Tune du Jour: “Girl From the North Country” – Bob Dylan
THE CLASH of Cover Tunes: Eels vs. The Waterboys
Peruse, Comment and Vote (I Beseech, Implore and Urge Thee, respectively)
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You used to be so amused, At Broccoli Man and the carrot for a guitar he used ...

You used to be so amused, At Broccoli Man and the carrot for a guitar he used …

Girl From the North Country was released in 1963 on Bob Dylan’s second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Dylan wrote the song after his first visit to England. During his stay, Dylan became friendly with an English folk singer by the name of Martin Carthy. Carthy introduced to Dylan a number of English traditional folk songs including his own arrangement of Scarborough Fair, a ballad that dates back to Medieval times. Dylan composed Girl From The North Country in the spirit and cadence of an old English folk song, going so far as to clip a line straight from Scarborough Fair: “For she was once a true love of mine”. A few years later Paul Simon would steal much more than a line, he pilfered Carthy’s whole arrangement! But that’s another story … and not a very pleasant one at that.

Girl From the North County is an infectious ballad of a man’s love who has moved on and away. Much speculation revolves around which of three former girlfriends inspired Dylan to pen the song. But in fact, it was written about me. Although only two at the time I had a major impact on Dylan, assuring and providing him with much needed confidence and direction. Embarrassed by his adoration of a two year-old, Bob chose to mask my identity by writing of a girl who moved abroad.

Though never a hit, Girl From the North Country has become one of Dylan’s more enduring songs. Dylan often performs it in concerts – including his 30th Anniversary Concert Extravaganza (or as Neil Young dubbed it, “Bobfest”) – and it has been recorded by over 50 musicians.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan


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Nashville Country: Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash


In 1969 Dylan re-released Girl From the North Country on his album Nashville Skyline, this time singing the song as a duet with Johnny Cash. Bob had previously quit smoking and his voice sounded better than it had in years. But it’s anyone’s guess as to how much rehearsing the two did prior to recording. Exchanging verses, Bob kicks off the song with its first verse but when Johnny’s turn comes up he goes right into the third verse. Without missing a beat Bob follows with the second verse. And when they combine to sing there’s clearly confusion on where to go from there. It’s debatable whether the fourth verse gets sung at all as Bob and Johnny differ on a line or two, kind of melding the fourth and final verses together. But other than that it’s great. Actually, no kidding, it is great.

THE CLASH of Cover Tunes

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Eels vs. The Waterboys

The Waterboys:

The Waterboys hold the distinction of being CMI’s Reigning Exultant Virtuosic Performer of “Girl From the North Country”. Additionally, The Waterboys are recipients of CMI’s universally coveted title of Uni Victor Melodious Maximus in Adversarial Replication. Among the title’s myriad of rewards and benefits, perhaps most desirous is that it bestows upon the recipient the eminently yearned for privilege of having one’s name appear in print media in bold yellow! The Waterboys‘ triumph in CMI’s THE CLASH of Cover Tunes competition is detailed below:

10/23/2013 – “Girl From the North Country” (Bob Dylan) – The Waterboys (71%) thump Eddie Vedder (29%)

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Oh the disharmony! Much like Harlan County there are no neutrals here. Only one cover tune will live to play another day and it is your solemn responsibility to decide which one prevails. So tell me … Which Side Are You On?!!?

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Votes can be cast up to three months from the day and time of the original post.

Disclaimer: Votes cast from Florida may or may not be counted.

  1. Cuspid says:

    Neil Innes, as a member of the Rutles, wrote a song called “Cheese and Onions”. It was such a brilliant parody of “A Day in the Life” that it later appeared on several Beatles bootleg albums as an unreleased John Lennon demo. I reference this because not only does Mike Scott do an incredible job here in sounding like Dylan, but also in making this Waterboys cover sound like an outtake from the Desire album specifically, in the vein of “Joey” or “Sara”. IOW, this is the Waterboys’ “Cheese and Onions”. Nevertheless, I love the Eels version even more. I think the lone piano works better for the song than does an acoustic guitar. And whereas in the original Dylan sounds like he’s singing his rendition of an old folk song, Mark Oliver Everett sounds like he’s singing from the heart, like he really means it. Very powerful and moving.

  2. Arnold Plotnick says:

    I recently downloaded The Complete Basement Tapes. Like, the complete complete set, just released in 2014. 135 songs and snippets. If you played me this Waterboys’ version of Girl From the North Country and said that it was a track from the Basement Tapes, I wouldn’t have doubted it for a second. The Eels do a great version as well. I love the Dylan/Cash duet best, though. I learned something cool from Richie’s intro (which I now read religiously before voting). I knew Richie was the inspiration for Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, but I had no idea that little two year old Rich Winston was Dylan’s muse back then. Cover me impressed.

  3. RDubbs says:

    The Waterboys version is excellent and the Celtic instrumentation certainly adds to the texture of the song. Yet I went with Eels. His version is raw, mournful emotion. And reading up a bit on his life, this poor guy has had some tragedies to deal with.

  4. Kerry Black says:

    Everyone expects me to vote for The Waterboys, and, of course, I did. But I want to say a word or two about the great Martin Carthy (who, by the way, hates to see his name misspelled). Allmusic.com says of Carthy: “If the English folk revival of the 1960s had a single “father” and guiding spirit, then Martin Carthy was it.” Also, Carthy “…was the Bob Dylan of the English folk revival, without the feigned anger or the affectations, but with all of the skill and depth.” Pretty high praise, huh? He was also a member of Steeleye Span, who were mentioned by somebody back in December when we did that Favorite Bands Project (OK, it was on my list, but whatever).

  5. Pete Black says:

    Two beauts here. I don’t care for The Waterboys rock material but the two celtic albums they did were very strong, especially Fisherman’s Blues which is exactly the style this is culled from. It reminds me of the Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue tours with the mandolin and fiddle eliciting strong emotion. The version rests on the great arrangement with the vocal just passing the ball. Eels do it more simply and direct with incredible emotion by the vocal and a simple arrangement. They are a criminally overlooked band with many solid albums and they nail the beautiful melancholy of this song perfectly.

  6. Lucky H says:

    No disrespect to the Eels dead-on stripped-down Waitsian version of this classic, but it falls just a mandolin shy of perfection … just tuff to top those Waterboys on this one … Celtic perfection … 6 am in so flo … Guinness anyone?

  7. bornunderabadsign says:

    ummm….I seem to remember GFNC getting some airplay when Nashville Skyline was released…guess it’s always been a hit to me…

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