By Tony Attwood, looking back at recordings presented by Mike Johnson in the Never Ending Tour series of articles. There is an index to that ongoing series here. Links to previous articles in the “Extended” series are given at the end.
According to the official site, Bob Dylan has performed “Rainy Day Women” 963 times on the Never Ending Tour, making it the 11th most performed song.
And it is a piece that offers a problem to Bob the musical arranger, because at its very heart is that very distinctive drum rhythm. Take that away and it’s not Rainy Day anymore. Keep it in and it is hard to know what to do with the piece.
However, from 1969 to 2019 the song has been a staple of Dylan’s performances. So it is obviously of interest to those of us who like to see what Bob does with his songs to look across the years.
In fact the changes have been subtle but they have been there, and they really do make for interesting if slight contrasts. If you were to play the first of the eight (yes 8) versions below you’d think that Bob’s just doing what most artists in this genre do – he’s playing his song as it is on the record. But changes do occur, although slowly and subtly.
Of course you can flip through to the conclusion of this little piece to hear where it ended up, but I hope you will stay with me, and at least listen to part of each of these recordings, as they represent a slow but deliberate change to a piece of music, that really, in many regards doesn’t want to be changed.
1995: part 6: The Kingdom of Experience
The real sign of change here comes with the musical interlude after 2’25” in which we move into a 12 bar blues improvisation, just to remind us that although perhaps we don’t think of it as a 12 bar, that’s what Rainy Day is. And as we approach 3’30” we really are starting to move away from the original – it is now a straight 12 bar blues jam. And it goes on, and on…
1996 part 4: In the House of Blues forever.
OK we are still bouncing along and making this a long improvised 12 bar blues – but by now the band are really starting to battle with each other – which is what can happen even to the best musicians when they are asked to play a 12 bar night after night and indeed year after year. To me, it is starting to sound like a bit of a mess.
1998 part 1: One who sings with his tongue on fire.
Dylan is clearly trying to do something a bit different with his voice, but I get the feeling maybe he’s not sure what. The song is now two minutes shorter but it is still a long old jam – although around 3’30” we do actually come back to the origins of the piece and then have a proper and clear ending.
2001 part 4: Back to Bedrock I
Still that same distinctive percussion opening and a full-blown opening instrumental verse just to make sure we’ve got it. But as Bob starts singing, we realise this is different. He’s got the lyrics the same – but the presentation of the vocals is different, and the band is holding back. And then that first instrumental break – it is actually quieter, more restrained, even, dare I say, more gentle. The slower pace helps this as we move into the 12 bar blues improvisation.
But what is this on five minutes? Bob talking to the audience???!!!! If you would like to listen and produce a transcript of what he is saying, please send it in – I know it’s an introduction to the band, but I can’t catch the details. There’s more instrumental, a return to the origins, and it ends…
2004 part 6: Stone you and then come back again
I’m getting the feeling by now this is all getting a bit ploddy and repetitive although the cool-down section at around 5’30” is quite jolly and is followed by Bob making a few amendments to the melody – such as it is.
2008 part 1: Industry Standards and Dallas Delights
Four years on and there are a few more subtle changes to the melody, but it is still very much “Rainy Day”. He’s holding back the lines a bit, and indeed missing a few out totally. It is as if Bob is saying, “well we have to do this, but really, you’ve all heard it before….”
2009 part 6: Rolling the Rock
The length of the piece has come back down again, and the beat is a little faster, but more of the melody has gone. Now at last we have a 21st century Dylan re-working of the song. Not much of a re-working, but still a bit of a re-working, and are those a few changed lines in there too?
2013 part 4: Softly softly golden oldies
And still after all these years that introduction is pretty much the same, but the melody has really gone now, and as far as I can tell, so have some of the lyrics. The key part that we now have is the bounce. But as you are still with me after all this time, do listen particularly to those instrumental breaks, and just how much the accompaniment has been paired back. We’re now relaxed, jolly, happy, ok, old timers back together, thinking of the old days, but more sitting in our rocking chairs than standing out front and shouting.
Particularly have a listen to the instrumental break that starts around 2’11” and goes on for over a minute. It’s relaxed in a way this song never was before. Same with the second break around 3’50” – it’s a sort of “hey come on, let’s have a gentle bop to this.”
Yep – we’ve got stoned, but somehow we managed to come out the other side, still here, still listening, maybe more relaxed, and hopefully a little bit wiser.
- Absolutely Sweet Marie
- Blind Willie McTell. 1997-2006
- Blowing in the Wind. 1991-2001
- Don’t think twice it’s alright 1993-1997
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- Highway 61 1989-2003
- It Ain’t me Babe from 1994-1998.
- It’s all over now baby blue
- Like a Rolling Stone 1988 to 2002
- Love sick from the very start to 2000
- Masters of War 1978 to 2000.
- One too many mornings.
- Tangled up in Blue 1988 to 1993
- The Drifters’ Escape. 1996-2005.
- The Hard Rain of 1988, 2003 and 2015
- Things have changed 2000-2007
- Visions of Johanna