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OBSERVATIONS cf THINGS HAVE CHANGED

Thanks, not for the first time, to Scott Warmuth, for reporting (on Twitter) an exchange between Marty Stuart and Bob Dylan about Stuart's song 'The Observations of a Crow'  -  an exchange that included Dylan singing a bit of the song to Stuart to show that he had listened to it. As Warmuth suggests, isn't Dylan's own song 'Things Have Changed', er, reminiscent of this?:

Marty Stuart's song was released on his hugely influential, widely admired (within the industry) album The Pilgrim; Bob Dylan's song was released in 2000 and given both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for the year's Best Original Song. Uh huh?

40 comments:

  1. Well...this is interesting! Thanks for posting.

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  2. andrew taylor03 May, 2012

    My immediate reaction.....disappointment...people will say it is part of the folk tradition of course. I wonder how Marty sees it.

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  3. I agree with you, Andrew.

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  4. Hmmm...I'm not convinced. It sounds like a typical Americana tune, not new either, and not necessarily a source for Things Have Changed. The music is similar, but there's too much talkiness in both for it to be considered original, itself. If anything, that song sounded like a sub-Dire Straits imitation of Dylan, to be honest.

    Reading this I wonder, are you now a sceptic where it comes to Bob's writing, even though you wrote the definitive study on his works? Or do you think he's gotten careless and less imaginative in his latter years?

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  5. They have a similar chord structure and melody. Marty's has a really cool gitar line running through it. There are also a million songs with that minor chord structure.

    Dylan's is the better song however.

    I don't see a problem at all.

    Interesting that Marty sings any minute now... Bob sings Just for a second there..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z7nAaTr6JQ
    40 Miles of Bad Road -- Duane Eddy (in HD)
    www.youtube.com
    Duane Eddy (born April 26, 1938) is a Grammy Award-winning American guitarist. H...See more

    ---
    ‎"One night when Marty and I were in the studio (working on The Prince Of Egypt Soundtrack) he got a phone call. All I heard on the other end was someone singing the song "Observations Of A Crow." Marty looked absolutely giddy. Turns out it was Bob Dylan."
    http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showpost.php?p=326804&postcount=13

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  6. Hmm... It takes a thief to catch a thief. Maybe Marty stole some of his tune and groove from The First Edition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhOKhJaM1QE - or maybe from Mickey Newbury's original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYQW0NOyZpc

    CS Nielsen

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  7. Anonymous03 May, 2012

    Kieran's comment about talkiness, which effectively also implies similarities in vocal cadence whether he realizes that or not, undermines his inclination towards denial on account of "typical American tune".

    Also, some people pop up far too often with far too much too say about everything.

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  8. Dear Anon
    Thank you for your contribution to the discussion, which is welcome... except please don't attack (especially anonymously) other valued contributors.

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  9. Thank you, Michael, though Anonymous makes a good point (while maybe not giving my own point much thought).

    The song in the video isn't some great original tune that Dylan stole. Nor is it an original effect. It's a slice of American music, quite generic actually, and I think that if there are similarities, it's with a type of song which pre-dates both this song, and Things Have Changed.

    Though I guess that's best left unsaid - anonymously or otherwise...

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  10. the Nor-wee-gin03 May, 2012

    Gentlemen of all kind: Anyone been listen to 'Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings "100 Days, 100 Nights"'? When I heard this, my first thought were - 'oh, so there's from where Bobby stole that funky riff...' But maybe Marty stole it first?

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  11. simplythat04 May, 2012

    I think Kieran is right;. any similarities are generic. The chording is minor key - I IV V for most of the strophes. Dylan's song features a 'bridge' strophe which modulates to the relative major "Standing in the gallows ...'. This is absent in Stuart's version. There are many similarities, of course, in mood, in tempo, and in the guitar figures, but these too are restricted by the basic harmonies. Personally, I'd describe both efforts as talking blues, marginally melodised. It's a generic form and both are worthwhile.

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  12. Adrian Everitt04 May, 2012

    Rather a non-issue. I was expecting a far more dramatic resemblance, but this is just a whiff of the melody that Dylan has taken to a whole other level. Marty's song is nice and all, but the drive of Things Have Changed is something else and way more effective. A good song that made way for a great one, is all we have here. I don't think the writer of the good one could begrudge the genius of the greater.

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  13. Crowjane04 May, 2012

    The Marty Stuart connection is hardly news, it's been bandied about on the internets for some time. Interesting to look into the recording dates for 'Prince of Egypt'.

    I'm so glad someone brought up 'Just Dropped In... '. What an interesting song. “I tripped over a cloud and fell 8 miles high, tore my mind on the jagged sky.” Like, wow, man, far out.

    Here's three things to remember :

    1. Mickey Jones was the drummer on the Kenny Rogers single version of 'Just Dropped In... ' which went Top Ten in 1968.

    2. Willie Nelson recorded 'Just Dropped In... ' (what hasn't he recorded?) and it was released on his 2001 album 'Rainbow Connection'.

    3. This was one of those songs which was always "rumoured" to have been actually written by Bob Dylan, or in other versions of the rumour, to have been written by Mickey Newbury based on remarks made by Bob Dylan at a party. Much like the rumour that Mike Nesmith attributed the seed of his 1977 hit 'Rio' to an original idea based on remarks made by Bob Dylan at a party. And you've heard the one about John Lennon basing 'Norwegian Wood' on a little tune that Dylan played to him when he was in England... when Dylan later released his song he called it 'Fourth Time Around' (yuk yuk).

    Oh, and one more thing :

    4. The world is round.

    Captcha code: Bludy heliti (true dinks).

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  14. Anonymous04 May, 2012

    ...Bob will make him pay

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  15. For me, the resemblance is too close for comfort. You can't reduce it to the chord sequence and then say there are hundreds of songs with the same one therefore so what? Nor can you reduce it to Oh well it's just a talking blues. 'Highlands' is a talking blues yet completely different.

    The close resemblance lies in the synthesis of the elements: the way the lines of vocal delivery are set against the chords, the melody, the mood, the half-spoken quality, the narrative style. All these, and the way they coalesce, make Dylan's song so similar.

    That said, the supposed prototype of the Mickey Newbury song seems to me a red herring (and a creaky song) - and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings' '100 Days, 100 Nights' wasn't released until 2007.

    And yes, there's a bridge section in the Dylan song that isn't there at all in Marty Stuart's. And yes, Bob Dylan's is a far, far better song.

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  16. This is very interesting to me. We've all known Dylan's methods for decades. Your own book - Song & Dance Man - excellently celebrates these songs, and the methods of their composition.

    He was doing the same thing back in the 60's, but because he was original in the way he brought the surreal, poetic lyrics, the working man's vocals, and profound insight, he wasn't upbraided for it.

    Nowadays I wonder, are people getting weary of Dylan, or has he become less successful at employing the exact same methods?

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  17. Anonymous05 May, 2012

    Both follow a very generic Minor Bluesy structure, and Dylan's has a bridge that is not present in this song. From what we know of Bob's 'methods' borrowing from one song to make his own isn't anything new (look at Girl From The North Country, it very clearly borrows more from Scarboro Fair than any borrowing here)

    I've heard reports that say Bob tried several arrangements of this song before settling on the released version so it could be a coincidence (Slow down the tempo of either song and they become a very different type of talking blues with less similarities)
    Ultimatly in either case it wouldn't so much be Bob stealing the song, as being inspired by it (at least he didn't take half the lyrics of the song as he has with others)

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  18. simplthat05 May, 2012

    Try this: set out to write a song to a slowish, insistent rock beat with an acoustic backing with drums. Capo your acoustic guitar on the 3rd fret and use the E minor shape as tonic (sounding G minor). Use basic conventional chording. Your song has a lot of words, semi-spoken. See what you come up with. You'll probably find you're very restricted for room.

    No one knows how this Things have Changed was conceived of or written. The released arrangement may have been arrived at on a whim. It's how Dylan works.

    In his first post, Kieran mentions a similarity to Dire Straits, which I think is apt. I'd throw Lou Reed in the mixture as well.

    My comment on talking blues was simply an attempt to generalise what is going on in both songs, not as an 'excuse' for the opening strophes of both being so similar. You know better than most how flexible the blues is as a form.

    My wife agrees with you!

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  19. Rambling Gambling Gordon05 May, 2012

    Your final point is the key one – Dylan’s song is in a different class altogether, which is what counts. He’s made something far better from inferior material.

    'Things Have Changed' thus still strikes me as uniquely his. The same can't be said of the borrowings for his paintings or for Chronicles.

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  20. In 1994 Jack Hurst wrote this charming story about a Dylan and Stuart interaction for the Chicago Tribune:

    Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, was playing in Nashville a few weeks ago when Marty Stuart went to see him to get his autograph for Bob Dylan.

    Stuart had seen Dylan a few weeks before, and ''we always get to talking about the blues, Chicago and bluegrass,'' Stuart said. ''He said, 'You know, of all the people in country music, he (Monroe) was the mystery man. He was a lot heavier then, and all those guys in his band wore those funny hats.' He said, 'They looked like the Flintstones. Then when they played it would just freeze you to death (it was so cool).'''

    The bluegrass patriarch and Dylan possess ''a lot of the same personality on stage,'' Stuart said. Because of Dylan's admiration, Stuart went to the Monroe performance with a reprint of one of Monroe's Grand Ole Opry show posters and asked Monroe for the autograph for Dylan. ''And he said, 'How do you spell that name?' I spelled it, and he said, 'He's that rock 'n' roll boy, ain't he?' I said, 'Yessir, and he likes you a lot.' So he wrote on there, 'To Bob Dylan, Best Wishes, Bill Monroe.' I started to take it, and he pulled it back and wrote under his name, 'King of Bluegrass.'''

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  21. Elmer Gantry09 May, 2012

    Michael

    Thought this might interest you:

    http://www.martystuart.com/ZArt-Oxford-7-00.htm

    It is interesting to see how much slack Dylan is given when it comes to the whole 'plagiarism' thing....

    I wonder how some of your correspondents would be so forgiving if their written work was to re-appear under another person's name...

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  22. Actually a well-known singer-songwriter said to me only last month that "anybody else would be in jail for what he's done". I don't say I quite agree. But on the particulars of Observations of a Crow cf. Things Have Changed, simplthat says:

    "Try this: set out to write a song to a slowish, insistent rock beat with an acoustic backing with drums. Capo your acoustic guitar on the 3rd fret and use the E minor shape as tonic (sounding G minor). Use basic conventional chording. Your song has a lot of words, semi-spoken. See what you come up with. You'll probably find you're very restricted for room."

    Yes, but you needn't choose to capo your acoustic guitar on the 3rd fret and use the E minor shape as tonic (sounding G minor), need you?

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  23. Anonymous13 May, 2012

    The well-known singer reference is nasty and is something you would expect to see in ,say, 'The Bridge' and not from a respected scholar. This tird,lazy innuendo is sad to read.

    On a similar theme, the great Jack Bruce was recently interviewed on BBC radio for his 'Tracks Of My Years' and one of his tracks was 'Lay lady Lay'. Jack said "Bob to me is the master songwriter of the 20th Century" and described working with Dylan with great warmth and affection. A truly great compliment and comparable to the famous Ginsberg interview quote. Allen was introduced as "America's greatest living poet " and he gently responded "No, No...that's Bob Dylan".

    Paul

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  24. Dear Paul
    I don't think you need be so hyper-sensitive on Bob Dylan's behalf. He isn't. And I quoted what the singer-songwriter had said to me because he really meant it. He wasn't being snide or making a cheap shot: indeed he admires Dylan's achievement hugely - yet he was articulating, and crisply, what many people feel about what might otherwise be called Dylan's more recent borrowings. It wasn't innuendo, and I didn't endorse his view: but he expressed a sincerely-held position that was interesting and relevant to the discussion in hand, and I saw no reason not to give it houseroom.

    In contrast, it seems to me that your swipe at The Bridge is nasty, because just gratuitous. We were not discussing the merits or standards of The Bridge, or scholarly respectability. All the same, as you see, I've accommodated your view too.

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  25. Elmer Gantry17 May, 2012

    Michael

    I think all of the people who contribute to this blog are agreed that Bob is the greatest songwriter of the last 50, say, years.

    I also prefer 'things have Changed' to 'Observations of a Crow', as Dylan's lyric is far more interesting and expressive...

    But there are ethical questions about some of Bob's recent 'lifting'', which cannot be simply waved aside...

    In this case, i was particularly disappointed, as 'things Have Changed' seemed to me to be proof that Bob could still write a song with an original melody...

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  26. Elmer Gantry18 May, 2012

    Michael

    To my mind, there is also an easy way around this ethical question.

    Wouldn't it have been easy for Bob, who is a wealthy man, to have given a co-songwriting credit to Marty Stuart, who, probably, is not.

    I am sure Stuart would have been delighted with this and it might have brought his name to a far wider audience.

    In the same way, wouldn't it have been refreshing if Bob had given a credit to Paul Clayton for 'Don't Think Twice'. According to Bob Coltman's biography of Clayton, he was in dire financial straits at that time...

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  27. I see "The Pilgrim" album was released in June 1999 and though Dylan´s song was released in 2000, it was written in 1999...coincidence?

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  28. This is an interesting discussion, but lets not be too quick on the trigger condemning BD. For all any of us, both men lifted the tune from an old blues song we never heard. Then again, maybe on the above referenced phone call, Bob said, "Hey Marty, can I borrow that tune for a new song?" Maybe Marty feels honored by the tribute. We just don't know.

    I think the whole conversation raises a question of the value of composition versus performance and tune vs. lyrics. What really makes Things Have Changed the better song is how BD puts it over. Look at Mississippi--when Sheryl Crow did it first, no one thought it was a masterpiece. Or to take another example, Billy Preston did My Sweet Lord before George Harrison and nobody gave a damn. Anyone could have swiped Marty Stuart's tune but only BD could have made it into Things Have Changed.

    Michael, as a respected author and scholar, perhaps you should get in touch with MS and ask him. Here's his publicist's contact info:

    Public Relations:

    Donica Christensen

    3322 West End Av
    Nashville, TN 37203
    615-915-3049 ext 16
    donicac@sugarhillrecords.com

    And of course, while your famous singer songwriter may have really meant what he said, I don't believe you can go to jail for plagiarism!

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  29. Elmer Gantry07 June, 2012

    Jay

    Yes, but you may end up paying out large sums of money (ask George Harrison's family)...

    And, in that case, 'My Sweet Lord' was more unlike 'He's so Fine' than 'Things have Changed' is unlike the Marty Stuart song...

    Of course, the 'folk process' was really a product of a period before copyright. If Bob really believed in this, maybe he should not copyright his own songs. What's good for the goose...

    Try dropping in a few lines from 'Mr Tambourine Man' into your next song..

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  30. Michael

    Came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, which seemed to me to be somehow relevant to the whole Bob & Plagiarism debate.

    Wonder how many of those who defend Bob's recent songwriting methods would have defended the artist in this case:

    http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/art-world-in-a-flap-as-it-takes-stock-of-contentious-images-20120831-255nj.html

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  31. Elmer Gantry17 February, 2013

    Michael

    Speaking of Marty Stuart, here is a nice by him & John Prine of the latter's classic 'Souvenirs'...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=-8YHGnehkZ0&feature=endscreen

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  32. The thread stops at such a tantalizing point -- it is more than a year now, so Michael, you have the last word on this? What do Marty and Bob himself say? Things have changed is too fantastic a song to let this one just go by. May be Marty Stuart should get credit for it?
    Also had another questions -- which great BD songs are unquestionably original, with no shadow of doubt about lifting?

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  33. Had a chuckle today when I read the interview with Marty Stuart yesterday in American Songwriter. Two years back, I wrote in the comments to this post:

    "Then again, maybe ... Bob said, "Hey Marty, can I borrow that tune for a new song?" Maybe Marty feels honored by the tribute. We just don't know. "

    I was really close, per the interview with Marty:

    "Well, actually, one night, this is probably close to ten years ago now, Bob and I hung out. I took him to my warehouse to see all the country music treasures I have. Bob said, “Hey, I like that ‘Crow’ song. I might borrow something out of that someday. I said, “Well, I probably borrowed it from you in the first place. Go ahead.”

    So, Michael, does this change your view on this issue? --Jay

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  34. My own grubstake on Dylan is The Basement Tapes and its massive (and I mean MASSIVE) borrowing from Shakespeare, but in an essay on the subject I insist that I am not accusing him of plagiarism since he has "metabolized" the Shakespeare so well that only the King Lear in "Tears of Rage" has been spotted in 47 years. Not too sure about Bob's later filchings, but I'm keeping my eyes on your kindred explorations here..

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  35. Elmer Gantry09 September, 2014

    Michael
    Obviously the Kiwis haven't got with the whole postmodernist/metabolisation programme..

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10675108&ref=rss

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  36. Elmer Gantry10 September, 2014

    Michael

    What struck me about the Marty Stuart quote above is Bob's obvious sense of entitlement and the power imbalance that exists between the two men.

    Can anyone really imagine another songwriter saying to Bob 'Hey, I like that Tangled Up in Blue ’ song. I might borrow something out of that someday...

    Funny Bob seems to have forgotten that line about lady killers loading dice on him behind his back "while imitators steal me blind".

    If Henry Timrod was a gunslinger, then there might be a whole lot of dead copycats around...

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  37. Elmer Gantry15 September, 2014

    Apparently someone did use 'Tangled Up In Blue' with this result:

    http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=490

    Discovered this fact from this quite judicious article :

    http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/12/bob-dylan-and-plagiarism/

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  38. Elmer Gantry15 September, 2014

    Some more details of the settlement between Bob & Hootie & the Blowfish ( a dreadful band, admittedly) can be found here:

    http://entertainment.ha.com/itm/music-memorabilia/autographs-and-signed-items/bob-dylan-and-hootie-and-the-blowfish-signed-agreement-total-2-items-/a/7006-50043.s#47584758096

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  39. Elmer Gantry17 September, 2014

    Michael

    There is a very interesting discussion of the ethical questions arising from Bob's recent 'borrowings' here:
    http://ralphriver.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/dylan-and-plagiarism.html
    This is continued at:
    http://ralphriver.blogspot.com.au/2006/09/more-dylan-thefts.html
    For my money, the contribution to this second post by bholly is one of the most concise and effective contributions I have seen to the debate on this issue

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  40. Elmer Gantry18 September, 2014

    There are also some rumours around that Bob threatened Rod Stewart with a plagiarism suit over the latter's song, 'Forever Young':

    http://rulefortytwo.com/2009/06/18/1988-countdown-68-rod-stewart-forever-young/

    Apparently, he was eventually given a songwriter credit on that rather abysmal song...


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