18 October 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#21]

Rod Stewart
"Tomorrow Is A Long Time"
Original Dylan version found on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II (1971)

There may be some disagreement on this choice.

And that's OK, of course. But let me remind our gentle readers that when this popular feature started back in April, a caution accompanied the blog entry: "Regular readers of this blog know that Bob Dylan is affectionately referred to as the 'Patron Saint' of TNOP. This new weekly feature sifts through the thousands of cover versions of Dylan songs and provides you with our favorites, as well as a quick memory of our first exposure to the Dylan original."

The background of Dylan's "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" is worth a few words. It came to mind given the fact that tomorrow Columbia Records will finally officially release the original studio version, an out-take from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan sessions (1963), on the latest "Bootleg" compilation, The Whitmark Demos. Most fans - like this author - are most familiar with the live version that first appeared on Greatest Hits, Vol. II, taken from the famous "Town Hall concert" in New York City, 1963. It is a truly affecting performance by Dylan; a heartbreaking, literate love song of longing set to an acoustic guitar chord structure similar to "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."

The first cover of the song was a watershed for obvious reasons: Elvis Presley recorded it in 1966, a curious "bonus track" to the soundtrack of another one of his Hollywood films, this one called Spinout. (Perhaps Colonel Tom Parker actually felt sorry one day for Elvis and allowed him to record the tune; for instance, the title song to the movie had The King singing such dreck as: To spinout, yeah spinout/Better watch those curves, never let her steer/So spinout, yeah spinout/A road to love is full of danger signs.) Dylan, like many musical titans of his era, thought Elvis a seminal figure in American music. He has been quoted as saying, "When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail."

So there may be some truth to the yarn that Elvis' take on "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" may be Dylan's personal favorite cover of one of his songs. (Presley's slow, loping version is indeed pretty, and if you can find the Dylan follow up recording from his New Morning sessions, it is almost as though Dylan is aping it.)

But I find it no more compelling than the Sandy Denny cover in 1972. That one is similar in tempo and treats the listener to the pedal steel of "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow.

Which brings us, finally, to Rod Stewart. For those only familiar with cocktail music Rod or disco Rod, do yourself a big favor and go out and buy 1971's Every Picture Tells A Story. Now. It is arguably one of the ten best albums ever released in rock and roll history.

Side One of Every Picture ends with "Tomorrow Is A Long Time." Stewart and Faces' pal Ron Wood produce one of the more memorable arrangements of a Dylan song. The roots of "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" are obviously country - Hank Williams would no doubt have felt comfortable singing it - and one would think the gravelly voiced Londoner would have no business tackling the song. Wood makes the pedal steel purr and Dick Powell's fiddle glides throughout as Stewart makes Dylan's words flesh.

It's a definitive reading of one of Bob Dylan's most enduring songs.

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" (Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II, 1971)

Bootleg Listening: Bob Dylan, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" (New Morning sessions, 1970)

Demo Listening: Bob Dylan, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" (The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos, 1962-1964, 2010)

Another Cover: Elvis Presley, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" (Spinout Original Soundtrack bonus track, 1966)


  1. I'm in total agreement. As an 11 year old lad, I got hold of 'Every Picture Tells a Story' and played it constantly. I loved Rod via 'Maggie May' and his TV Appearances with The Faces. Rod's 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' was my introduction to Dylan and, for me, remains the ultimate version, aside from Bob's. The wonderful fiddle playing made me imagine that all Dylan songs had fiddles on them - an idea which I thought was then confirmed for me when I bought 'Desire' a few years later. I quickly learned otherwise but that plaintive fiddle sound will always be connected to the song for me.

    It's such a shame that Rod lost his touch when he crossed the Atlantic. His early solo albums are landmarks in rock history. Great post.

  2. The Rod of 1969 through 1974 was truly one of the greats. To paraphrase Greil Marcus regarding Stewart's post-1974 music, never has an artist with such talent squandered it in such terrible fashion.

    Stewart's first four solo albums (including SMILER, in my opinion), and recordings with the Faces are, to a one, excellent. Together Rod and Ronnie had the potential to rival Mick and Keith. Alas, it was not to be. Rod took the easy way out and replaced the Faces with, as the great Lester Bangs called Rod's first post-Faces, post-Woody group, the Faceless.

    Bob Brodsky