Steven Rings: Here’s Your Throat Back, Thanks for the Loan: On Dylan’s Voices (video)

steven rings bob dylan

“No, you know, you can do anything with your voice if you put your mind to it. I mean, you can become a ventriloquist or you can become an imitator of other people’s voices. I’m usually just stuck with my own voice. I can do a few other people’s voices.”
~Bob Dylan (to Ron Rosenbaum, Nov 1977)

This great talk by musicologist Steve Rings examines the characteristics of Bob Dylan’s voice over the course of 50 years or so of live performances.

It is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Dylan’s many voices
  2. “The nature” of Dylan’s Voice (more technical/philosophical)
  3. Methodological challenges for scholars analyzing Dylan’s voices
    (& techniques that can be used)

I’ll provide support material (videos/audios, lyrics, quotes, ..) to the talk below, so if there is a reference to a certain performance, you could pause it and check if I’ve embedded something relevant.

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Original Ballad Of A Thin Man:

Manchester 1966:
Ballad Of A Thin Man by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

New Orleans 1981:
Ballad Of A Thin Man by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Prague – March 12, 1995

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – 5 October 2012 (same tour as Rings example)

Bob Dylan – Muleskinner Blues (May 1960 – Karen Wallace Tapes)
Muleskinner Blues by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

He was a friend of mine – Live at the Gaslight cafe on the 6th September 1961

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (Nashville Skyline)
Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Blue Moon – Nashville Skyline Sessions (1969)

Elvis Presley – Blue Moon (1954)

One More Cup of Coffee (Desire – 1976)
One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below) by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark


“From now on it’s not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It’s going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth.”
~Sam Cooke to Bobby Womack in 1963

That boy’s [Bob Dylan] got a voice. Maybe he won’t make it by his writing, but he can sing it. He can really sing it.
~Woody Guthrie (to “The Gleasons” in 1961)

When I do whatever it is I’m doing there is rhythm involved and there is phrasing involved. And that’s where it all balances out in the rhythm of it and the phrasing of it It’s not in the lyrics. People think it’s in the lyrics; maybe on the records it’s in the lyrics, but in a live show it’s not all in the lyrics, it’s in the phrasing and the dynamics and the rhythm. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the lyrics, I mean, it does, it does have something to do with the lyrics – the lyrics have to be there, sure they do. But, you know there was this Egyptian singer Om Khalsoum, have you ever heard of her? She was one of my favourite singers of all time, and I don’t understand a word she sings! And she’d sing one song – it might last 40 minutes, same song, and she’ll sing the same phrase over and over and over again, in a different way everytime. And no US or Western singer, I think, that’s in that kind of category, you know… except possibly me (laughs). But on another level, do you know what I mean?
~Bob Dylan (to Bert Kleinman, July 1984)

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying
~It’s Alright Ma

bob dylan i'ts all right ma spectrum2

bob dylan i'ts all right ma spectrum
Studio Jan 1965

It’s Allright Ma @ Largo, Maryland – 15 January 1974
(not the same version, but the same tour)

bob dylan i'ts all right ma spectrum3

Blue Moon spectrum

bob dylan & Elvis blue moon spectrum3

Ballad Of A Thin Man spectrum – 2012:

bob dylan thin man spectrum 2012

Again… GREAT & very interesting talk.


6 thoughts on “Steven Rings: Here’s Your Throat Back, Thanks for the Loan: On Dylan’s Voices (video)”

  1. This talk is in the same genre as the roundtable discussion with Christopher Ricks, Matthew von Unwerth, and Sean Wilentz which unfortunately comes after two very boring introductions with lots of announcements before the two interesting speakers (Ricks and Wilentz) finally get started. I recommend moving the slider up to near 12:30 to get past these terrible introductions:

    Another good one is Sean Wilentz’s appearance on the Colbert Report:

    As in most of these scholarly appraisals of Dylan and his work, the particular scholar can get a little far out there, but there is enough interesting material in there to make it worth listening to.


    1. Thanks Doug,

      Love the roundtable discussion with Christopher Ricks, Matthew von Unwerth, and Sean Wilentz.
      Haven’t Sean Wilentz’s appearance on the Colbert Report, BUT will check it out.

  2. Might be an interesting talk but really spoilt for me by the audio. The speakers voice is great but every audio example of Dylan’s voice, even studio recordings, sound like a bootleg recorded outside the venue. Virtually unintelligble. This detracts very significantly from what might be an interesting lecture on the *quality* of a voice.

  3. What the hell did I just look at? I’d’ve said “read” but there was no article, just a bunch of green stuff, quotes and videos.

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