Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 39: Wagon Wheel

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

wheel1.gif

Wagon Wheel was co-written, over a lot of time and distance,  by Bob Dylan and Ketch kech.gifSecor of Old Crow Medicine Show.

Dylan recorded the chorus, in a version that was later bootlegged, in 1973 and Secor added verses 25 years later.

Chris “Critter” Fuqua, Secor’s school friend and future bandmate, first brought home a Bob Dylan bootleg from a family trip to London containing the rough outtake called Rock Me, Mama.

bobbyThe tune stuck in Secor’s mind, till,  some months later, while at college in New Hampshire and “feeling homesick for the South,” he added verses about “hitchhiking his way home full of romantic notions put in his head by the Beat poets and, most of all, Dylan.”

Secor’s verses tell “the story of a man who travels from New England, through Philadelphia, and Roanoke, down the eastern coast of the United States, ending up in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he hopes to see his lover.”

The Secor lyrics contain a geographic error in the line about heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City, Tennessee. You’d actually have to go east, but, as Secor explains: “I got some geography wrong, but I still sing it that way. I just wanted the word ‘west’ in there. ‘West’ has got more power than ‘east.'”

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Old Crow Medicine Show’s final version was certified Platinum in April 2013.

Commercially, it has to be one of Dylan’s most successful songs, given that it has been covered many times,  e.g. by Nathan Carter in 2012 and Darius Rucker in 2013.

nc.gifNathan Carter’s version was a huge hit in Ireland, where it spent 47 weeks on the charts on its first release in 2012. It re-entered the charts again in 2013, to bring the total up to 52 weeks in the Irish Singles Chart.

 

Rucker, formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish, took his recording of the number to No. 1 dr.gifon the Hot Country Songs chart. It was certified triple Platinum  in March 2014.

Rucker also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards (January 26, 2014) for his version of “Wagon Wheel”.

His win made him only the second African American, after Charley Pride, to be nominated for and win a vocal performance Grammy award in a country music category. 

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The Dylan chorus shows his close acquaintance with the blues, a form where one frequently encounters “floating” verses and lines that are re-used in song after song.

Dylan credited the phrase “Rock me, mama” to bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, who recorded a song with this title in 1944.rock.gif

Crudup probably found it on a Big Bill Broonzy song Rockin’ Chair Blues  from 1940 which contained the line “rock me, baby”.

The phrase “like a wagon wheel” is used in the 1939 Curtis Jones blues Roll Me Mama that includes the lines “Now roll me over, just like I’m a wagon wheel” and “just like I ain’t got no bone”.

Lil’ Son Jackson came up with Rockin’ and Rollin in 1950 using the phrase “Roll me, baby, like you roll a wagon wheel”. 

Although these lines are important to the song, as a proportion of the final lyrics, they’re pretty small, so Secor and Dylan share the copyright undisputed. They signed a co-writing agreement that acknowledged 50/50 division of authorship.

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Secor, in a meeting with Dylan’s son, Jacob, was told by him “It made sense that I was a teenager when I did that because no one in their 30s would have the guts to try to write a Bob Dylan song.”

The song has become a staple in all three idioms of rock, country, and folk. I hear it every week at acoustic sessions. 

Part of its appeal is its rolling repeated chord structure, which is very easy to play and harmonise over.

There are those who think it’s become too popular. You can actually buy a T-shirt with an image of a wagon wheel with a line through it – signifying a “No ‘Wagon Wheel’ zone”.

Nevertheless, the song shows no signs of going away!

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Lend an ear and an eye …

eye.gif Wagon Wheel

© 1973 Bob Dylan & © 2004 Bob Dylan & Ketch Secor

wagonwheelsong.jpg

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Beat that Metre … beat.gif

In the chorus, the stress pattern has 2 x [2 x lines of 4 stresses, and 1 line of 3 stresses].

These are placed on the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar, giving a really pushy sound to the tune.

In keeping with this, the metres used all emphasise the 1st syllable, and the structure is more or less regular.

Ll 1, 2, 5 have …

  • 1 x trochee (DUM-dah),
    1 x 1st paeon (DUM-dah-dah-dah), 
    1trochee
    1single syllable

L4 is very slightly different with …

  • 1trochee
    11st paeon
    1dactyl (DUM-dah-dah)
    1single syllable

Ll 36 stretch the word “Hey” to 2 syllables, giving a pattern of

  • 3trochee

Here is the chorus, with the stresses/metres clearly marked …

  • “|Rock me,| Ma-ma, like a| wa-gon| wheel
    |Rock me,| Ma-ma, any| way you| feel
    |Hey-ey,| Ma-ma,| rock me
    |Rock me,| Ma-ma, like the| wind and the| rain
    |Rock me,| Ma-ma, like a| south-bound| train
    |Hey-ey,| Ma-ma,| rock me|”

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stress

The verses have a stress pattern of 4 stresses4 stresses5 stresses repeated, except for V3L3 where 7 stresses occur.

This gives the final verse a sense of urgency as the song nears its end and the simger his destination.

Again, the accentuation is on the 1st and 3rd beats of the bar.

The metric pattern is a mixture of dactyls1st paeons, and trochees – the exact mix varies from verse to verse, so, metrically, the verses are somewhat irregular.

  • “|Head-ing down| south to the| land of the| pines, I’m
    |thumb-ing my| way into| North Caro-|line
    |Star-ing up the| road and| pray to| God I see| head-lights, I
    |made it down the| coast in| sev-enteen| hours
    |Pick-ing me a| bou-quet of| dog-wood| flowers, And I’m a-
    |hop-in’ for| Ral-eigh, I can| see my| bab-y to-|-night|”

There is therefore a contrast with the chorus, both in stress pattern and metres used.

This helps to increase variety  within a song which has the same rolling chord progressions all the way through.

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The rhyme rolls on … roll.gif

The end-rhyme structure is a simple one of 

A  A  B  C  C  B

all the way through, including the chorus, with the exception of V2L5 which has an anomalous unrhymed  (“leave”).

“pines” “Caroline” “headlights”
“hours” “flowers” “tonight”

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The key’s in the ignition … key.gif

The whole song’s in G major (capo-ed up to A), with a rolling chord pattern

Gmajor  Dmajor  Eminor Cmajor
Gmajor  Dmajor Cmajor

that repeats all the way through. 

It’s a road song, and the pattern and rhythm help to convey the idea of a truck just rolling along.

The melody has a fairly limited range of a perfect 5th, from low E to B. However, as the Old Crow Medicine Show recording makes clear, this makes it an ideal vehicle for close harmonisation.

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The jury shuffles back into the court …

jury.gif

The only thing that might be criticised in this song is the mixed-up metres.

But they all push that 1st beat/3rd beat rhythm, and, as I pointed out, even help to up the urgency in verse 3, giving the impression of the singer’s eagerness to reach his destination.

So, really, no complaints!

It’s a hit!

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I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from the computer to reconnect with family and other more local human beings over the festive season.santa.gif

So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all out there in Weblandia!

See you again on January 9th!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

 

 

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