INTERESTING STUFF – 2 September 2017
Myths About Our Ageing Brains

ELDER MUSIC: Better Than Bob?

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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Whenever a headline in a newspaper ends with a question mark, the answer is always an emphatic "No!", and so it is today.

I'm always happy to produce a column featuring the songs of the finest songwriter from the second half of the twentieth century (and continuing into the twenty-first).This isn't the first time I've done this.

My preference is for him to perform the songs but there are some, Norma, the Assistant Musicologist among them, who contend that others perform them better than he does.

I don't generally subscribe to that thesis but I will admit that some others have produced fine versions of his songs and even a couple, I'll admit, that are better. Here are some of the better ones; I'll leave it up to you to decide if these artists perform Bob Dylan's songs better than he does.

My inspiration for the column was hearing DAVE ALVIN perform Highway 61 Revisited.

Dave Alvin

It's not one of Bob's songs that has been covered very often (okay, Johnny Winter springs to mind), and Dave's version I find particularly interesting. Perhaps it's the dichotomy of his fine baritone voice over a full tilt rock band that does it for me. Whatever it is, here's Dave.

♫ Dave Alvin - Highway 61 Revisited

Bob recorded the song Wallflower on a Doug Sahm album called "Doug Sahm and Band" where Doug managed to get some heavy hitters along to record with him. That's the only place where Bob's version appears (apart from the now ubiquitous "Bootleg" series of albums of his).

Others have tackled the song since; one of those versions is by THE HOLMES BROTHERS.

Holmes Brothers

This fine group consisted of Sherman and Wendell Holmes plus Popsy Dixon. They sound as if they should be a gospel group, and they did sing some of that, but they mostly performed soul, blues and even country music. Alas, as of the writing of this column, Sherman is the only survivor.

♫ The Holmes Brothers - Wallflower

GORDON LIGHTFOOT rarely recorded anyone else's songs.

Gordon Lightfood

He made an exception with Bob. Bob returned the favor and has recorded a couple of Gordie's tunes. Indeed, Bob is reported to have said that Gordie was his main rival in the songwriting department back when they were starting out.

Anyway, here's Gordie performing Ring Them Bells, one of Bob's lesser known songs. Gordie makes it sound like one of his own.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - Ring Them Bells

The terrific duo of RODNEY CROWELL and EMMYLOU HARRIS can be counted on to make even inferior songs sound good. Bob's songs don't fall into that category.

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Before he went out as a solo artist, Rodney was a member of Emmy's band, not just playing and singing, but writing songs that she recorded to great acclaim. Since then he has recorded them himself. Today, though, it's about Bob and the song they sing is Shelter from the Storm.

♫ Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris - Shelter from the Storm

ALAN PRICE started a group called The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo that later became The Animals.

Alan Price

He played keyboards, particularly the organ, an integral part of the music they made. Alan was instrumental in getting the group to the prominence it held in the sixties until a virtual coup d'état by the singer forced him out.

He later formed several other groups as well as performing with others such as Georgie Fame. Alan sings and plays a beautiful version of To Ramona.

♫ Alan Price - To Ramona

FAIRPORT CONVENTION had three of Bob's songs on their finest album, "Unhalfbricking".

Fairport Convention

For some reason, they sang one of those in French. Bands did pretentious things like that back then. This isn't that one, it's one they sing straight, Percy's Song.

♫ Fairport Convention - Percy's Song

There are two artists whose presence in this column you could pretty much guarantee, so I won't disappoint you. Here's the first, JOAN BAEZ.

Joan Baez

Farewell, Angelina was both the name of the song and the album from which it was taken.This was reasonably early in Joan's recording career but it gave hints of her move from straight folk songs to a more varied repertoire.

♫ Joan Baez - Farewell Angelina

RICHIE HAVENS made a name for himself covering songs written by Bob and The Beatles.

Richie Havens

He also made a name for himself for performing for three hours on the first day of the Woodstock festival when no other performer was in a fit state to go on. The song Just Like a Woman wasn't one he performed there, but it was on his fine early album "Mixed Bag".

♫ Richie Havens - Just Like a Woman

THEM was responsible for the classic rock song, Gloria.


They started out in Belfast and a young musician called Van Morrison joined them to play the saxophone. He soon took over as lead singer as well as their main songwriter.

Here is the young Van out front of Them singing It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.

♫ Them - It's all over now baby blue

We couldn't have a column about Bob's cover versions without THE BYRDS, the second mandatory inclusion.

The Byrds

Their song is from the time they, if not invented, were seriously involved in country rock. This was completely due to the influence of the tragic Gram Parsons. The song is You Ain't Goin' Nowhere.

♫ The Byrds - You Ain't Going Nowhere


You two musicologists manage to bring new names and oldies/goodies groups into being, so readily and enjoyably. Loved Alan Price's version of "Ramona," always love hearing those clear vocals of Sandy Denny with Fairport, the range of "Them" and "The Byrds."

All these choices were invigorating - yes, that's the word. Listening to music by other musicians than the original is like listening to a new song in that it's gently reworked in the mind.

Thanks much!

I've always been a huge Bob Dylan fan, but I must say seeing him in person was a major disappointment. I expected him to play some of his newer stuff, some of his more obscure stuff and some of the old stuff. Well he primarily sat behind a grand piano, did an imitation of Bill Murray being a lounge lizard and played things so obscure that few in the audience, and it was a good sized audience, recognized any of it. He did play two older songs, but played them so strangely that it took a couple of choruses before anyone recognized them.
I realize an artist is entitled to reinvent himself, but instead of advertising a Bob Dylan concert it should have been advertised as Bob Dylan does Bill Murray and then we'd have known what to expect. Very disappointing.

That was a nice start to the day! Thanks so much. Joan Baez' version of Ring Them Bells is nice too.

Great selection and I really enjoyed each one. Thanks!

Great selection of covers. And of course the winner is All along the watch tower, Hendrix.

For me, the winner is Heart of Mine by Maria Muldaur.

My blue ribbon winner is Chrissie Hynde's "I Shall Be Released" from 30th Dylan show in NYC.

Simone - AGREE!

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