Saturday, September 5, 2009

Great songs are immortal: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

One of the songs on the Zach Brown Band's album Foundation is a cover of The Band's The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Here's a snippet:

Joan Baez also covered the song:

Of interest here is that Joan got the lyrics wrong. You can hear her plainly sing when so much cavalry came in the opening lines. Actually, the line is when Stoneman's cavalry came, a reference to Major General George Stoneman's 1865 cavalry raid through southern Virginia and North Carolina.

You can hear it clearly when the great Johnny Cash covering the song:

But as much as I love Cash, nobody--and I mean nobody--is ever going to touch The Band, especially in a live concert setting [this is the clip from The Last Waltz]:

As the man said in the beginning of the clip: Naw, it's not like it used to be.

A little music, rather than politics, to end off a lazy Saturday evening....


Anonymous said...

Best song about the American civil war written by a Canadian ever.

I love the close harmonies. From wikipedia...

Ralph J. Gleason (in the review in Rolling Stone (US edition only) of October 1969) explains why this song has such an impact on listeners: "Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is 'The Red Badge of Courage'. It's a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn't some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity."

Anonymous said...

The cover by Joan Baez went to number three on the charts in 1971. She heard the lyrics with her pro union ears. More form wikipedia:

In addition, the line "like my father before me, I will work the land" was changed to "like my father before me, I'm a working man", changing the narrator from a farmer to a laborer. In the last verse she changed "the mud below my feet" to "the blood below my feet". Baez later told Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder that she initially learned the song by listening to the recording on the Band's album, and had never seen the printed lyrics at the time she recorded it, and thus sang the lyrics as she'd (mis)heard them. In more recent years in her concerts, Baez has performed the song as originally written by Robertson.[4]

tom said...

This song is by no means apolitical.

But it succeeds because it is, first and foremost, art. We would not still be listening to it 40 years later if it were just another dreary protest song.

Its central theme of outrage at the destruction and looting that inevitably follow war succeeds politically because the song succeeds as a musical experience.

I also love the little gems like "...and I don't care if the money's no good", which most people unfortunately will never realize is a reference to the worthless scrip printed by both sides to finance the war. Everyone knows it's backed by the full faith & credit of a government that might not be around next month, but they accept it because if you don't, the army will shoot you and take what they want anyway.