A Dylan Cover a Day: the extraordinary story of Walkin Down the Line

By Tony Attwood

If you don’t recall “Walking Down the Line” as a Dylan song you are forgiven.

But it was indeed a Dylan piece, recorded in 1963 and released much much later.

OK so it is dead simple, just two chords, and only known to those of us who really follow most aspects of Bob’s work.  Bob has never once played it in a concert.

So why has it attained such popularity?   I think the answer can be summarised within this live version by Michael Cerveris and Loose Cattle: it is such fun to play.  I don’t mean everyone heard this version and thought they could have fun with the song, but rather that Loose Cattle seem to sum up all the fun that can be had if one just lets the imagination run riot.

Indeed you don’t have to do much by way of rehearsal because the song is just based on those two rocking chords, but it gives everyone a chance to shine.  Just listen to the violinist having a fantastic time in the instrumental break… and the laughter because the band having exactly agreed when that violin part is coming in as a solo.  It may look under-rehearsed, but playing like this is part of the great fun of creating music, and this is a perfect song with which to have such fun.

And of course there is the fun with the lyrics – just listen to the “My money comes and goes” verse here.

But don’t think this is simply the enclave of unknown bands having a lark.   Rick Nelson also made a recording emphasizing the country feel of the lyrics.   And I really do think it is interesting to hear the contrast between this version below and the high-power approach above – all from such a simple song!

Robin and Linda Williams give it a bit of an extra on-beat emphasis to mix with the country feel in the chorus – just listen to the percussion in the chorus – that drum thump is on beat three of every four beats which is profoundly odd.  Normally with rock the emphasis is on the second and fourth beat of the bar.

And then to contrast with that, try this next one… and enjoy these exquisite harmonies, which are perfect for their take on the song.   But also if possible just recall the distance we have already traveled with this most simple of songs.  (And that’s before I start waxing lyrical about the strings’ instrumental break).   I just wish she hadn’t changed the lyrics in the “rolls and flows” verse from Bob’s recording.

I suppose one of the things about this song is that because it is not particularly well known outside the circles of those of us who really do know a bit about Bob’s songs, it can be played around with – here’s an example…  This is Penny Lang.  New chords too.

Fortunately, we even have the odd recording made by musicians of repute trying to get to grips with what they are doing with this most simple, yet utterly endearing of songs.  Try this for example: it is Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, not quite getting where they expected to be.  (Please let it run; don’t judge it by the first five seconds).

But most of all it is the harmonies and simplicity that has attracted performers across the years.  Plus the fact that it can be taken at a ludicrous speed while still making it an understandable piece.  This next one is not, of course walking, but charging at 2000 mph.  But it is still fun: Hamilton Camp.

I must admit I am now exhausted and I have to stop there.  There are lots more recordings of this most simple of songs, and I am so glad they exist.  On days when I’m covered in blue, it is lovely to have pieces of music like this around.   Thank you to everyone who has felt it worth while… and thank you dear reader if you have listened to each one all the way through.  And if you haven’t, just take the last example above and make that the one you listen to completely.

Previously in the series

  1. The song with numbers in the title.
  2. Ain’t Talkin
  3. All I really want to do
  4.  Angelina
  5.  Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
  6. As I went out one morning
  7.  Ballad for a Friend
  8. Ballad in Plain D
  9. Ballad of a thin man
  10.  Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  11. The ballad of Hollis Brown
  12. Beyond here lies nothing
  13. Blind Willie McTell
  14.  Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
  15. An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
  16. Blowin in the wind as never before
  17. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  18. BoB Dylan’s 115th Dream revisited
  19. Boots of Spanish leather
  20. Born in Time
  21. Buckets of Rain
  22. Can you please crawl out your window
  23. Can’t wait
  24. Changing of the Guard
  25. Chimes of Freedom
  26. Country Pie
  27.  Crash on the Levee
  28. Dark Eyes
  29. Dear Landlord
  30. Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
  31. Dignity.
  32. Dirge
  33. Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
  34. Don’t think twice
  35.  Down along the cove
  36. Drifter’s Escape
  37. Duquesne Whistle
  38. Farewell Angelina
  39. Foot of Pride and Forever Young
  40. Fourth Time Around
  41. From a Buick 6
  42. Gates of Eden
  43. Gotta Serve Somebody
  44. Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
  45. Heart of Mine
  46. High Water
  47. Highway 61
  48. Hurricane
  49. I am a lonesome hobo
  50. I believe in you
  51. I contain multitudes
  52. I don’t believe you.
  53. I love you too much
  54. I pity the poor immigrant. 
  55. I shall be released
  56. I threw it all away
  57. I want you
  58. I was young when I left home
  59. I’ll remember you
  60. Idiot Wind and  More idiot wind
  61. If not for you, and a rant against prosody
  62. If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
  63. If you see her say hello
  64. Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
  65. I’m not there.
  66. In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
  67. It ain’t me babe
  68. It takes a lot to laugh
  69. It’s all over now Baby Blue
  70. It’s all right ma
  71. Just Like a Woman
  72. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  73. Lay down your weary tune
  74. Lay Lady Lay
  75. Lenny Bruce
  76. That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
  77. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
  78. License to kill
  79. Like a Rolling Stone
  80. Love is just a four letter word
  81. Love Sick
  82. Maggies Farm!
  83. Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
  84. Mama you’ve been on my mind
  85. Man in a long black coat.
  86. Masters of War
  87. Meet me in the morning
  88. Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
  89. Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
  90. Most likely you go your way
  91. Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
  92. Motorpsycho Nitemare
  93. Mozambique
  94. Mr Tambourine Man
  95. My back pages, with a real treat at the end
  96. New Morning
  97. New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
  98. Nobody Cept You
  99. North Country Blues
  100. No time to think
  101. Obviously Five Believers
  102. Oh Sister
  103. On the road again
  104. One more cup of coffee
  105. (Sooner or later) one of us must know
  106. One too many mornings
  107. Only a hobo
  108. Only a pawn in their game
  109. Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
  110. Oxford Town
  111. Peggy Day and Pledging my time
  112. Please Mrs Henry
  113. Political world
  114. Positively 4th Street
  115. Precious Angel
  116. Property of Jesus
  117. Queen Jane Approximately
  118. Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
  119. Quit your lowdown ways
  120. Rainy Day Women as never before
  121. Restless Farewell. Exquisite arrangements, unbelievable power
  122. Ring them bells in many different ways
  123. Romance in Durango, covered and re-written
  124. Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands, like you won’t believe
  125. Sara
  126. Senor
  127. A series of Dreams; no one gets it (except Dylan)
  128. Seven Days
  129. She Belongs to Me
  130. Shelter from the Storm
  131. Sign on the window
  132. Silvio
  133. Simple twist of fate
  134. Slow Train
  135. Someday Baby
  136. Spanish Harlem Incident
  137. Standing in the Doorway
  138. Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
  139. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  140. Sweetheart Like You
  141. Tangled up in Blue
  142. Tears of Rage
  143.  Temporary Like Achilles. Left in the cold, but there’s still something…
  144. The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar
  145. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  146. The Man in Me
  147. Times they are a-changin’
  148. The Wicked Messenger
  149. Things have changed
  150. This Wheel’s on Fire
  151. Thunder on the mountain
  152. Till I fell in love with you in the north of Norway
  153. Time Passes Slowly – just sit down and close your eyes
  154. To be alone with you
  155. To Ramona: unexpectedly yes!
  156. Tombstone Blues
  157. Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You
  158. Too much of nothing
  159. Trouble as you have never been troubled before
  160. Tryin’ to get to Heaven
  161.  Unbelievable
  162. “Up to Me” and a return to earlier days
  163. Visions of Johanna

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