Song of the Day #637: ‘Mr. Bojangles’ – Bob Dylan

Did I say Self Portrait was considered Bob Dylan’s worst album? Let me take that back. 1973’s Dylan is actually the album that would likely earn that title.

Self Portrait has the worse reputation because it came out of nowhere and flew in the face of high expectations. But Dylan is an album of outtakes from Self Portrait… so basically, these are the songs that weren’t good enough to be on Dylan’s worst album. You do the math.

Dylan wasn’t involved in the creation or release of this album. It was pushed out by Columbia after he briefly left the label, some say as a deliberate attempt at sabotage (an official album was due to be released just a few months later).

This is the second Dylan album with which I have almost no familiarity. I listened to a few tracks in preparation for this blog entry and I have to say they aren’t in any way horrible. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Bob Dylan cover Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ or Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,’ this is the album for you.

The AllMusic review of Dylan suggests that he performed these songs badly on purpose, though I don’t know if that’s something he’s admitted to or just their opinion. The tracks I’ve listened to seem to play it pretty straight.

Today’s song, ‘Mr. Bojangles,’ doesn’t sound like a joke to me. I like its mellow momentum and its instrumentation (the organ is a particularly nice touch). This is the sort of song I could see being used smartly in a good movie or TV show. You heard it here first.

I knew a man Bojangles and he’d dance for you in worn out shoes
Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants, that old soft shoe
He’d jump so high, he’d jump so high, then he lightly touched down
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

I met him in a cell in New Orleans, I was down and out
He looked to me to be the eyes of age as he spoke right out
He talked of life, he talked of life, laughing slapped his leg stale
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

He said the name Bojangles and he danced a lick all across the cell
He grabbed his pants for a better stance, oh he jumped so high and he clicked
up his heels
He let go laugh, he let go laugh, shook back his clothes all around
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance, yeah, dance.

He danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs throughtout the south
He spoke with tears of 15 years of how his dog and him but just travelled all about
His dog up and died, he up and died, and after 20 years he still grieves
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

He said I dance now at every chance at honky-tonks for drinks and tips
But most of the time I spend behind these county bars, cause I drink so bit
He shook his head, yes he shook his head, I heard someone ask him, please,
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance, dance, Mr Bojangles, dance.

Hear the song at this link

11 thoughts on “Song of the Day #637: ‘Mr. Bojangles’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Carl Finlay says:

    although its a pretty awful album, it doesnt come close in terms of terribleness as the string of eighties albums he released. Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Dylan and the Dead and Down In The Groove. All of those albums are among the worst albu,s released by a major artist. embarrasing stuff

  2. Say what you want about deliberately bad performances, but I think some of the songs on this and on Self Portrait easily refute that notion. This “Mr. Bojangles” is a real performance, a deliberate (and really interesting) interpretation of the song. Dylan has shed the sweetness, and when he mimics the audience calling out “Mr. Bojangles – dance!” he spits out the words; the audience is demanding, almost bullying. (They might as well be a Dylan audience shouting out for him to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” . . . Well, they might as well be telling Dylan to dance, which is exactly what was happening.)

    And “Big Yellow Taxi” – the word Taxi appears nowhere in the song. He has altered Joni Mitchell’s lyric, changed the temperature of the song. Like or dislike these performances (I like them), they do not come across as careless castoffs.

  3. Dana says:

    I had always thought this was a song written in a Dylan style (although it arguably borrows more heavily from Harry Chapin, but one could argue that Chapin also borrowed from Dylan. So, it’s interesting to hear Dylan cover a song that borrows from the style he created. And not a bad cover indeed.

  4. David says:

    Questionable, dated production elements aside, I think much of Empire Burlesque is excellent. For the rest of that string of albums, blessedly ended by Oh Mercy, I’d strongly agree.

    And I find this performance of Bojangles delightful, although I could not have appreciated it at the , it came out; I trusted the reviews of the time, and skipped it.

  5. Justin says:

    This song is the highlight of this album, and while it may not be Dylan’s best work…it stands alone. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was the gem of Dylan’s work in the early 70’s, and maybe his best of all time!!

  6. Delta Dave says:

    Why nobody’s mentioning this is a Jerry Jeff Walker original..?

    If this one would’ve been included on Self Portrait, it maybe would’ve been the highlight of the album. But as we know Dylan’s purposes for releasing Self Portrait, maybe that’s the point it was dropped out…

    Everybody check out the Jerry Jeff’s original version on his debut album “Gipsy Songman” or a radio live version on the album “Five Years Gone”…

  7. Bill Jennings says:

    Mr. Bojangles is a great song I’ve seen performed live by the writer, Jerry Jeff Walker, in Austin Texas in the late sixties, early seventies. Bob Dylan is a fan of music, foremost. I’m sure he performed this tune out of love for the tune. I’ve heard the Dylan version – years ago – and, given the time and expectations of Mr. Dylan to do all new material every album and having this follow self portrait I wasn’t ready to forgive his honesty. How much we learn when we grow up!

    I’d love to hear it now. In his own way, he usually knocks covers out of the park.

  8. steve says:

    I’ve always liked this album myself.
    Also, i think Dylan conveys Bojangles’ 20-year grief over losing his dog better than Jerry Jeff Walker does. To me, that line is the key to the song, and Jerry Jeff Walker kind of glosses over it.

  9. phil says:

    Actually both self portrait and this lp have both suffered from their original bad press. If you want read something that REALLY doesn’t stand the test of time read Greil Marcus’ god awful shallow review of self portrait in the RS at the time. re DYLAN there are fine even performances on that and even a “dylan” song which is probably referencing Sara and his children-“sarah Jane- “I’ve got a wife and 5 little kids…”- not to mention a fine performance of Spanish is the loving tongue which he has covered several times-“Basement tapes – bside george jackson”-….. No …it’s not as bad as people say..

  10. Ian GARDNER says:

    This is One of the best songs I’ve ever heard Dylan do and easily the best song on the 1967 album called “DYLAN”. Also , the best version I’ve ever heard of Mr Bojangles , anywhere.. (in my opinion)… Trouble is , I can’t find it anywhere on you Tube…

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