It’s going to be hard to find a few discrete words to say about each of these tracks because they’re all pretty much of a muchness. The cover to the side is the one I have – the UK version released in 1966. Eddy here plays a slow surf guitar with a grungy mix of feedback and distortion that sounds kinda cool at first, but you soon realize he’s a one trick pony. When I say slow, I mean thick slow grungy notes that a beginner could play. Give me one of those chunky guitar picks and a surf rock effects pedal, and I’d have Alan Does Dylan out in the shops before you can say “sure-fire fingering.” It’s incredibly simple stuff – sounds like he learned the tunes from Dylan-For-Dummies a week before recording them. There’s a “gutbucket harmonica” on many tracks too which is ‘fiery’ but mostly Eddy just twangs out the vocal melody and refrains from guitar pyrotechnics.
So how do you like that Mr. Tiegel? Does that shape up with yer blurb on the back of Eddy’s record? “There’s an explosive excitement in the air which rings loud and clear in today’s popular music…Guitarist extraordinaire (lol) Duane Eddy…offers fiery instrumental interpretations…principally from the pen of Bob Dylan.” Here’s the gyp with this record—despite the album’s title, five of the twelve tracks are not from the pen of Bob Dylan. “What Bob Dylan is capable of saying with his magical way with words, Duane Eddy is capable of saying instrumentally. As you will undoubtedly hear, it’s a happy marriage.” You have to be wary of adverbs like ‘undoubtedly’. The mere insertion of an adverb like that immediately signals doubt on the part of the writer, or why else write it? It’s a negative adverb that works against itself. They’d have been better to write, “As you will be thrilled to hear, it’s a happy marriage.” But Elliot Tiegel of Billboard Magazine didn’t write that because deep down he knew we’d be filled with doubt. So doubters, let’s search the grooves for the thrills and spills of Duane Eddy and his “sure-fire fingering.” Kick it, Bumstead.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right…opens with a squealing harmonica. There’s a basic skiffle beat beneath Eddy’s picking. He picks out the words precisely, and on close inspection I can tell that he’s manipulating the notes in much more subtle ways than I’d first realized. He’s quite good at twisting and bending notes to fit with the way Dylan sings the lyrics. He keeps his version to a short sub-three minutes. It’s catchy but sort of pointless and uninspired.
House Of The Rising Sun…made famous by the Animals in 1964, the song is an old folk traditional. Dylan did cover this for his debut album. Eddy’s version has a lot going on, at least two other guitar parts keep that haunting melody alive. Quite a faithful rendition, and I’d say, probably the best track here.
It Ain’t Me Babe…by the second Dylan song, the album already starts to sound tediously simple and throwaway. Again, Eddy manipulates the echo effect on the notes to closely match the way Dylan sings, which is clever, I’ll give him that. But the tunes are simplified too much here, basically doing what the Golden Gate Strings did, which is to turn Dylan’s songs into trite pop ditties. This is worse, so bad I wouldn’t like to taint the word ‘kitsch’ with it.
Not The Lovin’ Kind…is a Lee Hazlewood number made famous by Nancy Sinatra on a 1966 release. I’m not familiar with the tune. There’s some delicate interweaving of guitar parts between Eddy and other studio musicians. Doesn’t stand out in any particular way though.
She Belongs To Me…starts with a rockin’ kind of rhythm. This is a strange choice, as it really is a song centered around its lyrics. As a surf-rock instrumental it sounds like a high-school band on prom night. The tune is too slight to work here and needs a voice to make it interesting.
All I Really Want To Do…aargh, I’m starting to get sick of instrumental versions of this song, and this is only the second one I’ve heard. The harmonica playing on these songs is really good though. It’s played really fast and squiggly but is never too loud in the mix. The mix is quite good in fact. The one thing Eddy doesn’t get right, or doesn’t even try to get right, is Dylan’s rhythmic phrasing. Here he keeps the tempo very regular, never once going Dylanesque on us and stretching or shrinking notes as he sees fit. What I meant before about his bending notes was more of a way of replicating the human voice.
Houston…is another song I’m not familiar with. Don’t even know who wrote it. There’s very little to say about the sonics here. Every track is the nearly the same; a basic skiffle beat, and Eddy’s slow low thick grunge notes picking out the vocal melody.
Love Minus Zero/No Limit…it’s good to hear something not recorded by anybody else so far. He’s really twangin’ those strings here. Like they almost sound loose. It’s pretty basic stuff. It’s interesting to observe how the melodies to many of these songs are in fact very basic; Dylan was able to distract our attention from that I think by focusing these early songs on his singing and the lyrics.
Mr. Tambourine Man…the main tune is played on both guitar and harmonica, taking turns. Whoever the harmonica player is here, this should have been his album. There are at least two other guitarists on most of these tracks, playing a fairly fast jangly background kind of thing.
Blowin’ In The Wind…ugh, this is just awful. Or have I said that about everyone’s cover of this song? The harmonica, again, is great. One of the other guitarists gets a good look in here. And then Eddy comes back and swamps them all with his one finger twangin’. I guess this was popular when it was released, but it’s shopping mall music ain’t it.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot…the famous African-American spiritual turned into a rock song. I can barely recognize the original tune in here. The harmonica takes over from the guitar. Whoever’s blowing that thing is playing like Pharaoh Sanders plays sax. Loud, hard and free. Piano come on for a couple of bars.
Eve Of Destruction…was written by one Mr. P.F. Sloan in 1965 and made famous by Barry McGuire in 1965. I remember I played this a few times back in the 90s but I’ve forgotten it. This is mostly unmemorable. It’s telling actually, that when I’m listening to a song I’m unfamiliar with, I fail to develop any interest whatsoever. Eddy’s schtick is too schticky.
And there you go. This was undoubtedly one of the most boring Dylan cover albums I’ve had to review for this blog yet. Duane Does Dylan contributes absolutely zilch to the Dylan legacy. The sound belongs to the birth of rock and roll and perhaps a new historicist reading might place it in context, but by 1965, this was already out of date. It ain’t even fit for karaoke, which I hope is the least kind thing that can be said about it.
Okay, so I don’t admit to knowing much about Duane Eddy. I wasn’t even born until 68, but by 1965 Duane Eddy the rocker was well established. All Music Guide calls him the most successful instrumental rocker of his era, that era being late fifties and sixties. He had many albums out before he tackled Dylan. He was known for his very simple riffing and his surf sound, although he apparently refused to evolve and was pretty much forgotten about after the British Invasion of the mid-sixties.