AUK’s Chain Gang: Bob Dylan “One More Cup of Coffee”

One of the things I’m missing most during lockdown is a decent cup of coffee – I have a local café that makes a great latte – so when I read last week’s Chain Gang article, which was written about ‘Instant Coffee Blues’ by Guy Clark, it really hit the spot, so much so that I wanted to get another fix of caffeine-themed Americana.

With this in mind, I, er, instantly, turned to Bob Dylan’s ‘One More Cup of Coffee’, from his classic 1975 album ‘Desire.’ A mesmerising and mystical story song, this moody, Middle Eastern-flavoured ballad is told from the point of view of a man who must leave a beautiful woman with eyes “like two jewels in the sky” and “a heart like an ocean, mysterious and dark” because his love for her is not reciprocated.

The male protagonist tells his female companion, whose father is an outlaw, that he will have: “One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go to the valley below.” It’s a wonderfully atmospheric track, thanks largely to Scarlet Rivera’s haunting gypsy violin playing, but also Dylan’s rich imagery and eerie backing vocals by Emmylou Harris, which Rolling Stone brilliantly described as sounding like a ‘spooked angel.’

According to Dylan, ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ was written “during a gypsy festival in the south of France one summer” – painter David Oppenheim had taken him there. While at the festival, which just so happened to coincide with his birthday, Dylan met a gypsy king who had “16 wives and 125 children.” When it was time for him to leave, he asked for one more cup of coffee for the road – the gypsies gave it to him in a bag, he took it and “headed off down.”

There’s a great, slowed-down, live version of ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ from the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, with congas on it, which adds to the exotic feel – it’s available on the ‘Bob Dylan Live 1975’ album, which is volume five in the ‘Bootleg Series.’

The White Stripes covered the song for their self-titled, 1999 debut album, turning it into a raw and primal, clanking blues, while The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn – who played in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue band – teamed up with Calexico to record a Tex-Mex take on it for the soundtrack to the Todd Haynes Dylan biopic I’m Not There.

In 2005, Dylan caused controversy and was accused of selling out when he signed an exclusive deal with Starbucks for the release of his ‘Live At The Gaslight 1962′ album. For some of his fans, this was one more cup of coffee too many.

Author: Sean Hannam

Freelance journalist, editor and presenter. Digs retro specs,The Smiths,Dylan,Cash,Richard Hawley, Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood, country / Americana and '50s/'60s pop.

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