Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)
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"Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" is a 1967 folk-rock song written and first recorded by Bob Dylan during The Basement Tapes sessions. The song is a tale with vaguely psychedelic lyrics. The subject of the song is the arrival of the mighty Quinn (an eskimo), who changes despair into joy and chaos into rest, and attracts attention from the animals. The metaphorical lyrics have prompted suggestions that Quinn is God, a drug dealer, or simply a village elder. Dylan himself has said that the title character refers to actor Anthony Quinn's role as an Eskimo in the 1959 movie The Savage Innocents. Dylan has also been quoted as saying that the song was nothing more than a "simple nursery rhyme".
More recently, Dylan in his autobiography Chronicles Volume One (published 2004), makes further reference to the song: "On the way back to the house I passed the local movie theater on Prytania Street, where The Mighty Quinn was showing. Years earlier I had written a song called "The Mighty Quinn" which was a hit in England, and I wondered what the movie was about. Eventually I'd sneak off and go there to see it. It was a mystery, suspense, Jamaican thriller with Denzel Washington as the Mighty Xavier Quinn a detective who solves crimes. Funny, that's just the way I imagined him when I wrote the song The Mighty Quinn, Denzel Washington". You gotta love Dylan humor!
Initially unreleased by Dylan, it was picked up and recorded by the British band Manfred Mann, who released their version under the title "Mighty Quinn." The Manfred Mann version reached #1 in the UK Singles Chart for the week of February 14, 1968.
The first time Bob Dylan himself released his own version of the song was when a live version from the Isle of Wight Festival of the song was included on his Self Portrait album in 1970. He didn't play the song live again until 2002.
The Brothers and the Sisters recorded a gospel version. A live version by the Grateful Dead was released in 2000 on Dick's Picks, Volume 17, from a 1991 performance in Boston. Another live version by Phish was released in 1999 on Hampton Comes Alive, which was recorded on November 20 & 21, 1998 in Hampton, Virginia.