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Music

Revisit Yo La Tengo's cover of Bob Dylan song ‘I Threw It All Away’

In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Bob Dylan climbed higher and higher toward the canopies of success and maximum exposure. His most important talent at this stage wasn’t his piano or guitar playing, nor was it his unique vocals or abilities on the harmonica. Dylan’s most important asset was his ability to listen and absorb the music he was exposed to. The youngster found his first love in rock ‘n’ roll as he listened to the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard on the radio. It was only when he was in his late teens that he would stumble across an admiration for folk music; this was thanks to a guitar-wielding fascist killer named Woody Guthrie. 

Dylan’s interest in Woody Guthrie would draw him to New York in the early 1960s, a city in which he managed to meet and befriend his idol in the final years of his life. He would sit at Guthrie’s bedside, where he was tragically dying from Huntington’s disease, and play some of his songs to him. It was around this time that Dylan would write one of his first folk songs entitled ‘Song to Woody’, which based its structure on Guthrie’s own song, ‘1939 Massacre’.

While most of Dylan’s music that we now familiarise him with came from his own pen, he did have a helping hand in the early days from some of the oldest names in the folk tradition. His small coffee house gigs in New York would ordinarily be laden with Guthrie covers and a spattering of other folk classics, including ‘Dink’s Song’, an archaic classic. 

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On Dylan’s 1962 eponymous debut album, he released a cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’, a classic folk tale of a life lost to sin in New Orleans. Throughout the album, he blended covers and reworks with some of his early ideas that were usually based on the chord structures of songs he had heard while doing the rounds in New York. When the time came to release his second studio album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in 1963, he had shown a marked improvement in songwriting skill showing all the best elements of the folk tradition that he had learned and innovated to produce some of his greatest early original material.

The album features Dylan’s song ‘Girl from the North Country’, which he developed from the traditional English folk ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’, a number he learned while visiting London in 1962. The song contains the lyrics “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme/Then she’ll be a true love of mine,” which many will remember from Simon and Garfunkel’s famous rendition.

As the ’60s wore on, Dylan’s confidence blossomed through a run of increasingly innovative and original albums. He had stripped off the fortifying armour that folk music had been for him, and by 1995 he famously “went electric”, leaving his folky fans in a frustrated frenzy as he looked to new horizons. Dylan was a true creative, and so once he felt that he had outgrown the influences of his early career, he made no bones about storming ahead on his own path.  

Over the course of his impressive musical odyssey, which is still ongoing some six decades later, Dylan has become a giant in his own right, eclipsing most of those who gave him his early success. From the 1960s to the modern-day, countless artists have climbed onto Dylan’s shoulders and used his impressive back catalogue as a launchpad for their own careers. 

As one of the most adored and celebrated songwriters, Dylan is no stranger to a cover. Of the myriad bands to have paid the legendary songwriter homage over the years, none have come so close to perfection as Yo La Tengo with their beautiful rendition of Dylan’s 1969 classic, ‘I Threw It All Away’ – listen below.