A Dylan Cover a Day: “When He Returns”

By Tony Attwood

As you will be aware if you have followed any of this series, I am working through Dylan’s compositions in alphabetical order and writing about the songs where there are at least a couple of interesting commercial cover versions available on the internet.   The logic of course is that if I write about versions that you can’t immediately hear, it is much harder for me to put across my own thoughts, and I guess it makes the article less interesting too.

So here we go with four covers, and two versions from Bob.

Larry Norman

I find this version simply too slow and ponderous for me.   The impact of the lyrics is the power of the message, and I don’t mean that this should make the music fast – but there needs to be a power in the music and I simply don’t feel this.

Take for example the “don’t you burn” line  – it is followed by four descending chords – something that turns up elsewhere.  This is an absolutely conventional piece of accompaniment and really doesn’t fit, as I hear it.

And of course we are all aware Bob’s versions of the song.   So having four conventional descending chords playing over again isn’t really inspirational.  Nor is the over-excited voice, as the piece continues.

So not for me.

Bishop Rance Allen

Rance Allen is an established Gospel singer and this was produced for the album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan.    Here the problem is that I am not a fan of gospel music – and indeed as I have mentioned in passing before I am a confirmed atheist, so what attracts me to the song is the overall music, rather than the message.

My view is that in this performance the music is secondary to the meaning.   For me the music and the meaning can co-exist, and indeed in the best songs are equal partners, but once the meaning overtakes the music then the essence of the music is in danger, and that is what I find here.

There is also an extraordinary moment just after 3 minutes where the organist seems to have got a bit bored and puts in a few extra twiddly bits which to me seem totally out of context with the way the Bishop has, just a few seconds before getting utterly carried away.  I wonder what was going on in the studio!  Or was that something they added later?

Phil Madeira

This is getting closer to what I think it takes to make this song work, as the singer keeps the performance under control much more than others, but then in doing so doesn’t really add much more to the song than we already have.  And this is something I think I often come back to: that the point of doing a cover is to see where else the song can be taken without destroying the essence of the piece.    Here the performer does this, but it turns out that the song can’t be taken much further!

Kevin Max

Now the opening of this next version sounds very similar to Bob’s version and yet there is enough variation in this version to keep me listening.   The voice is beautiful, the piano accompaniment is perfectly controlled.   This is more as I imagine the song, but then it is fairly close to what Bob did in the first place, but sometimes that is just how it has to be.

Bob Dylan

As I suspect you know, we have two Bob versions of the song.  I’m putting both of them in, because after feeling rather dissatisfied with all the cover versions above I wanted to recover my faith in the song (although not my faith in the message which I don’t have ).

It is really interesting to listen both to Bob’s singing and the piano part in comparison with those above.  Does this feel right to me because I heard it first or is it that this really is the perfect combination of lyrics, vocal line and piano?   I think the latter, but of course one can never be sure.

The Trouble No More version was made public later, so in hearing it one was already used to the Slow Train version.    The piano accompaniment is much smoother for much of this version and for me the final album version (above) does it better.  Maybe Bob had got used to playing the part much more by then.

But that’s not to say that the “Trouble no more” version is not worthy of our time as members of the audience.  It is just that somehow by the time of the “Slow Train” version Bob seems to have someone managed to take control of the balance between the piano, the lyrics, the melody and the meaning, and that is no easy achievement, as indeed I think the cover versions above show.

If you are really interested in comparing the two versions try this – play the version above from about four minutes on and the version below from about 3 minutes 30 seconds.  There is a difference: for me the version below is more about Bob, the version above is truly about the religion he believes in – or at least believed in at that moment.

Overall, for me, this is a real case of “No one sings Dylan like Dylan,” even when I feel no personal relationship with the lyrics.

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
  164. Walking down the line
  165. Whatcha gonna do
  166. Well Well Well
  167. Went to see the Gypsy.
  168. What good am I?
  169. What was it you wanted
  170. When I paint my masterpiece
  171. When the night comes falling from the sky
  172. When the ship comes in

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