The never ending tour extended: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum – an unbelievable journey

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.

And may I add that if you think (as I did at the start) that Tweedle Dum is hardly one of the highlights of Bob’s musical career, please stay with this, or at least skip to the very last performance at the end of this article.  If you don’t know what happened to this song, you might well be as surprised, and indeed as delighted, as I was.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum was performed an amazing 491 times between 5 October 2001 and 23 June 2023.    And I say “an amazing 491 times” because I have to admit that until I came to write this, and listen to the recordings across the years, I have always seen it as a trivial song, a bit of a throwaway.   I do recall hearing it at concerts of course, but it never struck me until today that Bob played it quite so often.  Or why he played it.  Now I know.

It is, if my counting is correct, the 37th most played song by Dylan on the Tour.  Our earlier recording from the tour comes from 2001 – the start of Bob’s use of the piece.

2001: More power, wealth, knowledge and salvation

Listening to this recording of the song now for the first time in several years I actually wonder if I have been too hard on the piece (in my own thoughts).  It’s a jolly rocker with a really lively backing, and that rather hard-to-play guitar solo after each line in the latter part of the song.

This is also a perfect example of Bob not wanting to put anything into the instrumental version by the way of extensive virtuoso solos.  What we get is the music without the voice, not much more.

I have to admit that seeing just how often Bob has played the song I wondered if maybe I had totally missed the point of the piece, and that everyone else was seeing it as a major part of his output, I did a bit of looking, but no, most people see it as of moderate interest.  But no, I don’t think any of us could have imagined where this was going to end up.

2003: No flash in the pan

The main change I notice at once is Bob using that falsetto note at the end of the line which he has so often employed.  But although the pace and orchestration is still the same, the way Bob sings the opening verses gives an even more frantic feel about the piece.  (And if you don’t like frantic, I beg you, stay with this, because there is an utter gem to come).

This time, when we get to the instrumental break there is even more excitement and a real contrast then when Bob returns with a softer feel all round.   It is still the same song, but there are a few extra nuances, especially in the instrumental break which starts around 3 minutes 50 seconds.   It is as if Bob has said to the band “let’s show them there is more here than they thought”.  And as if he knows that there is somewhere else he can go with this, but hasn’t yet found it.

Then the much softer section that follows that frantic instrumental break gives a real contrast… but I am now confused… I suppose I can best express this as “Why?”   I don’t have an answer – or rather when I first wrote this I didn’t.  Having got to the end of these extracts, I realised.

2006: Walking through the Cities of the plague

Now this is a surprise.  Same song, same key, same speed, but much more laid back.  It is a reflection on what we have seen and heard before.   Even if you have had enough Tweedles by now, I would suggest listening to this piece in contrast with the 2003 version above.  It is such a simple song, but Bob and the band really have done something new with it, without actually losing or changing or developing any of the piece.

Whether it is worth it I am not sure.  The very soft verse just after the three minute marker seems just to be there as a contrast, without any other meaning or implication, but still, it’s fun I guess.   As for the much softer verse that takes us through the last minute or so of the piece… another surprise.

2010: Centre Stage, a change coming on


Now we get the feeling that Bob really is going to keep on with this strange little song until he gets every last drop out it.  We know what it is from the lyrics and the accompaniment, but Bob is singing it differently.  He’s being reflective, more inward-looking, more resigned maybe.   I get the feeling something else is going to happen, but it is such a simple song, how can there be anything more.   Well, that comment shows why Bob is the genius and I’m the guy just reflecting on what he manages to do.  (But don’t let this comment put you off listening to this version all the way through.  This really is a fascinating development).

2014: The survivors

And now, if you don’t know what is here, you are going to be shocked, stunned, surprised, and well, I don’t know.   OK I have rushed forward to 2014, and that is perhaps not fair, but it makes the point.

I love this.  If only this had been the original version, I would never have dismissed this as a passing fancy.  This is really fun, interesting and entertaining and dare I add, insightful.  This is indeed one of my favourite moments from the Never Ending Tour.  Not just because I love the performance but because of the journey that Bob took us through.

Who, honestly, on hearing the original live versions could ever have imagined the song could be like this?  How did he clear his mind of everything the song has been before, to get to this?

I certainly could never imagine the song had enough within it to take such a simple accompaniment.   I really do think this is one of Bob’s greatest Tour achievements – to take this simple song, and keep the essence of it and turn it into this utterly gorgeous arrangement.

I play this, I keep playing this, and I am so, so grateful to Mike for having selected it from the thousands and thousands of extracts he listened to.

As to why I like it so much… well, there is enough of the original there for me to recall where the song has come from.  Plus it has a relaxed feel that suits my everyday life at my age.  Plus I love the way the verses change – try the verse after the four minute marker.  And that distinctive guitar solo that recurs throughout.

Oh Bob, I love you for this.  No one else could ever have done it.

Other articles in this series…

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