By Tony Attwood
“Someday Baby” is a song with controversies within it. The album “Modern Times” says that all the songs were written by Dylan, but this, along with a number of other songs on the album are very closely based on other writers’ work. Yet this song won a Grammy.
Dylan has of course being re-using other songs all his life. While much of his work is utterly original, occasionally, as with this album he borrows – as he did with (to take one early example) Masters of War which comes from an arrangement of Nottamun Town.
The source this time is “Worried Life Blues” which was probably first recorded and maybe even written by Sleepy John Estes, and later by Lightnin Hopkins and Muddy Waters, and known in some recordings as Trouble No More. The Allman Brothers also did a version later, and some sources (almost certainly mistakenly) suggest the Dylan copied their version.
So in effect we have an album of amended songs, including not just this one but also “Rollin’ and Tumblin”, “When the Deal Goes Down”, “Working Man’s Blues No 2”, “Beyond the Horizon” “Levee’s Gonna Break” and “Nettie Moore”. One could well say this is the theme of the album – Dylan’s modern re-interpretation of older songs.
The music is a variant 12 bar blues in B flat using the standard three chords in pretty much the standard way. The instrumental verses make the 12 bar structure clearer.
What’s particularly interesting is that this is a fairly nasty commentary by the singer on the woman – a typical blues song in which the self-centred evil woman is utterly to blame while the hard working man has done none wrong at all.
And yet the music has a lilting sing-song quality. There’s none of the jerky harshness that the blues can deliver, (as with Hoochie Coochie Man, that I mentioned in the review of Early Roman Kings). This is smooth in the music but the words are harsh and self-pitying…
Well you take my money and you turn me out
You fill me up with nothin’ but self doubt
and in the next verse
When I was young, driving was my crave
You drive me so hard, almost to the grave
And as with so many blues song, the woman has a witch-like quality which forces the man to stay with her even when he knows that he really should leave
So many good things in life that I overlooked
I don’t know what to do now, you got me so hooked
He knows he has to fight back, and he claims he will and we get the bravado verses in which he promises himself he is going to take his revenge
Well, I don’t want to brag, but I’m gonna ring your neck
When all else fails I’ll make it a matter of self-respect
I try to be friendly, I try to be kind
Now I’m gonna drive you from your home, just like I was driven from mine
But all the time he knows he is caught in the age old trap.
Living this way ain’t a natural thing to do
Why was I born to love you?
Even here it is not the singer’s fault – it is fate, it was in the stars, he was born to love the woman, it’s nothing to do with him.
This is in many ways the essence of the blues. It wasn’t my fault, it was fate, it was the drink, it was the woman, the cards were fixed… And all the time there is that gentle voice, the controlled music, pulsating away in the background, unremitting, moving on all the time.
It’s an interesting contrast, and through it a reminder of what a lopsided vision of the world the blues always has been. From the moment Robert Johnson sang that there was a hell hound on his trail, and that wasn’t his fault at all, it has been like this.
I think Bob is just picking songs that he likes, and playing with them. The copyright owners might well have had words to say about the lack of acknowledgement – although maybe that was all cleared up before recording began – but this approach is the tradition of the music (folk and blues) that Bob Dylan has his roots in.
Just one final thought. Consider this
I’m so hard pressed, my mind tied up in knots
I keep recycling the same old thoughts
Was Bob having one of those times when he wasn’t coming up with much in the way of wholly original songs, so he goes back to reworking old numbers. Maybe that’s quite a crucial couplet.
You never know.