody
- Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
- Heart of Mine
- High Water
- Highway 61
- I am a lonesome hobo
- I believe in you
- I contain multitudes
- I don’t believe you.
- I love you too much
- I pity the poor immigrant.
- I shall be released
- I threw it all away
- I want you
- I was young when I left home
- I’ll remember you
- Idiot Wind and More idiot wind
- If not for you, and a rant against prosody
- If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
- If you see her say hello
- Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
- I’m not there.
- In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
- It ain’t me babe
- It takes a lot to laugh
- It’s all over now Baby Blue
- It’s all right ma
- Just Like a Woman
- Knocking on Heaven’s Door
- Lay down your weary tune
- Lay Lady Lay
- Lenny Bruce
- That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
- License to kill
- Like a Rolling Stone
- Love is just a four letter word
- Love Sick
- Maggies Farm!
- Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
- Mama you’ve been on my mind
- Man in a long black coat.
- Masters of War
- Meet me in the morning
- Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
- Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
- Most likely you go your way
- Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
- Motorpsycho Nitemare
- Mr Tambourine Man
- My back pages, with a real treat at the end
- New Morning
- New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
- Nobody Cept You
- North Country Blues
- No time to think
- Obviously Five Believers
- Oh Sister
- On the road again
- One more cup of coffee
- (Sooner or later) one of us must know
- One too many mornings
- Only a hobo
- Only a pawn in their game
- Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
- Oxford Town
- Peggy Day and Pledging my time
- Please Mrs Henry
- Political world
- Positively 4th Street
- Precious Angel
- Property of Jesus
- Queen Jane Approximately
- Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
- Quit your lowdown ways
- Rainy Day Women as never before
- Restless Farewell. Exquisite arrangements, unbelievable power
- Ring them bells in many different ways
- Romance in Durango, covered and re-written
- Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands, like you won’t believe
- A series of Dreams; no one gets it (except Dylan)
- Seven Days
- She Belongs to Me
- Shelter from the Storm
- Sign on the window
- Simple twist of fate
- Slow Train
- Someday Baby
- Spanish Harlem Incident
- Standing in the Doorway
- Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
- Subterranean Homesick Blues
- Sweetheart Like You
- Tangled up in Blue
- Tears of Rage
- Temporary Like Achilles. Left in the cold, but there’s still something…