A Dylan Cover a Day: Times they are a-changin’

By Tony Attwood

I suppose when I started this series of reviews of covers, two years ago tomorrow (15 November 2021 to put it in exact context) I guess I realised that one day I would get to Times they are a changin’ (unless I got bored en route, or the site collapsed, or someone paid me to stop writing, or something like that).   And if it did, then what?

It’s a valid question because from a quick glance there are at least 15 cover versions of the song in which the lyrics are translated into another language, and that’s before we get to consider around 30 commercially available cover versions in the 1960s alone.

It took a dip in the 1970s with just half a dozen or so covers that made a bit of a mark, five in the 1980s, ten in the 1990s, 36 in the 2000s, 36 in the 2010s, and around 15 in this decade, which of course has only just begun (as it were).   Meaning that the 2020s could be the most productive decade yet in terms of “Times”.

And all that’s before the 30+ instrumental versions of the song… I mean this is getting totally out of hand.

Of course, facing the almighty challenge of how to consider “Times they are a-changin'” for my series of Dylan covers I do, as I so often do, take a look on the site to see what Jochen has said, (his article is here and I recommend it heartily – it is as worthy of a read now as it was when we first published it).  And Jochen, with his seemingly infinite knowledge of every song ever written in every language notes…

“Das Lied von der Moldau (music by Hanns Eisler, lyrics Bertolt Brecht) is originally from one of Brecht’s later pieces, Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg, and is also translated and edited by Tabori for Brecht On Brecht. It is a short song (three verses of four lines, the third verse being a repetition of the first) and especially the second verse rings a bell…”

Times are a-changing. The mightiest scene
Will not save the mighty. The bubble will burst.
Like bloody old peacocks they're strutting and screaming,
But, times are a-changing. The last shall be the first.
The last shall be the first.

And he then adds, with a wonderful throw-away comment, “About three months after hearing this, Dylan writes “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.”

Plus there is the fact that “Times” itself can be seen as something of a cover in its own right… which gives me a problem of course, but which I can deal with by starting with the a version of the original original (if you see what I mean) from which it is suggested (by some) that Dylan’s version is a sort of semi-cover…

“The 51st (Highland) Division’s Farewell to Sicily”

Now in fact I don’t care a jot whether “Times” is a cover of, or a copy of, or a derivation from “Farewell to Sicily.”   For “Farewell to Sicily” has been heard fairly regularly in my house ever since that article by Jochen appeared on this site five years ago (almost to the day – November 16th in fact).  And indeed if you are an occasional reader of my erratic ramblings on this site you will know that I have oft confessed to being a ludicrously and hopelessly emotional person, and this song is just one of many triggers that causes me to pause, and simply stare out of the window at the on-so-tall trees in my garden beyond, which stretch up to the sky… or so it seems.

Jochen picked out two stunning covers: Keb ‘Mo and the Chieftians, and wonder of wonders, the links still both work.  They are amazing covers, and I would urge you to pop back to that review both to read the commentary and listen to those covers.  The fact that Jochen quotes me in passing is of course neither here nor there.

So the question now arises, can I add more?

I did get a little tingle from a most unexpected recent version Emily Linge – who I realised is the same age as my eldest grandchild.  And I write that as a person who bought the original upon its release, at around the same age.

Maybe there is nothing in particular in the music that appeals and moves in the way that Jochen’s choices noted above do, except that hearing a 15 year old sing the song all these decades later is moving in itself.

Perhaps one of the many features of the old song is that it does allow itself to be transformed in so many ways.  I’m not arguing that these contemporary versions are of the same artistic merit as Jochen’s selections in his article noted above, but they are interesting nonetheless.

Take for example the instrumental break in this version by Stories, featuring Lily Kershaw.

And there is a benefit that comes from all these vast numbers of covers, which is that no one in their right mind is going to do a cover that simply takes the original and then does it much the same way as Bob.   I don’t always like what people do with the song, as with this version by Frazey Ford, but perhaps more than most other Dylan songs, it feels important that no one forgets the song, and what it meant to us at the time, and what it meant to President Obama too.

So perhaps I have got to the point, which is that we never forget the song, and keep singing it because its message is as important today as it was when Bob wrote it.

And maybe there is another artistic message here too.   No matter how many versions there have been before, for the inventive and talented arrangers it is always possible to find something new in a song as historically important as this.   Which is good, because it means that with a bit of luck my grandchildren will hear the song, and realise that the fight for reform, improvement, justice, equality and everything like that, can, and indeed should, exist alongside the desire to create and re-create music that is more than just passing entertainment.

And if you have time, do play this final offering through to the end.  And then maybe go back to “Farewell to Sicily“.  It can make, I promise you, an interesting journey.  If you have the time.

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…
  144. The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar
  145. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  146. The Man in Me

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