It’s a Long Way to Tipperary

Bob Fest 09

My friend Keith Forde plays electric guitar with a local Limerick musical combo. Like me, he’s a big fan of the music of Bob Dylan. A while back, he approached me and an acquaintance of ours named Brian Fitzgerald, another Dylan fan, with the idea of putting on a celebration of Dylan’s work. Only a few weeks later, we now have a venue, a date, some ideas and a poster. It’s a free event that will take place in Co Tipperary, not too far from Limerick City on Saturday, July 18, 2009. After many minutes of discussion, we decided that we would call the event Bob Fest 2009. Nifty, eh? Keith has put together a house band featuring local musicians and friends and Keith’s going to spend some time getting them into shape and practicing some songs. If you’re a musician and you have a love of Dylan, a musical instrument and some songs to sing, get on the MySpace page mentioned on the poster and signal your interest. As it is a free event, there will be no payment for performers. However, there will be free camping at the venue and a Bob-B-Que will be laid on to feed the hungry souls that show up. It is also advised that attendees should bring their own liquid refreshments. Please note that this is not The Electric Picnic and places will be limited. Check out the MySpace page and watch this space for further developments. In the meantime, here’s a few songs in praise of Dylan and his music, a few that parody his work, some that are inspired by him, and a couple by the great man himself

At the start of the 70s, many singers and bands had been influenced by Dylan’s musical style and lyrical content, but David Bowie was the first one to release a tribute song to Dylan, Song for Bob Dylan, one of the tracks on his Hunky Dory (1971) album. Dylan might not appear to have been an influence on Bowie’s music, but Bowie’s earlier songs were in the singer-songwriter mode. The first lines of the song reveal Bowie’s intentions: “Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman, I wrote a song for you. About a strange young man called Dylan with a voice like sand and glue”. The poet and writer, Joyce Carol Oates, also referred to this quality in Dylan’s voice when she wrote: “When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying.”

01 Song for Bob Dylan – David Bowie

Syd Barrett would not seem to have been influenced by Dylan, either, but he recorded his tribute to Dylan a year before Bowie. Apparently, Barrett wrote his song in 1963 after attending a Dylan concert. However, Bob Dylan Blues would not see the light of day until 2001 when it was released on The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn’t You Miss Me? The tapes had been discovered by David Gilmour, who effectively replaced Barrett as guitarist in Pink Floyd in 1967. Incidentally, Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond from Wish You Were Here (1975) is their tribute to Barrett

02 Bob Dylan Blues – Syd Barrett

The influence of Dylan on Loudon Wainwright’s music is far more evident. Wainwright was approached by Dylan’s record label to write a song to mark the occasion of Bob’s 50th birthday in May, 1991. The resulting song is a playful homage to Dylan’s music and persona, as well as a comment on Wainwright’s part in the New Dylan phenomenon that came to be attributed to nearly every male singer-songwriter in the late sixties and early seventies. It is obvious that Wainwright is a big fan of Dylan, but that doesn’t prevent him from throwing in a few digs at some of his music as well as imitating his voice on a number of occasions. It is a worthy tribute by a talented and witty songwriter whose son and daughter have also gone into the family business

03 Talking New Bob Dylan – Loudon Wainwright III

Cat Power is the stage name of Chan Marshall, born in Georgia in 1972. She released a number of albums throughout the 90s, but has only recently achieved success, particularly with her album The Greatest (2006). This release was preceded and followed by two albums of covers, The Covers Record (2000) and Jukebox (2008). Additionally, she has recorded and performed dozens of other cover versions over the years, including many of Dylan’s songs. She is an acknowledged Dylan fan and the Jukebox album contains one new song that she wrote herself, Song to Bobby, a homage that reads like a love letter to Dylan

04 Song To Bobby – Cat Power

The title of Cat Power’s Song to Bobby is an obvious nod to Song to Woody, Dylan’s own tribute to Woody Guthrie that appears on his first album, Bob Dylan (1962). Along with Talkin’ New York, it is one of only two original compositions on a debut that is an homage to the blues, folk and country songs that influenced him. A song that was recorded around this time, but didn’t appear on the album, is his version of a song by Hank Williams, (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow. The song was originally recorded by Hank in 1951, two years prior to his death at the age of 29. The song is similar to Johnny Cash’s later San Quentin in that it’s told from the viewpoint of a prisoner whose predicament is not helped by the sound of the passing train and the freedom it represents. In the film Dont Look Back (sic) (1967), Dylan sings another Hank Williams’ song, Lost Highway

05 (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow (Hank Williams cover) – Bob Dylan

Simon and Garfunkel’s A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission) appears on their third album, Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966). With such an unwieldy title, it should come as no surprise that the song was not released as a single. It is a re-recording of a song that appears on The Paul Simon Songbook from the previous year. The re-recording is an obvious parody of Dylan’s musical style, use of rhyme and abstract lyrical content. In one of the verses he sings about a man he knew:

He doesn’t dig poetry. He’s so unhip that
When you say Dylan, he thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas,
Whoever he was.
The man ain’t got no culture,
But it’s alright, ma,
Everybody must get stoned.

Even though the man in question may not be Bob Dylan, this verse pokes fun at how Robert Zimmerman took his new name from the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. The last two lines of the verse quote two separate Dylan songs, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and Rainy Day Women Nos 12 & 35. At least Dylan chose conventional titles for his songs!

06 A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission) – Simon and Garfunkel

Dylan’s influence on popular music was becoming more evident and was even creeping into the music of four lads from Liverpool, England, who were part of a popular beat group known as The Beatles. This influence was particularly evident in the songs that John Lennon sang (and wrote) such as You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away from Help (1965). It is also present in a song from the other album they released that year, Rubber Soul. The style of the song and Lennon’s wordplay are obviously influenced by Dylan even though the song also features George Harrison on sitar, the first time that instrument appeared on a piece of popular music outside of its native India

07 Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) – The Beatles

Dylan had obviously heard Rubber Soul as his next record, Blonde on Blonde (1966), contains an obvious parody of Norwegian Wood. It doesn’t feature a sitar, but its musical tempo and style is almost identical to the Beatles’ song. The song’s narrative is also similar in that it chronicles an apparent one night stand that ends in failure from the point of view of the narrator. However, Dylan’s version is far more playful and witty and he seems to be saying to Lennon: “Anything you can do, I can do better”. This sentiment appears to be expressed in the song’s closing couple when Dylan appears to address Lennon: “I never asked for your crutch, Now don’t ask for mine”. In subsequent interviews, Lennon first saw it as a parody of his song, then later as a playful homage

08 4th Time Around – Bob Dylan

Along with The Beatles, Dylan’s songs have been the most covered in popular music. These cover versions have encompassed a wide range of musical styles and genres. He has written so many songs that even his less well-known ones have become hits for others. Many artists, such as Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower, have taken what was essentially a demo by Dylan and transformed it into something that even Dylan couldn’t have imagined. Generally, people have stayed away from some of his more famous songs. Dylan’s own version of the opening track from Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Like a Rolling Stone, is pretty definitive and is regularly cited as being one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded. Nevertheless, it hasn’t stopped people from trying to better it and even Hendrix had a go. One of the more interesting versions is an Italian language hip hop version by Articolo 31 that samples parts of Dylan’s original. In fact, Articolo 31’s version is a cover of an American hip hop version by a band called The Mystery Tramps

09 Come una Pietra Scalciata (Like a Rolling Stone) (Bob Dylan cover) – Articolo 31

What More Can I Say About My Workingman Blues? is a mashup featuring an instrumental backing and the vocal chorus of Bob Dylan’s Workingman Blues #2 from Modern Times (2006) and What More Can I Say? from The Black Album (2003) by Shawn Corey Carter. Mr Carter is better known as the hip hop performer, Jay-Z

10 What More Can I Say About My Workingman Blues?

Nine Days is a New York band that had a few minor hits in the USA in 2000. Their song entitled Bob Dylan appeared on their first mainstream release that year following three previous independent releases. Musically, the song bears no resemblence to Dylan’s work. It’s also not clear what the song has to do with Dylan apart from the title, a couple of references to and samples from his work

11 Bob Dylan – Nine Days

Dylan is the title of a song that appears on First Love (2009), the first, and so far only, album by Emmy the Great. Emmy was born Emma-Lee Moss in 1984 in Hong Kong, but moved to England with her family when she was 12. Like the song by Nine Days, its lyrics are not necessarily about Dylan, although it has more in common with his style of music. It does contain the line, “Like reading an Italian book from the 13th century”, which is reminiscent of the line, “Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century” from Tangled Up in Blue that appears on Blood on the Tracks (1975)

12 Dylan – Emmy The Great

Belle & Sebastian’s Like Dylan in the Movies is not about Dylan, either, but uses the title of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary, Dont Look Back (sic) (1967), to pass on some timely advice to another character in the song

13 Like Dylan In The Movies – Belle & Sebastian

Colin Hay was the lead singer of Men at Work who came from a land down under. What Would Bob Do? is a humorous narrative song that appears on his album, Are You Lookin’ at Me? (2007). Again, the song is not about Dylan, but it contains similarities to some of his amusing ‘Dream’ songs from the 60s

14 What Would Bob Do? – Colin Hay

Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues appears on Todd Snider’s debut album, Songs For the Daily Planet (1991). It pokes fun at the Seattle grunge rock scene and is a parody Dylan’s many talking blues tunes

15 Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues – Todd Snider

Weird Al Yankovic has been performing parodies of contemporary hits since the 80s and first gained fame with his versions of songs by Madonna (Like a Surgeon), James Brown (Living With a Hernia) and Tiffany (I Think I’m a Clone Now). His versions are quite funny and he’s still going strong today. His song Bob parodies the musical style of Dylan, while each line in the song is a palindrome. And, of course, Bob is also a palindrome

16 Bob – Weird Al Yankovic

Kevin Ryan has released a whole album of Dr Seuss songs performed in the style of Bob Dylan! I found it a bit hard going listening to all of them, but here’s one of the better ones. This goes out to my nephew, Seán, who is a fan of Dr Seuss, though I don’t think he’s into Dylan yet

17 Green Eggs & Ham – Dylan Hears a Who

Finally, the real Bob Dylan doing a version of The Beatles’ hit from 1965, Yesterday. This was recorded around 1970, possibly for Self Portrait (1970). I came across it for the first time yesterday

18 Yesterday (Beatles cover) – Bob Dylan

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