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Cuttin' Heads - Blind Lemon versus Lou Reed

A blues about death first recorded in 1927, and then taken for a walk on the wild side in 2003. But which version is the buried treasure?

Though the title has the admonishing tone of a moral message, more plausible from a preacher than from a blues singer, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean is a blues with a history spanning nearly 90 years, from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Lou Reed. In its original version it’s a compilation of 16-bar blues verses about death, burial and commemoration: the two white horses that take the body to the cemetery, the grave dug with a silver spade, the body lowered on a golden chain, the sound of dirt falling on the coffin, the toning of the church bell. The central message is delivered in the opening verse: ‘It’s one kind favour I ask of you – see that my grave is kept clean.’

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