A Dylan cover a Day: This Wheel’s on Fire



By Tony Attwood

I try not to go over the top with covers of Dylan songs that are not in English, but they do serve the purpose (when they are in a language one doesn’t speak) of focussing on the music rather than the lyrics.   This first choice does that, although the recording quality detracts somewhat, due to it being a recording of a concert performance.

It really is a remarkable piece of music, and as I have said elsewhere, not at all Dylanesque.  the language here is Czech, or so I am told.

Compare and contrast, as they say, with Richard Thompson for the Dylan Revisited album.  I love this version because it makes me feel that Richard Thompson really has considered the lyrics, rather than just singing them (not that Richard Thompson would ever “just sing” a set of lyrics.)

The harmonies are perfect, the instrumental break at the end is beautiful, the accompaniment is sublime, and as ever with Richard Thompson’s recordings I feel he really has worked and worked on what the essence of the piece in order to get an arrangement that makes musical sense.

He’s still touring, although in some rather unusual places – if you have never seen him live, I’d thoroughly recommend it, no matter where it is.  And please do listen in utter silence to the instrumental at the end.

In total contrast is the version by Famous Horses – a band of whom I know very little – if you know of a source of detailed information about the band please do write in with the website URL.  I really like this, and totally admire their imagination in terms of re-invention.

Indeed this is one of those songs where one could go on with version after version each with a different idea of what the song is really saying.  The only ones I feel don’t work are those that treat the music as just another rock song.  It isn’t and it really doesn’t work if one goes down that route.

The point is there are multiple levels in this song, and it is not possible to find them all in one version – the song would vanish under the levels of invention if that happened.    But really one can do pretty much anything with this piece, as Les Fradkin shows.   Although, for me there is too much here, and their attempt to hold it all together with the solid beat of the percussion, doesn’t quite work.  Which is a shame because the harmonies are gorgeous, with variations I’ve not heard elsewhere.   And I do love the way they hold the word “Wheels” for that extra fraction of a beat before “on fire”.  A terrific touch.

And that is where I was going to leave it, until I realised I hadn’t taken in that version by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity.    It’s no longer the great revelation that it was when it first came out, but the use of the melatrone (I think) behind the band and vocals is fun.

And if you would like some more musical examples with quite different insights then you’ll enjoy This Wheel’s On Fire: where’s that restraining order?” in which Jochen took in some other excellent versions of the song.

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
  147. Times they are a-changin’
  148. The Wicked Messenger
  149. Things have changed

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