A Dylan cover a day: “Up to Me” and a return to earlier days

By Tony Attwood

There are of course a number of songs by Dylan that I particularly love, but for which I can find no cover versions – for reasons that I cannot fathom.

And there are some wherein I can only find one cover which I feel is worth presenting in this series.   And such is the case here with “Up to Me”.

Quite why other artists haven’t covered the song (or perhaps it should be why other artists have covered the song but I can’t find them freely available on  the internet) I don’ know (although I’ll to take a guess at the end of this little piece) but if you can find other cover  recordings of Up to Me which take us somewhere new, please do say – I really do like this song.

What we get here is a very different impression of the song from Dylan’s original, and in a real way the illustration above reflects this.   The guitar and percussion suggest that the “up to me” is related to a fight.  Not a literal fist fight, but a real demand on the singer to get things sorted out.

I guess Bob didn’t use the song on the album, (and indeed why others haven’t covered it), is because it utterly strophic – meaning to say that it is just verse, verse, verse, and that gives the recording artist a real problem.   It is hard to keep attention unless the lyrics really grab the listener.

So it is worth seeing how Bob solved the problem…

What he does is emphasise the lyrics so we really can pick them up first time around – not something that is always the case.     The point is that since there is only the acoustic guitar and the bass guitar providing the accompaniment, and with the lyrics being clearly sung, almost occasionally declaimed, that is where our attention has to go.  There is nowhere else to listen.

There is also the point that Bob probably dropped the song because it has overlaps with the masterpiece of “Tangled up in Blue”.  But we should also note that what he does here is take the song slowly and with such clear declamation that we get all the lyrics first time around.

We do have copies of several takes of the song including one which is labeled “take 2 remake 3” but the difference between the takes is small, suggesting that Bob couldn’t find any significant alternative way of re-working the piece.   Here is the faster version…

And Bob’s clearly trying through these different versions to overcome the inherent issue of the song.  Hence, presumably, the lack of performances.  He wasn’t sure he could hold the audience’s attention through verse after verse after musically indentical verse.

The melody too is a problem, in that it is so unvaried, as the lyrics just move on and on as a set of un seemingly unrelated reflections, many of which are hard to unravel.   What are we do make of….

 We heard the Sermon on the Mount and I knew it was too complex
It didn’t amount to anything more than what the broken glass reflects
When you bite off more than you can chew you pay the penalty
Somebody’s got to tell the tale, I guess it must be up to me

followed by

Well, Dupree came in pimpin’ tonight to the Thunderbird Café
Crystal wanted to talk to him, I had to look the other way
Well, I just can’t rest without you, love, I need your company
But you ain’t a-gonna cross the line, I guess it must be up to me

So why am I bothering in a series of articles with a piece where we only have one cover?  Several reasons.  One is I do like the song with its incredibly dense set of images pouring one over the other, unrelentingly.

Another is that I am fascinated not only by the songs people choose to rework as cover versions but why some songs get left behind.    Although here I think the answer is the same as the reason why Bob dropped the piece from the album and didn’t perform it: the audience will just get bored with verse after verse.

But just because Bob drops a song and not one else takes it up, doesn’t mean the song is not good: not at all.  If you have been following my rambling series from the start [and I am overwhelmed by your kindness if you have] you will know that sometimes I have highlighted songs by Dylan which are indeed obscure and which have only one or two covers, but wherein the cover version is an utter, utter masterpiece – at least in my opinion.

The overwhelming example came early in the series with “Angelina”.   And a) because I love the song so much and b) because hardly anyone else ever mentions it, and c) because I’ll jump at any opportunity to play this cover version again, here it is.   Just because hardly anyone wants to cover a Dylan song, that doesn’t mean it’s a poor or difficult song.

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