12 August 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#15]

"Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"
Original Dylan version found on Blonde On Blonde (1966)

Beck Hansen is one of the more adventuresome artists working in the rock business over the past 15 years. His groundbreaking Odelay (1996) was -- along with The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique -- a unique panache of cut-and-paste, sample-heavy fun coupled with smart songwriting.

It retrospect, it isn't so surprising that his choice of covers for the War Child Presents: Heroes charity compilation (2009) was a playful number from Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde: "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat."

Dylan's uptempo blues original version nods musically at Lightnin' Hopkins' "Automobile Blues" and (to most Dylanophiles) lyrically at Warhol "It Girl" (and presumed Dylan paramour) Edie Sedgwick. The track, from Side Two of the epic Blonde On Blonde, was actually released by Columbia as a single nearly a year after the double album was released. For all intents and purposes, it went nowhere on the charts.

Martin Scorsese's documentary film No Direction Home unearthed an alternative version of the song, this one adopting an even slower groove, a la Muddy Waters.

Beck goes the opposite direction, mixing a Bowieish glam beat with a steamrolling rhythm and blues harp which sounds like a runaway freight train. The result is a joyous concoction that matches Dylan's absurd lyrical journey. It once again highlights the inventiveness of an artist who has proved on his album catalog to be as adventuresome as Dylan in exploring myriad music idioms.

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" (recorded 10 March 1966 with: Robbie Robertson, guitar; Kenny Buttrey, drums; and Hank Strzelecki, bass)

Alternative Track: Bob Dylan, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" (No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7) (recorded 25 January 1966)

Live Listening: Bob Dylan, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" (Bob Dylan Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert)

Another Cover: John Mellencamp, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" (Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration)

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