Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bob Dylan Song #24: Corrina, Corrina

It speaks a lot about an album like Freewheelin' that a song like "Corrina, Corrina", a gentle pining love song from the 1920s recorded with the barest bones of a band (light drumming, a soloing electric, and bass), feels like a major departure from the rest of the record. In its own small way, really, it IS a departure from the rest of the record; that speaks even more to the internal universe Freewheelin' had created throughout. Obviously, the mere fact that more than one instrumentalist is performing on the song sets it apart, even though the band is hardly playing rock music and the electric guitar is muted in comparison to the ungodly junk spewing out of AM radio in 1963. The other attribute that makes "Corrina, Corrina" an anomaly is what the song isn't - i.e., an original. On an album almost entirely written by Bob Dylan, he managed to slide in a cover version.

The song itself is fine, if something of a pleasant trifle, but that really doesn't seem to be the point - what "Corrina, Corrina" represents is far more important. The song serves as a window into a tumultuous period of Bob Dylan's life and recording career, a time in which his fate could have gone into any number of different directions, all of them wildly different from each other, and all of them interesting in their own ways. In that regard, "Corrina, Corrina"'s historical importance is hard to overstate. It is the key to what Freewheelin' could have been, and very nearly almost was.

As anybody that's been reading this blog already knows, Bob Dylan was an album almost entirely consisting of cover versions, hand-selected to show off the wide range that Dylan as folk interpreter could operate within. Once that album had flopped, it's entirely understandable for both Bob and Columbia Records to be a little skittish about what to do with Bob next. After all, he was still under contract as a recording artist, but his album had sold terribly and the threat of moving Dylan to a lower-ranking Columbia-owned label loomed very large indeed. And, at that point in Bob's career, he didn't have the same cache as other established songwriters, let alone his own catalog of songs to record an album with. It's no wonder that even though John Hammond had decided that he was committed to making Bob a star, there was no set direction to take his second album towards.

It seems like a sobering thought to consider the album that Bob might have made, had he not had the time to build his reputation further in New York circles and write the strong originals that make the album what it is. The originals that Dylan had written when the first sessions had begun were nowhere near the standard of a "Bob Dylan's Blues", let alone "Hard Rain"; "Sally Gal" and "The Death of Emmitt Till" would hardly have been acceptable substitutes. Without the original material, the album would have been more dependent upon cover versions, which might have worked just fine, but would have suffered for it - does anybody here really relish the thought of hearing Bob perform "That's All Right, Mama" and "Lonesome Whistle Blues"? And then there's the band songs, with the one that did make it and "Mixed-Up Confusion", an original that didn't make it for whatever reason and might have completely skewed Dylan's career in a different direction.

"Mixed-Up Confusion" we'll get to another time, but we still have "Corrina, Corrina" to serve as a small reminder of just how remarkable the sessions for Freewheelin' really were, and how what could have been a mediocre-to-decent album morphed over the span of a single year into one of Dylan's benchmark albums and one of the best albums of the 1960s folk music movement, an album that inspired The Beatles and broke Dylan huge in Great Britain (a year after its release, which will become much more important down the line). History is made up almost entirely of forks in the road, splitting off into new and different forks, branching outwards and outwards into eternity, and we never get to see what would've happened if a different branch would've been taken and if the fork had gone left instead of right. Considering the way that Bob's career turned out, I think that turn in the road worked out just fine.

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Anonymous said...

Who is this guy Tom Hammond mentioned in this opinion?

Tony said...

Tom Hammond does not exist, and is a mistake made by my dumb ass. I switched the names Tom Wilson (one of Bob's producers) and John Hammond (another of Bob's producers and the man who discovered him). I've corrected the mistake, and thanks for pointing it out.

Anonymous said...


Azor said...

Tom Hammond exists. Didn't you see any track coverage on NBC during the Olympics?

David George Freeman said...

Hello there Bob Dylan fans, have you digested this analysis yet? Well chewing over the meaning of everything, listen to the original and all the great versions from inside Bob Dylan's Music Box http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/131/Corrina,-Corrina Come in and join us.