Song of the Day #2,610: ‘Arthur McBride’ – Bob Dylan

goodasibeentoyouBob Dylan’s late career resurgence is generally tied to the 1997 release of Time Out of Mind, which won Grammy’s Album of the Year award and kicked off a spate of original albums that number among his best.

But I would peg the start of that comeback to a modest release five years earlier — Dylan’s first covers album, 1992’s Good As I Been to You.

This record followed nearly a decade of poorly-received albums (1989’s Oh Mercy the lone exception) and anybody who guessed we’d heard the last great work by Bob Dylan probably felt pretty safe making that bet.

A collection of folk covers performed solo on guitar and harmonica doesn’t seem like the album to change anybody’s mind, but this record and its follow-up (1993’s World Gone Wrong) seemed to revitalize Dylan. He sounds engaged in the material, eager to tease every strand of emotion from these songs.

And when he came out with original material several years later, it was informed by the tradition and the discipline of these songs. He no longer bothered trying to chase the latest production style (as he had, to disastrous effect, on 1985’s Empire Burlesque).

He wrote folk songs, refracted through the prism of his extraordinary career and life.

Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride,
As we went a-walkin’ down by the seaside,
Mark now what followed and what did betide,
For it bein’ on Christmas mornin’
Now, for recreation, we went on a tramp,
And we met Sergeant Napper and Corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer intending to camp,
For the day bein’ pleasant and charmin’.

“Good morning, good morning,” the Sergeant he cried.
“And the same to you, gentlemen,” we did reply,
Intending no harm but meant to pass by,
For it bein’ on Christmas mornin’
“But,” says he, “My fine fellows, if you will enlist,
Ten guineas in gold I’ll stick to your fist,
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust,
And drink the king’s health in the morning.

“For a soldier, he leads a very fine life,
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife,
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife,
And he always lives pleasant and charmin’,
And a soldier, he always is decent and clean,
In the finest of clothing he’s constantly seen.
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean,
And sup on thin gruel in the morning.”

“But,” says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes,
For you’ve only the lend of them, as I suppose,
But you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do, you’ll be flogged in the morning,
And although that we’re single and free,
We take great delight in our own company,
We have no desire strange places to see,
Although that your offers are charming.

“And we have no desire to take your advance,
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance,
For you’d have no scruples for to send us to France,
Where we would get shot without warning,”
“Oh no,” says the Sergeant. “I’ll have no such chat,
And neither will I take it from snappy young brats,
For if you insult me with one other word,
I’ll cut off your heads in the morning.”

And Arthur and I, we soon drew our hogs,
And we scarce gave them time to draw their own blades
When a trusty shillelagh came over their head
And bid them take that as fair warning.
And their old rusty rapiers that hung by their sides,
We flung them as far as we could in the tide,
“Now take them up, devils!” cried Arthur McBride,
“And temper their edge in the mornin’!”

And the little wee drummer, we flattened his bow,
And we made a football of his rowdy-dow-dow,
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to roll,
And bade it a tedious returning,
And we havin’ no money, paid them off in cracks.
We paid no respect to their two bloody backs,
And we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks,
And left them for dead in the morning.

And so, to conclude and to finish disputes,
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits,
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the mornin’.

Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride,
As we went a-walkin’ down by the seaside,
Mark now what followed and what did betide,
For it bein’ on Christmas mornin’

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,610: ‘Arthur McBride’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    I think Oh Mercy is generally considered his turnaround point. This album was only three years later. Did he release something that was not well-received after 1989?

  2. Clay says:

    Yes.. 1990’s Under the Red Sky, one of the most baffling records in his catalog. It had a couple of good songs but the rest were basically nursery rhymes, with titles like ‘Wiggle Wiggle’ and ‘Handy Dandy.’

  3. Andrea Katz says:

    I wish I liked him more as time went by but that is just not the case. Nice song and good lyrics but I miss the old Dylan voice. The nasality just went into overdrive for me.

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