The Never Ending Tour Extended: Early Roman Kings


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

The Never Ending Tour Extended: This series primarily uses recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable masterpiece The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances of individual songs change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary below, are by Tony Attwood.

Between 2012 and 2021 Early Roman Kings was played 519 times by Bob Dylan on stage.

The song was from the first – and indeed always thereafter – performed in a way that was immediately identifiable with the original, with that unmistakeable three-chord phrase repeated over and over and again, and Bob singing much of the song on one note.   All that was added was a jumble of sounds at the start which really (to me, as ever, it’s just my opinion) doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the piece of music.  It’s more like a call to the band to be ready to play than anything to do with the song in my view.

This version comes from 2012 The Ivory Revolution Begins.   In essence, once we have the first couple of lines, we have the song – it is all on one chord apart from a very brief move to a second chord just before the end of the verse.  As such it is totally a song of atmosphere – and that atmosphere is one of menace.


By 2015 however a certain softness has entered the atmosphere., as can be heard from this performance from It doesn’t get any better than thisI must say I hadn’t realised that is how it changed.  It came as a pleasant surprise.

So the menace has gone, and now we have a reflection on what is happening.   The song is the same, the lyrics are the same, the instruments are the same but the atmosphere is completely different.


In 2018, we still have that collection of sounds as the opening, but that extra softness has been extended so that in the review Hell bent for leather contrary to the implication of that title (which applies to other songs) we have a song that has none of the menace of the 2012 recording above.    Bob is getting softer and softer, more and more gentle with a song that started with absolute menace and power.   It is still the same song, but the whole concept of of what he is singing about has changed.


2019: the final recording of this song that we have in the final year of the Never Ending Tour: The liberated republic

Now Bob has gone back – some way at least – to his earlier thoughts on the song.  There is a little bit more force here , a little bit more of the 2012 edition, what I suppose we might call a bit more “umph”.

This is interesting because we don’t often find Bob going back to earlier thoughts on the song – mostly I get the impression of a journey going on and on until it stops because all options have been explored.  By the end the menace is overwhelming – as if to say enough of these early gentle versions, this is what it is really about.  And, as it turns out, that’s it.

Other articles in this series…

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