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
- 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…
- The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar
- The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
- The Man in Me