Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bob Dylan Song #49: She Belongs To Me

I'll delve into this a bit more when I put together my 1966 special post (which I've mentioned enough times that some of you might be fooled into thinking it'll be really great or something), but the '66 version of "She Belongs To Me" was the version that I heard first. It was something of a surprise, then, to listen to the BIABH version and not only hear it electrified (although a gentle electrification - this isn't a rambunctious song like "115th Dream", after all), but to hear Dylan sing it more modestly and traditionally. And, to be honest, that's more the way that I like hearing the song. Not that I don't enjoy Dylan sneering his way through the song and snapping off vowels Blonde on Blonde style, but after enough years of having both versions in my life, the album version is my preferred one.

"She Belongs To Me" is a song that I've always enjoyed, and these days I enjoy it more because it fits into the aesthetic of the album very well, both from a lyrical and a musical standpoint. Dylan had already eschewed traditionally direct lyricism on his last album, and here is more of the same; it's not too easy to figure what Dylan's on about when he talks about hypnotist collectors and walking antiques. Is Dylan singing about what it feels like to obsessively moon over an ethereal dream woman (like, say, his soon-to-be wife Sara or ex-girlfriend Nico, both commonly described as ethereal themselves)? Or is he parodying that nature of obsession and how silly it can make you look (never mind the part about peeking through a keyhole on your knees - can you really take "the law can't touch her at all" all that seriously)? The title of the song lends credence to the latter theory - "She Belongs To Me" seems more of a wink after hearing the lyrics - but Dylan never does cross that line into the trademark sarcasm that marks a "Just Like A Woman", instead treating the woman of the song with relative respect. As usual with Dylan, you can have it both ways, depending on your own feelings when listening to the song.

I already mentioned how much props Dylan's band should receive for their work on "Subterranean Homesick Blues", but they deserve just as much praise for what they do on this song as well. There's a very gentle interplay between John Hammond Jr.'s electric guitar and Dylan's acoustic, the electric weaving its way around the acoustic rhythm and even Dylan's harmonica playing without overwhelming either, acting as a sweet harmony to the melody. And the quiet snare taps that serve as drumming on the song help to flesh things out and give the playing a backbone - the No Direction Home take, without that beat, sounds formless and incomplete. A song like this, that could blend into the rest of the album without any accompaniment, sounds all the better when the accompaniment is as strong as the one Dylan's band afforded it (while managing to be unobtrusive at the same time - no mean feat). Even the 1966 versions, although just as compelling because Dylan sics his vocal on the lyrics like an attack dog, don't have that to fall back on, and sound a little less, well, there by comparison.

Dylan, in a smart move, slotted this song in between two of the most famous electric songs on the album, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm". I think even he knew that just keeping the heat turned up by moving from one hard rocker (comparatively speaking) to another would've been too much for a listener; who wants to go from trying to process "don't follow leaders/watch your parking meters" to "the National Guard stands around his door" in successive order? Dylan, by putting this charming little gem of a song in between the two, allowed for some breathing room, and gave a few minutes of peace before the band comes back and kicks you in the gut. And his affection for the song was such that he not only slotted it into his 1966 sets, but into the 1969 Isle of Wight comeback show as well, and has thrown it into the occasional show ever since. Dylan surely has his own personal favorite songs, and it doesn't seem like a stretch to assume that "She Belongs To Me" is one of them.

Question for you readers: which seemingly "minor" song - i.e. not one of the well-known Greatest Hits that inevitably pop up on whatever Dylan compilation's being released this week - would you consider to be your favorite? I'm not looking for an obscure I'm-trumping-you-with-my-esoteric-Dylan-knowledge answer, but an honest response as to which lesser-known track just hits you in that right way. My favorite, easily, is "Mama, You Been On My Mind"; one of the reasons I want to see this blog through the end is to write a post about that amazing, amazing song. As for you all, please feel free to discourse in the comments.

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21 comments:

dsl89 said...

I'm still amazed by this blog.
To answer your question, "New Morning" has to be one of my all-time favorite Dylan tracks. I just love the way it rocks, especially with the guitar solo, plus the lyrics are pretty good too. I think he probably wanted that to be his announcement that with the new decade, there would be a new Dylan who would try new stuff all of the time, which he certainly did throughout the seventies. The LP itself is one of my favorite Dylan albums.

Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head, looking up... Shooting Star. When you live where things are very dark at night and the sky is very full of 'more stars in the sky, than grains of sand, on all the beaches in the world',your friends are far out stars and you wonder if you will make it through. It's a big universe we live in, looking up, heaven is always in view. And thank you for this blog, I really enjoy it. Holy cow

Drzonker said...

Today, I vote for When I Paint My Masterpiece. Tomorrow, who knows? Newspapermen eating candy, indeed.

Joe A said...

For me "Tomorrow is a long time" does it ... I know it is actually on Greatest Hits 2, but I still consider it not very well known.

A few from the BS 1-3 as well, particularly "Walls of Red Wing" and "Seven Curses"

- Joe

Mark said...

"Farewell, Angelina" or maybe "Sign on the Window." Both are beautiful songs. "Sign" rarely gets attention because it is on a relatively minor album.

Anonymous said...

Best not-so-well known song? - It has to be Angelina.

Paul

Cody said...

I am going to go with "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues". It's not obscure at all, but you'll probably never find it on a Best Of album. "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" is another one, too.

Justin said...

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, although I guess that is on a couple compilations. In that case, Black Diamond Bay.

murmur said...

My vote is for "I and I" though truthfully, this changes from day to day. "Black Diamond Bay" is a good selection too.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, try to read as often as I can...My favorite under the radar Dylan tune, like most of my Fav Dylan pens are heavily influenced by readings given by the Grateful Dead. When I 1st heard Jerry sing "Going Going Gone" I was floored. I immediately put on the original and to this day can't seem to get either variation out of my head!
-save

James Brittan said...

i agree w/ an earlier post that "farewell angelina" is a nice one. "seven curse" too. "no time to think" is a great album cut that is pretty unknown and during a period that is seen by critics as the beginning of a downturn for his genius. i disagree with this of course...every period has its' gems!

mr soul said...

I would pick UP TO ME, close seconds would be I'll Keep it with Mine (which I have on a NICO lp) or Carribbean Wind

mr soul

Michael P said...

I'd say "True Love Tends To Forget". I've always found that to be a beautiful, yet simple song with a very true idea.

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was Bruce Langhorne playing the electric guitar on "She Belongs to Me," not John Hammond Jr. I'm sure I've read that it is, but maybe that info isn't reliable.

Anyway, as for my favorite obscure Dylan songs, I will second the vote for "Up to Me." I also love "Black Diamond Bay" (getting a surprising amount of love here!) and "Abandoned Love."

Anonymous said...

All Over You is my favorite Bob Dylan's song. He's a real legend. Watch FULL movies in HD quality @ http://www.yayvideo.net

Anonymous said...

"Where Are You Tonight?"
"Man in the Long Black Coat"
"Noone 'Cept You"

Pete Shanks said...

I agree with most of the nominations (especially Mama and Seven Curses) and into the mix I throw Percy's Song -- it's quite possible that my liking of that is as irrational as my dislike for Walls of Red Wing, but hey it's a non-rational process. Back to the wall, I'd probably pick Seven Curses.

Azor said...

My vote is for "I Am a Lonesome Hobo." Just like Bob wrote AATW for Jimi, that one was written for the Stones. Too bad they were too dumb to realize it.

Gronk said...

It's this one!
I remember very clearly listening to 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' on my dad's vinyl copy of Bringing It All Back Home when I was nine years old: it was a good song and I liked it. But I left the record running and then on came 'She Belongs To Me' ... it was like a bomb going off in my head. "She's got everything she needs / She's an artist / She don't look back." That fluid guitar line ... those laid-back drums ... that vocal delivery ... and those lyrics.
Pow! Bam! I fell hopelessly in love with Bob Dylan's music that day, and as such this song will always hold a little piece of that thrill for me. Nice blog, by the way.

Moose said...

I'm a huge fan of most of the time, especially the alternate version which is quicker paced and to me more heartfelt. Betty Lavette pulls off a nice version on chimes of freedom.

I'll second up to me. Every time I hear it I can't believe it was left off. How many musicians would kill to have that track?

David George Freeman said...

Hello there, thank you for posting this interesting analysis. If you would like to hear every version of every song then come inside Bob Dylan's Music Box http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/555/She-Belongs-to-Me and listen