The Never Ending Tour Extended: Maggies Farm – and a wonderful ending

 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.   A list of all the songs covered in the series is given at the end.

Without doing any research on the subject, I would place “Maggie’s Farm” as one of the songs of which I couldn’t understand why Bob played it so often.  1051 times between 1965 and 2009.   What made it so special to Bob?  I don’t get to answer that below, but believe me the journey does take us to an unexpected place.

However…. We first picked up on it in 1998 by which time the song was already 30 years old.  And the song now has some exciting lead guitar extemporisation which really fits in neatly between the lines we all know.

But while we marvel at the dexterity of the lead guitarist, spare a thought for the bass guitarist who is for the most part reduced to playing just two notes, although as time goes by he slips in a number of extra notes.

However, to come back to the lead guitar, I wonder how those extemporisations actually happened – especially the full verse instrumental break – as the bass just plods on and on and… Bob gets to the line of “sing while you play” (or is it “sing while they play”).  I’m not exactly bored, but I’m not quite, well, enthused…

1988: The 60s revisited

So let us jump forward a few years, and listening to this opening you might well not get what song it is until Bob starts singing.

And here it is quite remarkable the changes Bob has generated in the song given the limited number of resources there are to play with within the song.  At least the bass player must be a lot happier having so much more freedom.

There is thus a totally different feel to the song – a sort of removal from this world into somewhere else.  The instrumental breaks add to it, and Bob’s vocals really are those of an out-of-world visitor, one totally displaced from this reality.  He isn’t just not working for Maggie; he’s not here at all.

We also have a band introduction part way through the song too, as if Bob himself doesn’t value the piece that much – which is odd given how often he plays it.  And indeed given that this is well over seven minutes long.

1995 The Prague Revelation – down in the flood

So let us jump forward again, this time to 1999.  And once more the feel of the song is completely different.  Still those same lyrics, and those same three chords, but now the lead guitar is much more gentle, and Bob’s voice is almost regretful that he ain’t gonna work there no more.

The instrumental break is different and highly inventive given the limited amount of material there is to play with, and that’s the point, there isn’t much there.  But what we do have, especially in the instrumental break, is something of a jaunty feel.  A sort of lightheartedness that was never there before.  True the “sing while they slave” still has an edge, but not so much of an edge.

1999   Every night in a combustible way.


And now jumping forward again we get another new sound – still with those same lyrics and just those same three chords.   But again the interval between each verse is different.

2004 Rocking on

So I thought, that must be about it.  A song that Bob plays with, but really, doesn’t add that much too.  However I also thought, let’s have just one more – although as ever of course there are many more versions to be found within the Never Ending Tour series on this site.

Thus I jumped from the 2004 to the totally new rhythm we have in 2009.  Now suddenly we have a transformation of the song in every way.   And this is one of those moments (and by no means the only one) that I work my way through the various recordings sometimes wondering if you, my reader, will actually want to go through the recordings, only to find at the end a real revolution.

OK Bob is still constrained by the chords but that adds to the surprise that he really can do something here.   And goodness me he does.   (Indeed have we heard Bob sing the bass line like he does somewhere around 2 minutes 50 at the end of that verse).

Oh yes, this is the recording, as has happened before, the one recording that really makes me think this was so worth the journey.  Thank you Bob.  Forever in your debt.

2009 Rolling the Rock

Other articles in this series…

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