Sunday, May 29, 2016


My good friend Bob Dylan, or maybe he's my occasional acquaintance who I'm pretty sure never listens to anything I say, just turned 75 years old. He is just the amount older than me that qualifies him as not quite old no matter how old he gets. Besides the birthday, just recently he came out with a new album, his second in a row of interpretations from The Great American Songbook. It is really really really good. To a Dylan fan this would be both surprising and not surprising. To a non Dylan fan this would probably seem frankly unbelievable and yet not at all worth investigating to make sure. But no matter how you look at the issue of Dylan there is no great conceptual originality to an older rock, folk, pop, or country star doing standards from The Great American Songbook. It's a trend that's been going on with regularity for decades now. They are all free to do what they want. Some of them even do a beautiful job of it, Dylan now, Willie Nelson has done some nice ones. I believe Linda Ronstadt worked successfully with the great old time arranger/bandleader Nelson Riddle more than once.

But, and I say this with all due respect, fuck The Great American Songbook. 

It doesn't matter how juicy the lemon, eventually you're just mashing a peel in your fist.

Garry Trudeau, artist of one of the four great cartoon strips (yes, there have only been the four), once, many years ago did a clever series in Doonesbury about Elvis coming back from his "disappearance". He's having a big welcome back concert and everyone is terribly excited. Then he announces that he is going to devote himself entirely to doing the work of his good friend John Denver.

I know, funny. But I also think Mr Trudeau, perhaps just a tiny bit inadvertently, has something there. What about the cheesy and semi-cheesy popular songs of the late sixties and seventies? There is an endless amount of mostly untapped material there. Extracting something new and fresh from It Had To Be You requires a knife sharp enough to split atoms. But take a stab at How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and the field is wide open.

With that in mind I have proposed to Bob that if he wants to do another album of covers for his next CD he consider taking a shot at the following songlist:

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Dancing in the Moonlight
Abraham, Martin, and John
Brand New Key
Alone Again (Naturally)
Close to You
Knock Three Times
Cracklin' Rosie
Without you
If I Can't Have You
One Bad Apple
If You Leave Me Now
Sunshine On My Shoulders

It's just an idea. If it works out I've got plenty more. There's a guy down at the Riverview Cafe who covers this stuff sometimes and he is just killing it. They're all yours for the taking. When there's so much new old territory why glean in the thrice gleaned fields

We're ready for that next new old chapter. And there's so much out there. How about seventies supergroups, Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Kansas, or an album all of Beatles songs. Or I know, best of all he could cover the songs of Bob Dylan. Oh sure, I know he's been doing it for decades, but never with anything near this level of respect he's affording The Great American Songbook. Man, I'd buy that record! I can see it now:

Bob Dylan covers the Great Bob Dylan Songbook.

Oh yeah.


  1. As you know, I'm a big fan of the Grateful Dead, who did quite a lot of covers, but not in the same spirit as described above, as they were part of their repertoire from the start. I mention this because Jerry Garcia covered songs in his own band, and, to finally get to my point, and one I think you'll appreciate, he covered "Shining Star", an AM radio hit by The Manhattans, from 1980. It's a nice song, uplifting and a good piece of songwriting, but not what you think of when you think of Jerry Garcia. Anyway, I thought he did it beautifully, changing the tone of the song, making it earthier, slower, more desperate and crunchy. I was always very taken by his willingness to do it.

    1. Am listening to now, but I don't know if I know the original song... Oh, wait, I do! Of course!

      I have to admit tons of people cover pretty much everything, but when it's the GAS (grt am. songbook) it tends to be reverential and whole albums worth, but when it's later pop/rock than the GAS it tends to be one offs.

      Of course, tomorrow's post will add a tiny bit more perspective on this- or at least amusingly reflect my comment here.

      This is very pretty (what I'm listening to). And for all I'm saying The Dead and J. Garcia are sort of their own category,

      but, let's face it, everyone is, huh?


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