Lily of the West (1973) – Bob Dylan

There are some good tracks to be found even on Dylan’s ‘throwaway records’. Lily of the West is one such song from his record Dylan (1973). Although the record received very poor reviews upon its release, it managed to reach No. 17 in the U.S. and was certified gold. It was Dylan’s 13th album made up of outtakes from his earlier records, namely Self Portrait and New Morning. The nine songs featured on the album consist of six cover songs and three traditional songs, adapted and arranged by Dylan.The album followed the artist’s departure from Columbia for Asylum Records.

In Europe Dylan (1973) the album was re-released in January 1991 with the title Dylan (A Fool Such as I). I owned that CD titled A Fool Such as I when I lived in Melbourne. I probably paid a fortune for it on Ebay or somewhere. An apt title that album. I still have a plethora of still-sealed Dylan LPs residing with my mother in Australia. The going price is a Billion-Zillion dollars.

Lily of the West is a traditional British and Irish folk song, best known today as an American folk song. The American version is about a man who travels to Louisville and falls in love with a woman named Mary, Flora or Molly, the eponymous Lily of the West. He catches Mary being unfaithful to him, and, in a fit of rage, stabs the man she is with, and is subsequently imprisoned.

[Verse 1]
When first I came to Louisville, some pleasure there to find
A damsel there from Lexington was pleasing to my mind
Her rosy cheeks, her ruby lips, like arrows pierced my breast
And the name she bore was Flora, the lily of the west

[Verse 2]
I courted lovely Flora some pleasure for to find
But she turned unto another man whose sore distressed my mind
She robbed me of my liberty, deprived me of my rest
Then go, my lovely Flora, the lily of the west

Many broadsides of the song were collected in England and Ireland around 1820-50; the English and Scottish versions generally begin “It’s when I came to England some pleasure for to find“, whilst the Irish broadsides began “When first I came to Ireland some pleasure for to find“.

Joan Baez recorded Lily of the West in 1961, including it on her second album; her live concerts have frequently included performances of the song well into the 2010s. Her version can be found following Dylan’s version below. I can see why Dylan remarked about Joan’s artistry: ‘She’s a really excellent guitar player‘. Apart from Dylan and Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary and Mark Knopfler covered it amongst many others.

1. Lily of the West – Wikipedia

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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