The rats have got your flour
Bad blood it got your mare
If there’s anyone that knows
Is there anyone that cares?
– Bob Dylan (Ballad of Hollis Brown)
The Best Dylan Covers: Nina Simone – Ballad of Hollis Brown
Ballad of Hollis Brown is a song written by Bob Dylan, released in 1964 on his third album The Times They Are A-Changin’. The song tells the story of a South Dakota farmer, who overwhelmed by the desperation of poverty, kills his wife, children and then himself.
Lyrically, this song consists of 11 verses which bring the listener to a bleak and destitute South Dakota farm, where a poor farmer (Hollis Brown), his wife and five children, already living in abject poverty, are subjected to even more hardships. In despair, the man kills his wife and children and himself with a shotgun.
Critic David Horowitz said of this song in 1964:
Technically speaking, “Hollis Brown” is a tour de force. For a ballad is normally a form which puts one at a distance from its tale. This ballad, however, is told in the second person, present tense, so that not only is a bond forged immediately between the listener and the figure of the tale, but there is the ironic fact that the only ones who know of Hollis Brown’s plight, the only ones who care, are the hearers who are helpless to help, cut off from him, even as we in a mass society are cut off from each other…. Indeed, the blues perspective itself, uncompromising, isolated and sardonic, is superbly suited to express the squalid reality of contemporary America. And what a powerful expression it can be, once it has been liberated (as it has in Dylan’s hands) from its egocentric bondage!
Nina Simone covered the song on her album Let It All Out in 1966. That uses an acoustic guitar as the main instrument, her live versions would be more piano heavy and much better.
Album version (audio, 1966):
Live version (Holland, 1965 or it says so on YouTube, it looks more like the mid 70s I think…but I really don’t know):
Other entries in the series:
The Best Dylan covers: Stevie Wonder – Blowin’ in the wind
The Best Dylan Covers: George Harrison – If Not For You
The Best Dylan Covers: Emmylou Harris – Every Grain of Sand
The Best Dylan Covers: Them – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
The Best Dylan Covers: Joan Baez – Farewell Angelina
The Best Dylan Covers: Roger McGuinn – Up To Me
The Best Dylan Covers: Jeff Beck Group – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
The Best Dylan Covers: Susan Tedeschi – Lord Protect My Child
The Best Dylan Covers: Lucinda Williams – Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
The Best Dylan Covers: Jerry Garcia Band – Simple Twist of Faith
The Best Dylan Covers: Bruce Springsteen – All Along The WatchTower
The Best Dylan Covers: Patti Smith – Changing Of The Guards
The Best Dylan Covers: Johnny Rivers – Positively 4th Street
The Best Dylan Covers: Antony and The Johnsons – Knocking On Heaven’s Door
The Best Dylan Covers: Dave Alvin – Highway 61 Revisited
The Best Dylan Covers: 16 Horsepower – Nobody ‘Cept You
The Best Dylan Covers: Alicia Keys – Pressing On
The Best Dylan Covers: Cowboy Junkies – If you gotta go, go now