Take one look at that cover and you know you’re in for thirty odd minutes of the putridest rottenest easy listening bilge you’ve heard this side of Zamfir’s King Of The Panflutes. It’s like a Dylan-program button on one of those seventies Hammond organs with added strings. It’s so light and airy you could blow up a hot air balloon with it and travel around the world in 80 days. The electric guitar sounds like someone blatting “nyah nyah” on a kazoo. If I referred to the organ part as ‘jazzy’ I’d be tainting that entire genre of music. And if I called it ‘muzak,’ actual real muzak would pop its head up out of a drain and chuck its vomit-filled guts into the gutter. That’s how abysmally dire this colostomy-bag of an atrocity is. Tis unlikely this pointless, meaningless, dull, boring, turgid, artless waste of space will see the light of day on my stereo ever again and I’ll do the world a favour by leaving my copy out in the sun and letting it warp into an ashtray once I’ve finished dry retching my fingers all over the keyboard…
Stan Britt embarrasses himself with these words on the back sleeve: “Much has been written about the importance of the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Not much attention, however, has been focused upon the melodies which have supported those lyrics. Which is why we should be grateful to the Strings for Pleasure Orchestra for rectifying this neglect. And for treating Dylan’s music with such sensitivity and respect.
Er… nice sound play there on ‘rectifying this neglect,’ Stan. Well done. But what’s this about treating Dylan’s music with ‘respect.’ And are you absolutely sure not much attention has been focused upon the melodies? Really? Try telling that to Duane Eddy, the Gotham String Quartet, Glenn Campbell, Gene Norman, the Golden Gate Strings, the Metropolitan Pops Orchestra, Rob van Dyke, the Fontana Concert Orchestra, Mike Batt, John Schroeder and the Sound Symposium, all of whom have recorded instrumental albums of Dylan songs. Hm. Read on, if you’ve got the stomach for it…
Times They Are A-Changing (sic)… even the sound quality is awful. This sounds like a bad mp3. Mid-tempo rock beat with what sounds like a keytar, ugh. Strings play the main melody which keeps getting interrupted by stuttering drum breaks. And then a big strum across the electro-harp at the end.
Lay Lady Lay… actually goes some way towards recreating that pitter patter lite rock rhythm from the original while a pedal steel zooms around in the background. It all sounds quite good until the violinists join en masse and you realize you’re still shivering inside the nightmare. The strings give way to a strangely recorded acoustic guitar, insipid and distastefully weak, like watered down diarrhea. The guitarist sounds like he’s trying to do Spanish but keeps faltering. It’s very strange. I’m not making that up…
Mighty Quinn… is all soaring strings bombast, and that frilly organ line blubbing in and out among a rubbed cello rhythm. Lite rock beat, and then that truly awful electric guitar, which is as badly recorded as the Spanish guitar on the previous track. It sounds like a kid playing with his plastic push button plug-in toy guitar with its three pre-programmed solos. There’s really no redeeming features here at all, other than it’s a great Dylan tune turned into a snoozefest. Oh, there is one redeeming feature – most of these versions barely make it past the two minute mark.
Just Like A Woman… sounds like my idea of what the James Last Orchestra might be—a soft rock string-laden pukefest. This is hideous. Vibraphones plinking among the slow strings. I can’t think of anything to say. My wife just walked in and said “why are you playing such shit music,” haha. Brilliant. Even my wife hates this and that’s saying something given that her CD collection consists of soulless pop divas, and Sting. Oh man, and just when I was saying these versions are all kept mercifully short, this one seems to be going on forever, as if they thought, “Hey here’s a good tune! Let’s milk it!”
It Not For You… I wonder how much of a mess they can make out of this great little number from New Morning. It’s all lite rhythms and soft rock electric guitar picking before the cellos start sawing away. Interesting conga beat—something a bit different I suppose, but even that sounds pre-programmed. I’m going to try and be positive – this is the best of a bad bunch so far. It’s actually listenable.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right… a lot of these tracks do use a quite lovely pedal steel guitar, although why they turn this into country and western is beyond me. Supporting that woozy effect is a jauntily strummed acoustic guitar and soft strings, and then boom, the string section takes flight, does some bombastic dynamic stop/start rhythmic shifts in time with the drummer before the country twang takes up the melody again, and fade out. Ergh.
Mr. Tambourine Man… launches jauntily and prettily into the main chorus, beat is calculated, as is the organ line which plays the first verse. There’s some smart arranging going on here though, with two or three different sections doing different things at the same time, but there’s a strange tendency for time shifts to occur in between the parts which is slightly jarring. Nevertheless this is quite dull. At least it’s short.
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door… this is the first cover I’ve come across of this song in these pages so far, which I must add is probably the only Dylan song I truly hate. I can’t explain why, but I find the chorus extremely dull and tired and it’s only been ruined by every pub rock covers band ever. Yes, and Axl Rose. And this version is a prettified thing, all dainty bells and Cinderella twirls, soft as snow swirling around in a winter breeze, all mixed up with that drifting pedal steel and some energetic rhythmic sawing from the violinists. Do I sound like I’m starting to like this? Chewing my ears off now…
Blowin’ In The Wind… here we go. You know I should mention what a tragic selection this is too. It’s so yawnsomely same-as-everyone-else-ish, only worse. This is like a barnyard version with a plinkety banjo type sound. Then the Strings For Pleasure Orchestra goes all Mike Batt on us by stopping briefly before changing the entire sound to classical shimmering violins. Repeat the barnyard part, repeat the string section twice more and kill yourself now.
It Ain’t Me Babe… has a faster rock rhythm with some dynamic syncopated rhythmic shifts at the end of each line, pedal steel again (SFP’s only saving grace) but they even manage to make the pedal steel sound like it belongs in a gleaming toothpaste commercial. Chorus goes “it aint’ me babe” with the violin section while the cellists answer “no no no it ain’t me babe” back and then it’s over.
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight… is another very countryish sounding version, as in the worst sap that Nashville might have thrown up in that horridest of decades, the eighties. Okay, if you listen real closely, like real closely, the intricate interplay between fiddle, guitar and solo violinist is quite pretty, very delicate. The bits I hate are the bombast and the programmed rhythms, and the screwing around with the tempo, and the big intersectional seesawing jive ups and … and…
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall… opens on a lone strummed acoustic guitar, and a funny little melodic piece on electric guitar, with that country and western pedal steel. This is (so far) quite different to anything else on the album. But it lasts for about thirty seconds before… oh crap, here we go again. The string sections couldn’t leave it alone, could they? The whole thing picks up and goes all pop orchestral, turns the song inside out. A hard rain’s a gonna fall? Not any time soon. This is more of the same turgid bilge. Good bye Strings For Pleasure; never darken my stereo again.
Yes. I’m joking of course. None of this was unexpected. It makes no pretenses to be anything other than elevator music. I bet somewhere in the world right now some horrid old mall or department store is still playing this stuff. There’s no point in even trying to relate the ‘music’ here to Dylan. It’s about as life-threatening as pouring water over a beached whale.
Music for Pleasure (or MFP) was a record label that issued budget-priced albums of popular and classical music. The label was set up in 1965 as a joint venture between EMI, which provided the source material, and the publisher Paul Hamlyn which handled distribution in so-called non-traditional outlets, such as W.H. Smith, the booksellers. [Source: Wikipedia]