Cover a Day Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You

By Tony Attwood

So here we have another of those Dylan songs that is so distinctive in so many ways it can be something that everyone wants to cover, but only a handful of artists and/or arrangers has the nerve, guts and talent to explore and ultimately go somewhere Dylan didn’t go.

This song has a highly recognisable instrumental opening, a highly recognisable opening line in terms of melody and lyric, and a highly memorable title line – and that is before we get to that very distinctive middle 8 which, unusually for Bob brings in a chords that have nothing to do with the key … and eventually modulates.  It is a song that you can’t mistake for anything else – and that makes it really hard for cover artists to do anything with it that is utterly different from the original.  Unless of course either they or their arrangers are super talented.

Take the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, just those opening chords tell you what you are getting.  But for them the difference is thrown in by the harmonies and orchestration – not too much, but just enough to remind us throughout that this is a Bob song but not a Bob version.

But that has been done many, many times, so from there on something very different needs to be in place.   Liam Bailey does it not just by making this a solo, but by playing totally different chords by way of accompaniment.   This is quite a rare technique, not least because it is so hard to pull off – although it is what several cover artists have tried in relation to this piece.   The fact is that even if you have no musical background and don’t know one chord from another, you’ll hear that this music is nothing like Dylan’s.

And Mr Bailey does have a magnificent voice.

Katherine Rondeau takes us back to the original but with such a beautiful voice, I find I just have to listen.  For when she says “throw my troubles out the door” then (unlike in the Dylan version) I find myself believing her.

This is a technique owned by a precious few – to make us believe that she really does mean it all, rather than is just singing it from the script.  Just listen to the middle 8 (“is it really any wonder”) and remember this whole effect is being achieved by a guitar, a violin, and a voice.  Nothing more.  In the hands of the best, that’s all it needs to make us believe.

Jeff Jensen tries the song with a big band between the rock group, and sings it fortissimo in order to match the instruments behind him.   It is an interesting approach, and at least the instrumentation is kept under control – although in the instrumental break I think we get to the limits, although they do draw back and keep the song in touch with itself.  The chorus in the “staying here with you” repeated line at the end is a nice effect to round it all off, and it’s a fine effort, but not the very best, in my view.  But still worthy of a listen.

Janet Planet tries the modern jazz approach in the accompaniment and she has the perfect voice to carry it off – and indeed to vary the melody line in keeping with the variations in the instrumental parts.   In fact, I think if I had come across version first, before hearing Bob’s recording or knowing that it was one of his pieces, I’d never guess it was a Dylan song.

And what helps is the lady’s perfect voice for this kind of singing.   Plus the instrumental section on 3 minutes adds to the fun and occasion.  Great stuff.

Ann Peebles is, for me at least, always associated with “I can’t stand the rain”, but that’s just me… what she does is what the others have been doing – varying the chordal accompaniment in parts, and then using her magnificent voice to fly over the changing instrumentation.   And that really is the thing that holds these versions together – the inventiveness of the arrangers in each case.   They don’t make covers – they take the original and fly.   And that is exactly how it should be.

And please don’t miss the wonderful instrumental break from 2’20” onwards.   In a sense it is so simple but it works so perfectly within the context.   Plus Anne Peebles is such a pro she knows exactly when to keep it all where she is… the whole point of the song is that the “staying here with you” is just said and accepted.  There’s no big fuss, the feelings have won, it’s a statement of fact.  That’s how Bob wrote it, and that’s how it is.

Here’s the rest of this series of reviews of Dylan covers in the “Cover a Day” series.  Over 150 of them, so not enough to keep you going all year as the “cover a day” title intended, but still, quite a few.


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