Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dylan Side of Billy Bragg


I was hugely influenced by Bob Dylan but I knew fuck all about him. In the end, he turned out to be a bloke who wrote songs.
Billy Bragg
And "A bloke who wrote songs" could serve as Billy Bragg's epitaph. The best of those songs he wrote took shots of rock n' roll, folk music, R & B and punk rock and made a concoction original and yet somehow traditional. However, Bragg has never been shy about his taste for Dylan and you could well describe his early sound as a mix of The Clash's fast n' dirty self-titled debut and Dylan's both polemical and romantic album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Over the course of his career Bragg's gone to The Dylan Well may times and always pulled up something potable. So this collection seeks to place all of Bragg's Dylan drinks up onto the bar - let us know how it all goes down.

1. Ideology (youtube)
In the intro to this live version, Billy tips his hat to Dylan, which is fitting since the song is "Chimes of Freedom" but with Bragg's own, more op-ed style lyrics.

2. Positively 4th Street
An acoustic duet with Eliza Carthy which sounds like it's coming straight outta 1963*.
(*Yes, I know...)


3. When the Ship Comes In.
A sincere, acoustic take but pitched just right.

4. This Wheel's On Fire (youtube)
A stinging duet with KT Tunstall, who seems to have modeled herself on both the Joan Jett of yesteryear and the Bonnie Raitt of today.

5. The Times They Are-A-Changin' (youtube)
Billy keeps this song po-faced and acoustic but doesn't play up the stridency as he sometimes does.

6. Deportees
With his occasional partner-in-bluegrass, Hank Wangford, Billy did a strong version of this lyric written by Woody Guthrie, which later had music added to it by Martin Hoffman and was famously covered by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Tour of 1976.

7. Don't Think Twice (youtube)
Good one but needs a bit more...slashing.

8. Evidently Chickentown (youtube)
In the loooong, rambling intro (excised for this compilation but available on the youtube link above) Bragg explains that this is his attempt to do a John Cooper Clarke poem in the style of Bob Dylan circa Highway '61.

9. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
This is Nigel & The Crosses (a.k.a. Bragg, Mike Mills & Peter Buck of R.E.M., Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze and Peter Holsapple of The D.B.'s backing Robyn Hitchcock) on a Basement Tapes era track.

10. The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie (youtube)
"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol", upon which this song is directly modeled, is a perfect piece of theater but Bragg's re-written lyrics seem more reminiscent of Dylan's earlier, more didactic narrative broadsides like, "The Ballad of Donald White".

11. Far From Last Thoughts on Bob Dylan
These days Billy spends over half of any given concert just talkin'. While some people object strenuously, the devout eat it up and this 'rap' about Dylan's Chronicles is pretty amusing.


And here's one more for the road; it's Dylan (who did indeed mention Billy in his "autobiography", Chronicles) playing Bragg & Wilco's "Joe Dimaggo's Done It Again"on his Theme Time Radio Hour show:


*
The Dylan Side of Billy Bragg link is available in the comments - and while you're there please tell us what you think about Bragg's debt to Dylan.


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24 comments:

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    SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BLOGGER!



    PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ABOUT BRAGG OR DYLAN OR THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE TWO.







    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?bm45ylmm2eo

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  2. Great stuff except for that Wangford bit.

    Thanks!

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  3. Thanks a lot mate. Looking forward to this. On this whole area of Dylan covers you might like to check out my blog post at http://singingbear.tumblr.com/

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  4. Always thought it was more that folk scene that was an influence rather than Dylan himself. Bob was just at the top of it.

    I'd think Phil Ochs was a bigger direct influence. And, he did do a clear tribute to him.

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  5. While Dylan may be a lyrical/musical influence on Bragg, Bragg's performance style seems completely independent. I can't imagine Dylan engaging with the audience the way that Bragg does. (I also can't imagine Dylan playing soccer on a college campus, the way Bragg did when he visited our school, or Dylan going out drinking with students afterwards.)

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  6. Writing a song about that dumb bitch Rachel Corrie shows why he will never amount the the heights of his hero Bob Dylan.

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  7. Jeffen

    For your interest.

    http://thetyee.ca/ArtsAndCulture/2010/06/17/BestVancouverRecord/

    Doug

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  8. *slow claps* awesome, bro. This news has not Ruined My Day at all.

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  9. Anonymous #3... oh, nevermind.

    Jeffen, you rock! Thanks for compiling these tracks. I once wrote a review of Bragg's collection "Reaching to the Converted" where I said of his early stuff that "rather than Dylan 'going electric', it was as if 'electric' suddenly turned around and 'went Dylan' -- all the power and passion of the Clash channelled through one lone gunman.'

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  10. Bio
    Thought of you after i added that one - glad you liked it anyway.

    Anon
    Welcome

    Singing bear
    Thanks, liked your Shakespeare and Dylan post, (though I think I read it earlier via Expecting Rain.).

    Tony
    It's true Ochs got a song written about him (I saw Bragg perform it just after he'd written it at the Vancouver Folk Festival)and Bragg clearly loved his 'journalistic' style but you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate this compilation using Ochs-related songs.

    Anon
    Yup and those traits (while surely genuine) and traits straight from The Clash playbook - Dylan + Clash = Bragg (simplistic perhaps but not untrue).

    Anon II


    Doug
    Thanks

    Michale
    Glad you enjoyed - thanks for the link.

    TPC
    "...Channeled through one lone gunman" - amen, sir, amen.

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  11. Really guys, try to pull the crap out of your ears and listed to that song about Rachel Corrie. A 6th grader could have written it. And what do you call a girl that gets run over buy a bulldozer? The people who brainwashed that girl should be ashamed of themselves- oh they are that's why they try to blame the Israelis.

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  12. Anonymous

    None of us here rose to the bait when you called an unarmed American citizen killed by the Israeli Defence Force a "bitch". Now as for your new admonition that we should "pull the crap out of your ears and listed to that song" I'll just have to conclude that they don't teach spelling in troll school.

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  13. Come Jeffen you can do better than that- or can you? Corrie's killing was accidental unlike all the young people your Palestinian friends intentionally murder. When is Billy going to write a song about the Rachel murdered at a pizza restaurant or American tourist 14 year old Abigail Litle who was murdered in a bus 11 days before Corrie was accidentally killed? He isn't cause that would mean he would have to think for himself-something most of you leftist are incapable of doing. Oh yeah Abigail was Christian in case you think it's okay to murder Jews.

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  14. How low has political commentary sunk in the internet age that anonymous commenters will put slander into another's mouth and then call them names?

    "Corrie's killing was accidental unlike all the young people your Palestinian friends intentionally murder."

    "Oh yeah Abigail was Christian in case you think it's okay to murder Jews."

    I posted a thematically-fitting political song, making sure to note for listeners that it's not a terribly good one. I took no side on the heart-breakingly fucked-up Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    "When is Billy going to write a song about the Rachel murdered at a pizza restaurant or American tourist 14 year old Abigail Litle who was murdered in a bus 11 days before Corrie was accidentally killed? He isn't cause that would mean he would have to think for himself-something most of you leftist are incapable of doing."

    Maybe if Billy starts reading that same Tom Gross article you're recycling in the name of thinking for yourself he'll be inspired but don't get your hopes up.

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  15. I'll give the pro-Israeli trolls a miss, they have nothing new to say - they completely miss the point as usual - "My country, Right or Wrong".

    This is a great post as I've never heard BG doing BD. I think the "Corrie" one is a great re-writing of Dylan's song. Keep it up.

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  16. I think the fact that I was reduced to feeding the trolls (at least they comment!) partly inspired my anti-leeching post.

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  17. Specific ideologies or agenda aside, I found Bragg setting his own lyrics to the tune of "Hattie Carrol" pretty cringe-worthy. Obviously it wasn't without precedent, especially in the "folk" world.. maybe my personal connection with the original is just too strong.

    Still, great collection, and great web site. I will be checking it regularly and will try to contribute as best I can to the dialogue. Thanks.

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  18. mw 217
    "Cringe-worthy" is not unfair because Bragg's take is a bit artless as compared to Dylan's historically-inaccurate yet devastating original.

    Glad to have you aboard!

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  19. Most performers of stature have covered Dylan and all singer-songwriters who have followed him are in his debt to varying degrees. Dylan himself said early, folky Neil Young sometimes confused him because to him, it sounded like one of his own songs, and then in comes Neil!

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  20. Cheers, Billy is the Man, or the Bloke. Thanks for this

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  21. Hey Jeffen,

    Have you managed to turn up a copy of Billy's "Song of the Iceberg" yet? It was the b-side of his Record Store Day single this year; it's about the Titanic from the point of view of the iceberg! Dying to hear it. Please share if you have it to do so! Thanks, man.

    Jeffro

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    Replies
    1. Nothing yet but it's now on my radar...

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    2. Here's an audio link

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQXkLPNdZO8

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