A Dylan Cover a Day: Visions of Johanna


By Tony Attwood

Jochen has of course written an article about Visions of Johanna in which he highlights one particular cover of the song, but unfortunately, the link to the song is no longer working (I will fix it when I have time), but I have found a new link to the cover version he nominated.  So here it is, and I have to agree it is a stand-out contribution.

And indeed do listen to way more and more is added to the performance, from occasional vocal harmonies (perfectly executed never overdone) to additional instrumentation.    This version surely grasps hold of the swirling mists that swirl around this song, and must be part of any even half-successful re-working of the piece.

But then if you are a regular reader of my ramblings, and you have somehow managed to remember anything I’ve written (and there is no reason why you should) you won’t be surprised to find also here is the Old Crow Medicine show version.

This, through the emphasis on the beat and the wonderful continuous violin part once more takes the song to a totally different place.  And who can say which place is the right one, for the song contains so many visions of the lives of the characters surrounding this piece?  Certainly not me.

Listening to a song one knows inside out and upside down and back to front, in a language of which one doesn’t speak a word, is quite an interesting experience, at least for me if no one else.

This version is in Catalan by Els mirallas de Dylan (Gerard Quintana and Jordi Batiste) – and there is one change of chord thrown in at the end of each verse – I guess just to make sure we are paying attention.

But the structure of the song makes it hard for artists to transform the music very much although Stephen Inglis does make a very good attempt.  However the lightness of the result does take me away from the desperation that I have always associated with the song.    And it’s not that I want to be reminded of desperation, but somehow after a few verses, I feel this isn’t quite right.

There are indeed many, many singers and bands who have tried to give us a few variations but in the end appear to forget that most of us know the song inside out and upside down, and thus these changes are really of little consequence unless they are truly innovative and brilliantly executed.

But then, I suppose they were for the most part reduced to this because way back in 1971 The Quinaimes Band really did do the experiment to see what else could be done with the song.   Indeed maybe it was this recording that stopped almost everyone else from going anywhere else.

As far as I know the album from which this came was their only record.  And I don’t include it here because it is something I would want to play again, but just to show that with a bit of inventiveness, all things are possible.  Some work, some don’t, but for me, trying them out is always preferable to taking the easy route to the middle ground.


  1. And Louise holds her hand full of rain
    Tempting you to defy it
    Lights flicker from the opposite loft
    In this room the heat pipes just cough

  2. Or is it:
    And Louise holds her handful of rain
    Tempting you to defy it

    Capturing the effect of the shifting and passing of time and light characterize the paintings of the Impressionists, ie Monet, for example.
    Writer TS Eliot attempts to capture the same impression in word images instead of with paint:

    A broken spring in a factory yard
    Rust that clings to the form that strength has left
    Hard and curled and ready to snap
    (Rhapsody on A Windy Night)

    As in:

    We see the empty cage now corrode
    Where her cape of the stage had flowed
    (Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

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