ONE MAN GUY:
(Youtube does not, somehow, have a version of this song with just Rufus Wainwright singing, so my comparisons will all be derived from the first verse)
I've known the Rufus Wainwright version of this song for about seven years, since I first heard it on the cd accompanying Nick Hornby's Songbook. The song had some obvious virtues for me: it has a strong, clear vocal which happens to be right in my range and is relatively easy to play on guitar. In Rufus' version, despite the punchline at the end of the chorus, the tone of the song is melancholic, which also suits the guitar well. (Noel Gallagher, in the front matter of an Oasis biography I once owned, said something to the effect of: "it doesn't matter to me whether I'm famous. So long as I can sit in a room by myself and sing 'Dirty Old Town,' I'll be all right." He's right: the ability to sit in a room by yourself and sing sad songs is half the reason to learn guitar in the first place. Almost nothing will make you feel better.) I had, in 2003, lived by myself for the first time ever, and was about to do it again. Living alone is a very strange experience at first, especially if you're used to having lots of people around. What it does offer, if you want it, is calm, quiet, and routines set any way you like them: "I'm going to bathe and shave and dress myself and eat solo every night/ unplug the phone and sleep alone/ and stay way out of sight." In Rufus' version, you get all of that--the pleasure of living alone, the solitude which can become loneliness, the difficulty it casts on trying to build relationships outside of that world.
The song is originally his father's. Loudon's version:
I had never bothered to listen to it until today, and I'm glad I waited. It strikes me as, in every way, an inferior version of the song. Listen to how he chops up the lines in order to emphasize the rhymes. Note the way he makes sure to underline the parts that are supposed to be funny. Note also the way he clips the ending Gs off words; I could never tell whether he has a southern accent or is imitating one.
In a larger sense, this may serve as a blow against the idea (which I sometimes hold) that an author has a special or particular knowledge of what their creation is about. But I'll have to think about that more.