Sunday night chimes of freedom

August 16, 2009

During the past few weeks I’ve been listening to cover versions of Bob Dylan songs.  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that thousands of singers have recorded one or another of his many tunes; I’ve been skimming the surface with a few dozen.  There is little doubt in my mind that Dylan is his own best interpreter; while many of the cover versions I’ve heard have been excellent, I would judge precious few to be the equal of their original.  The best of them manage to bring out something in the song that was already there, waiting to be found.

A superb example of this is Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Chimes of Freedom”.  The song is one of Dylan’s overlooked masterpieces, from the Another Side album of 1964.  That record was recorded with just Dylan and his guitar — and perhaps a bottle of whiskey — and “Chimes of Freedom”, with its long and complex stanzas and circular musical line, came across as cramped and somewhat arcane.  At least, I never truly appreciated its merits until I heard an alternate version.  Springsteen works magic with it, opening it up into an anthem that sends chills up the spine.  Here’s a live version, taped in (I am told) 1988:

Put that on the next time a thunderstorm blows through your town!  For comparison, here is Dylan’s original:

Here are the words.

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