Oxford Town – Abstract Truth (A very learned song)
Abstract Truth were a band just crying out to be the first entry in an encyclopaedia of South African rock music and, if it hadn’t been for Kevin Abraham would have made it as the opening act of the Chilvers / Jasiukowicz ‘History Of Contemporary Music Of South Africa.’ Despite this minor set back, and the fact that the group only lasted a little under two years, they did leave a legacy of gems, one of which is the cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Oxford Town.’
The song was written in response to Broadside’s magazine request for songs about a black student being enrolled in the University of Mississippi, a subject that would have been controversial in the States back in 1962 when it was written and would have been just as controversial in 1970 in South Africa when Abstract Truth did their version. Lyrics like ‘he comes to the door, he couldn’t get in, all because of the color of his skin’ would not have made this a censor friendly ditty, so no radio play then, I guess. Despite this, the album from which it was take (Totum) became one of those internationally sought after rarities, joining the likes of Freedom’s Children, Hawk and McCully Workshop.
Given that this is a cover version, one is obliged to make comparisons to the original and I am going to stick my neck out and say that Abstract Truth’s version is better than Dylan’s. I know that to some people this may be regarded as blasphemy, but there, I said it. I think the reason I regard Abstract Truth’s version as being better than Dylan’s is that Dylan was still learning his trade and forging new directions in music at the time his folky acoustic version was recorded while Abstract Truth had the benefit of a decade that saw rock music develop in leaps and bounds. They took Dylan’s simple arrangement, added some drums and a flute and moved the song from the heart to the head.
Where to find it:
Silver Trees / Totum – Abstract Truth (2005), Fresh, freshcd146
Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their hats bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town.
He went down to Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed him down
All because his face was brown
Better get away from Oxford Town.
Oxford Town around the bend
He comes to the door, he couldn’t get in
All because of the color of his skin
What do you think about that, my frien’ ?
Me and my gal, my gal’s son
We got met with a tear gas bomb
I don’t even know why we come
Goin’ back where we come from.
Oxford Town in the afternoon
Ev’rybody singin’ a sorrowful tune
Two men died ‘neath the Mississippi moon
Somebody better investigate soon.
(Written by Bob Dylan)