Friday, May 14, 2010

Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me" Twenty Seven Ways (Listen-only)

Some claim that directors Joel and Ethan Coen, in the their once-dismissed-but-now-revered 1998 film, The Big Lebowski, rescued Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me” from abject obscurity. It’s untrue, though that’s no knock on the Coen’s unforgettable use of it in the movie’s title sequence. “The Man in Me” has in fact been dug up many times by those types of artist who comb through every Dylan album for their shot at Rock Greatness (Hendrix Division). Throughout the seventies, artists of all styles took a crack at the song and even eighties pop confection Nick Kamen gave it a whirl. What the Coen’s (and their musical archivist, T-Bone Burnett*) did, was to pluck Dylan’s own version from the under-appreciated 1970 album, New Morning and add some tricky but sensual camera work plus a whole lot of bowling!

The song itself is a product of Dylan’s hazy-lazy domestic period (1967 to 1973, approximately) and while it’s somewhat simplistic lyrics (“Takes a woman of your kind/to get through to the man in me”) are drenched with buckets full of sentiment and la-la’s, somehow the song doesn’t feel as schmaltzy as some of the other Guy Smiley material from this period. In fact, the song has turned out to wildly malleable, as musicians from all over the map have been proving since it was released almost forty years ago.

So once again, in the interest of rampant obsessiveness, MRML would like to present twenty-seven versions of "The Man in Me". As any such collection must be it's a frighteningly mixed bag, ranging from inspired to insipid. While I haven't included every version ever recorded, I've tried to include those of most interest. That said, insightful suggestions and thoughful corrections are still welcome.


2013 Update the player links below are broken, so here's a playlist with (almost) all the songs on it!

1. Indiana's Lonnie Mack was an early guitar hero with a deep knowledge of rockabilly, soul, country and blues who recorded a version the song that touched on much of his musical heritage for his 1971 The Hills of Indiana album.

2. France's Serge Kerval translated the song into the French language and into the French tradition of singing like world-weary lounge singer in 1971 for his album Serge Kerval Chante Dylan.

3. Soaring, stirring A cappella-soul from New York group The Persuasions' 1972 album Street Corner Symphony.

4. The song became a lush falsetto extravaganza in the hands of Al Kooper (who played on the original version) on his A Possible Projection Of The Future/Childhood's End album of 1972.

5. Australia's Duck give us a horn-driven rock-funk take on the song (which sort of foreshadows Dylan's 1978 revamp of the song) from their 1972 album Laid.

6. Americans McKendree Spring folk-country-rock version of the song, which, while not unpleasant, does crank up the mellow to yawn-inducing levels.

7. On his 1976 album British shouter Joe Cocker did tried to up the drama on the song but to no great effect.

8. Brit-reggae men Matumbi brought the song into yet another lexicon and had a substantial hit when they released it as a single on Trojan Records in 1976.

9. Austrian Wolfgang Ambros' 1978 version of the song, "Da Mensch In Mir", could really use some sturm and drang.

10. Dylan's drastic re-casting of the song on the 1978 tour that would result in the much-lambasted Live at Budakon album was accompanied by a more poisonous, adulterous re-write of the lyrics.

11. The Clash's ultra-boxy-sounding rehearsal version of the song (from a set of demos called The Vanilla Tapes later appended to London Calling) is more likely a result Paul Simonon putting the brilliant Matumbi version of the song on the jukebox at the Vanilla rehearsal studio then Mick Jones getting every Dylan album from CBS after the Clash had signed to that label.

12. As possibly the sole eighties entry on our list, we have British male-model/singer/song-writer/Madonna-protege Nick Kamen's 1987 version which is a melodramatic synth-pop ballad with a nice ska subtext.

13. Toni Vescoli's 1993 version of the song, "De Maa I Mir", from an 1993 album of Dylan covers, is in Swiss....

14. Chris Robinson and Marc Ford, who did this loping live version in 2001 are from American retro-rockers The Black Crowes whom I am told are more enjoyable if, big if, you love the Rod Stewart's Faces.

15. Jamaican Freddie McGregor had covered the many styles of that island's music but seems to have been most successful with the smooth style known as lover's rock of which this 2002 version of the song could be called a late example of.

16. The regional compilation is Duluth Does Dylan, the year is 2006, the band is No Wait Wait, the sound is an organ-powered roots-pop.

17. Kentucky band My Morning Jacket, whose singer, Jim James appeared in "I'm Not There" singing "Going to Acapulco" in white-face make-up were an aughts indie fave and their take on the song is that sorta folky-and-mellow-but-deeply-emotional thing that was big in their heyday.

18. Boston's Buffalo Tom have always shown great taste in covers and aren't afraid to give this song a right good kick in the ass.

19. Californian David Lowery was in eighties indie kingpins Camper Van Beethoven but his other band Cracker have a bit on of undeserved one-hit-wonder reputation, which this jammy version of the song won't, in and of itself, dispel.

20. Californian emo-punk band Jenoah recorded an indie-folkish version of the song for Drive-Through Records Listen to Bob Dylan compilation from 2006.

21. Ireland's The Frames (supposedly much loved by Dylan himself) make a nice go of the song but don't bring much new to the table.

22. L.A. band Say Anything do the classic high-fructose pop-punk-emo take on the song (circa 2006) which while not particularly innovative does break up this somewhat mellow set effectively.

23. The much-hyped indie-pop band Dr. Dog from Philadelphia performed this song at Lebowskifest in 2007 but based on their newer work one suspects in a studio it would sound a little more distinctive.

24. Former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbel is from Memphis and he brings out some of the Muscle Shoals soul in the song for this 2008 live performance.

25. Chicagoan Dan Andriano (from punk band Alkaline Trio) does the classic one-guy-one-acoustic take on the song, which will make some of you hope that a more ferocious version of the song might makes it into his band's repertoire.

26. Man, indie-folk bands like this D.C. outfit love this song to death, though in this 2009 version Vandeveer do add some surprises like different lyrics and some arrangement quirks.

27. So in 2009, after "disbanding" Pedro the Lion and "breaking up with God" David Bazan recorded a single with covers of this song and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", which seems to cover two pieces of very well-worn ground though his take on each of the songs evinces a charming earnestness.

Speaking of comments, give us your take on the many uses and mis-uses of "The Man in Me".

* Historical note: "Burnett...had a tough time securing the rights to Townes Van Zandt's cover of the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers", which plays over the film's closing credits. Former Stones manager Allen Klein owned the rights to the song and wanted $150,000 for it. Burnett convinced Klein to watch an early cut of the film and remembers, "It got to the part where the Dude says, 'I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man!' Klein stands up and says, 'That's it, you can have the song!' That was beautiful". (source Wikipedia)


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  2. eehmm..IF McLaren had Lived?

    He lived quite a bit after Clash was whats your point?

    You mean HE...Mclaren would have made them (More)Famous?
    -How and Why?


    @..Yeah...I Love The RUTS ;)

  3. Robert Johnson

    First this is the Dylan post, not The Ruts one.

    Second if you're responding to Crimewave's comment in the Ruts post he was referring to Malcolm OWEN - the lead singer of The Ruts! - not Malcolm Mclaren who managed the Sex Pistols (not The Clash).

    I hope I'm responding to an honest series of mistakes here and not earnestly correcting some not-entirely-clear sarcasm.

  4. Wow. Just wow.

    Well chosen, well researched and well written. This is what music blogs should be aspiring to.

    Thank you!

  5. Anon
    Glad you enjoyed this one - it was kinda labour-intensive.

  6. It's Coen without an 'H'. One of the most frequent typos on the net, I'm not sure why, it's not like their names don't appear in massive great lettering at the beginning of all their films (or you could have just looked at the DVD case, or IMDB).

    1. The post's closing in on a thousand words, so you could correct the one-letter error without being so stuck-up about it.

  7. What a fantastic effort...that was a labour of Love

    1. I really appreciate the good words.

  8. Wolfgang Ambros is Austrian, not German. He'd probably be touchy about this.
    He recorded a full album of Dylan songs translated into German - good stuff.
    Later on he did the same to some Tom Waits songs which came out even better.

  9. I would really enjoy hearing all of the different versions. Unfortunately, every link I hit plays the same version of the song. Is it just me?

  10. Fantastic piece, thanks for posting. One of Dylan's most underrated gems. The 1978 rewrite, performed live, but never officially released, is especially beautiful and contains one of Dylan's finest couplets:

    "I can't believe it, can't believe it's true
    I'm lying next to her, but I'm dreaming of you"

  11. I would really enjoy hearing all of the different versions. Unfortunately, every link I hit plays the same version of the song. Is it just me?

    No, me too

  12. The original post is dated nearly a year there any way to get it re-upped?

  13. Wow....either I can't read or that was way fast! Thanks for the updated link at the top of the comments!

    You Rock!!!!!!!!111


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