The Never Ending Tour Extended: Mr Tambourine Man. The greatest contrasts yet found.

The Never Ending Tour Extended: Comparing recordings of Dylan performing his own compositions, across the years.

In this series we look 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 this “Extended” series are given at the end.

Mr Tambourine Man has been performed by Bob Dylan 903 times according to the official site, starting in May 1964 and concluding on 28 June 2010.  46 years and 903 performances!  Our recordings don’t take us back to the very start of the Never Ending Tour but there is a video from the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 (from memory I think Bob first appeared in 1962 at the Festival).

We first picked the song up in our “Never Ending Tour” series in episode six: 1989 Part 2 – A fire in the sun…

The reaction of the crowd shows how over 30 years after its first performance it is still welcomed by one and all.  Here Bob has speeded the song up considerably.   I always get the feeling with this performance that the speeding up is not because Bob thinks it should go faster throughout, but to enable him to deliver a very unusual guitar solo at around 2’30”.   That solo can only make musical sense at this sort of speed, hence the whole piece has to be taken at that higher speed.

And for me, as the vocals return after that break the shock of the extra speed has gone, and this now feels normal – the speed at which the song should be performed.  And indeed the speed also allows the second solo to appear and work – even though the harmonica part is highly repetitive.   I particularly like the way the harmonica section over what would be the lyrics “following you” is extended and extended, leading to a very unusual coda.

We next have a recording from 1992 part 3 – All the friends I ever had are gone

Now we not only have the speed but also occasional changes to the melody.   Sometimes I have the feeling that Bob speeds up songs just to get through them – as if a member of team has said “You must sing Tambourine Man – everyone expects it” – but here I feel we don’t have that, but rather the fact that Bob wants to play Tambourine Man because he is excited by the options.

And it turns out with some careful listening and a bit of background research, this isn’t a solo performance after all.  Listen carefully and you hear the percussion slip in, and by the instrumental break the percussion has a major part to play (along with the gentleman who felt the need to shout “yeah” multiple times), and there is a second guitar in there too.  (We can of course only present the recordings that have been made, and there is of course no editing going on here – what you get is what we heard).

Moving on to 1994, the song has changed again: 1994, part 1 – Full voice absolute vintage Dylan.

And I am really glad you have made it to this point, just to hear the contrast between those earlier versions and this.   This is only episode 16 of this series comparing Dylan’s performances of his own songs across the years, but this surely must be one of the biggest contrasts in arrangements that we have ever heard.

Which raises the question what could Bob do next?

Looking at the articles that Mike Johnson has provided us with over the years I am stunned to find that in 1995 we have four separate versions of this song chosen by Mike.   There is an index to the whole of the Never Ending Tour series on this site, so you can go through the pieces and listen to each one if you wish, as I am trying to make these articles accessible, not impossibly overloaded with too many recordings.  So for this episode, the final one is from 1995, Part 5: Acoustic wonderland

The crowd love it, I get the feeling that Bob loves it, and listening now 29 years later, I still love it too. And I say Bob loves it, for if not, why would a man of such independence and determination stay with the song, and change it so many times and with such cre and devotion?

The Never Ending Tour Extended:

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