There are definite differences between every version of the classic Casey Jones yet the two particular songs chosen, one by Billy Murray and the other by The Grateful Dead, show differences with form and rhythm, as well as similarities in certain aspects of the song in terms of the story line followed in the lyrics. This shows how certain characteristics of a song can stay somewhat constant no matter when the adaptation is recorded.
Billy Murray’s 1912 version of Casey Jones is quite different than most music heard today. Its accompaniment is trumpets and tubas. These instruments may be unique to their time period and could have been the definition of popular music at that time of the early twentieth century. The form of Murray’s Casey Jones is AA’AA’ during the normal stanzas, which each consist of four lines. The chorus of the song begins when Murray says “Casey Jones” and then goes on to say something about Jones. The form for this chorus is BBBC. After Murray finishes singing the chorus his band sings the same lines with the same form. The Grateful Dead’s 1970 version of Casey Jones was recorded nearly six decades later and it is obvious because of the different standard for popular music by that time therefore changing the style of the song. The Grateful Dead’s edition has stanzas consisting of four lines each with a form of AA’ during the stanzas he repeats the most, which start with “Driving that train, pile of cocaine” and once where it begins with “Trouble ahead, lady in red”. The form of the other stanzas is BB’.
These songs differ in more than just form. The lyrics and the way the singers sing the lyrics are both differences also. The lyrics of Billy Murray’s version tell more of a story of Casey Jones, what happened and what is about to happen. The lyrics even state the fact that the song is a story by beginning with “Come on round if you want to hear a story about a brave engineer”. Similarly Murray seems to sing that way as well. As he sings, he ends each stanza with a lower pitch than the rest of the stanza. He may be doing this to symbolize how Casey Jones is soon going to reach his fatal destiny. The Grateful Dead’s version is based more on drugs, referencing that Casey Jones is “high on cocaine” multiple times throughout the song. The 1970 rendition is more relaxed through the entire song, with the guitars and drum playing a casual melody. The song never grows much faster. They might do this to signify the effect that the cocaine is having on Casey Jones. Perhaps it is making him calmer and therefore the song reflects that. Meanwhile, Murray uses trumpets and tubas in his adaptation. These instruments may have been used because they were more popular and common during the early 1900s, or Murray might have been trying to make the music sound train-like. The whistle of the train sounds much more like a trumpet than a guitar.
The constant idea of both songs is the storyline that Casey Jones will die. In Murray’s song it is made known every time he sings the chorus that Jones will die when he sings, “And he took that farewell trip to the promise land”. Murray turns the song into more of a story however, as mentioned earlier, and in turn emphasizes certain words in order to better explain the story. The Grateful Dead is not as concerned with telling the story as it is with playing a catchy melody. The lyrics do not go nearly into as much detail about the storyline as Murray’s song, but the storyline stays consistent with Jones being sent to his death by running into an ongoing train with his train. The drastic differences between these two renditions of Casey Jones once again might show the difference between the ideas of popular music at their respective times. The Grateful Dead’s version is much more modern by today’s standards for music than Billy Murray’s version.