Cover Versions, Dylanish, Hard-to-find

Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals no matter how great they are or were.

Bob Dylan? Is he not dead? A colleague asked me that a couple of years ago, just before I bored them to within an inch of their death with useless Bob trivia, making them wish they’d had the foresight to not think out loud in my presence. I love all things Bob and many things Bob-related. He can be the most obnoxious, obscure, obfuscating person I never want to meet, but he can also be The. Best. Thing. Ever. Right at the top of that ridiculous pedestal. But you probably knew that already.

With the release of the Bootleg Series Volume 9 (the Witmark Demos) just around the corner, it’s worth noting that Columbia records tried to get many artists to have a go at a Dylan track – they heard the ring-a-ding-ding not from the wonderful sounds old wheezy Bob and his trusty harmonica were commiting to vinyl, but in the glossy cover versions of the pop artists du jour. The Witmark Demos was Columbia’s way of getting Dylan into a studio with all the songs he had, pressing ‘record’ and firing out the recorded results to whoever they thought might be able to sugar coat it all the way to the toppermost of the poppermost. You don’t need me to tell you that many have tried (and will continue to do so), but nobody sings Bob Dylan like Robert Allen Zimmerman. Certainly not The Byrds, who recorded whole albums worth of his stuff. Certainly not N. E. One with an acoustic guitar, no decent hair-do to speak of and the noose-like albatross tag of ‘The New Dylan‘ hanging round their neck. And certainly not those X Factor hopefuls who’ve started giving Time Out Of Mind‘s Make You Feel My Love the Mariah Carey ‘soul’ treatment. There were at least 2 versions on last weekend’s show. Enough to give anyone the dry boaks (Google it, non Scots everywhere). Of course, for every 3000 bad versions of Dylan songs, one good one pokes it’s head carefully round the corner long enough for someone to notice.

Like this one.

I heard this for the very first time only last week and I couldn’t believe my ears. Frankie Valli, helium voiced purveyor of northern soul perennial The Night, bouffanted crooner of the Grease theme tune and subject matter of musical theatre or theater depending which side of the world you’re on does a spot-on version of Highway 61 Revisited‘s Queen Jane Approximately that is absobloodylutely magic. Between the opening Mr Tambourine Man-aping (Byrds version) guitar riff, the fabulous Four Seasons call and response backing vocals and the rolling and tumbling piano riffs, I can’t believe this track has escaped my attention for so long. It sounds like any one of those bands from the Nuggets compilation, Mouse & the Traps maybe. I’d never have guessed Frankie Valli was responsible for it. It’s my favourite record of the year so far, until I track down the unreleased Frankie Sings Bob sessions that must surely lurk in the darkest corners of this here interweb.

From one extreme to another.

Dan Le Sac V’s Scroobius Pip were briefly famous 3 years ago with their Thou Shalt Always Kill single. Take time to read this. Just like Bob Dylan, it’s poetry (man)…

Thou shalt not steal if there is a direct victim.
Thou shalt not worship Pop Idols or follow Lostprophets.
Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer,
Johnny Hartman, Desmond Decker, Jim Morrison,
Jimi Hendrix or Syd Barrett in vain.
Thou shalt not think that any male over the age of 30
That plays with a child that is not their own is a paedophile.
Some people are just nice.
Thou shalt not read NME.
Thou shalt not stop liking a band just because they’ve become popular.
Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry.
Thou shalt not judge a book by it’s cover.
Thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover.
Thou shalt not buy Coca-Cola products.
Thou shalt not buy Nestle products.
Thou shalt not go into the woods with your boyfriend’s best friend,
Take drugs and cheat on him.
Thou shalt not fall in love so easily.
Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants.
Use it to get into their heads.
Thou shalt not watch Hollyoaks.
Thou shalt not attend an open mic and leave
As soon as you’ve done your shitty little poem or song
You self-righteous prick.
Thou shalt not return to the same club or bar week in,
Week out just ’cause you once saw a girl there that
You fancied that you’re never gonna fucking talk to anyway.

Thou shalt not put musicians and
Recording artists on ridiculous pedestals
No matter how great they are or were.
The Beatles: Were just a band.
Led Zeppelin: Just a band.
The Beach Boys: Just a band.
The Sex Pistols: Just a band.
The Clash: Just a band.
Crass: Just a band.
Minor Threat: Just a band.
The Cure: Were just a band.
The Smiths: Just a band.
Nirvana: Just a band.
The Pixies: Just a band.
Oasis: Just a band.
Radiohead: Just a band.
Bloc Party: Just a band.
The Arctic Monkeys: Just a band.
The Next Big Thing… JUST A BAND.

And on and on it goes. You’d like it. See/hear it here. Anyway, around the same time, Dan Le Sac also took Blowing In The Wind, cut it to shreds, threw it up into the air, stuck it back together again in whatever order it landed and looped it into almost 8 and a half minutes of insanity. It‘s called Bob Dylan Thing. You might not like it. You might decide it’s the best thing since, well, Bob. You may even want to stick it on some ridiculous pedestal. But I doubt it. Give it a go though, eh?

Random fact

Bob has gone on record saying Elvis’ verson of Tomorrow Is A Long Time is the best cover version of one of his songs. That’s all folks!

6 thoughts on “Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals no matter how great they are or were.”

  1. I posted the Queen Jane tune the other week. The album it’s on (as mentioned above) is very hit and miss. There’s funny keyboards playing brass parts, it gets a bit musak in places. And it has a version of Don’t Think Twice that is absolutely horrible. So bad that you can’t believe your ears.

  2. “Make You Feel My Love” is a beautiful song – and this fact obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed by the music industry – have you looked online for how many cover versions of it there actually are? Plenty.

    I was quite surprised to hear it on X Factor last week, but for once I was pleased to be able to go, “that’s a great song”. Sure, I didn’t appreciate the interpretation, but its better than hearing cover upon cover of crappy pop songs.

  3. Thou Shalt Always Kill is wonderful. you miss out on stuff if you only ever listen to Radio 4 (and Radio 5 sports commentary) so that’s why I have you.


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