Play This More Often, Part 8

Play This More Often is a series of essays meant to highlight songs that deserve more attention and appreciation, all in the humble opinion of this music listener of course. Some of them may be neglected by the public at large, some not taken seriously enough by music writers or some plainly overlooked because of their obscurity. Whatever the case, suggestions via the comments from you are always welcomed.

1) Bob Dylan – Mr. Tambourine Man

One of the most annoying and false clichés that Bob Dylan fans have to endure is the belief that every cover of the man’s music is better than the original. Perhaps the most famous proof of that mentality is the constant reaffirmation that The Byrds took Mr. Tambourine Man to a whole new pop-hit level when they added the melody, the jingle-jangle guitar sound and the harmonies to their cover. What has the Byrds version always felt to me? Like taking a really classic novel, cutting it in half (it seriously never bothers anyone that they omitted 3/4 of the lyrics?!) and wrapping it in a more colorful and attractive cover. The original Dylan-sung Mr. Tambourine Man is one of those songs that you simply can’t improve upon, a captivating trip about the take-you-somewhere-else effect of music featuring some of Dylan’s most memorable imagery.

2) Queen – The Prophet’s Song

I’ve always thought of The Prophet’s Song as Brian May’s answer to Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody within the A Night at the Opera album. Both are lengthy and complex compositions that see Queen pushing the pop limits. Yet both are perfectly accessible at the same time, with plenty of hooks to remember. The Prophet Song’s main strength is that it perfectly conveys its message – the world’s coming to an end and Freddie’s apocalyptic vocal performance in the way it keeps on building and rising is the perfect announcement for that. Even the lonely, desperate voices in the song’s acapella mid-section add to that atmosphere despite sounding slightly outdated in retrospect.

3) The Beach Boys – Forever

As much as I enjoy and connect to Dennis Wilson’ music, I’ll be the first to admit that he’s never matched his brother’s, Brian’s song-writing in terms of innovation and creativity. However, there are certain songs in which he takes what he learned from him and adds his own passionate personality in creating something truly original. Forever is such an example, a love ballad where Dennis’ gruff delivery becomes charming, the hummed harmonies seem to be taken from The Soundtrack of Heaven and the lyrics wouldn’t be out of place on a love-you greeting card.

4) Elton John – Tiny Daner

There are certain songs that become forever immortalized when used in movie scenes, so much so that they’ll be directly associated with that from then on. Be My Baby in Mean Streets. Perfect Day in Trainspotting. Where Is My Mind in Fight Club. And there is no reason why Tiny Dancer shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as those. The Almost Famous scene that uses the song perfectly captures both its bitter-sweet atmosphere and its sing-along vibe. It’s also good to see Elton’s excellent 70s music being revived in the 00s, after two decades of disappointments from the man.

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18 replies

  1. I’m perfectly OK with the amount of attention ‘Tiny Dancer’ gets. That’s one of his biggest hits. I think it’s the rest of the Madman Across the Water album that should be played more often. The title track is one of my favorites plus there’s ‘Levon’ and ‘Holiday Inn.’

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  2. Nice list! I’ve also always thought it odd that “Prophet’s Song” was *so* overshadowed by “Bohemian Rhapsody”. And “Tiny Dancer” in “Almost Famous” — love that so much! I’ll have to give “Forever” a listen; that one’s new to me.

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  3. I love Sunflower and “Forever,” but I must say that, as much as I like Dylan’s original “Tambourine Man,” I enjoy the Byrds’ chopped-up, popped-up version, too.

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  4. Great PTMO, as always! Thanks!

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  5. Great list! I agree with you completely about Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m not a big fan of the Byrds’ jingle-jangling mostly on account of it missing much of the lyrics! I need to spend a bit of time with The Prophet’s Song and Tiny Dancer. I’ve picked up a couple of Elton’s 70’s releases, but not Madman Across the Water. Interestingly, I was chatting about the song with a friend and he mentioned the Almost Famous scene – that’s when it clicked that I’m fairly familiar with the song.

    Forever, though, that’s a song I could listen to all day long. In fact, reckon I’ll go listen to Sunflower now … cheers!

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  6. I hear you on the Dylan covers, but you have to admit that at least the O’Jays’ version of “Emotionally Yours” blows the original away. It is a revelation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk2qRpvvuys

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  7. I have to respectfully disagree with you about “Tambourine Man.” I dislike the Dylan version, and I think the Byrds (the best Dylan cover band ever) made it more accessible while keeping a fun psychedelic feel. (It’s probably because I heard the Byrds’ version first, though.) Thanks for turning me on to the Beach Boys song. I’m only a casual listener of them, so I’d never heard this little gem before.

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  8. Thanks for the revisit to Almost Famous. Fun movie. On Bob Dylan — look at the guy. Parlor-style guitar, goofy hair and that glorious voice. He’s the anti-christ, I mean antidote to algorithm-driven-big-hits.

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