I'm not going to lie - there was a certain amount of temptation to combine this post with "Never Say Goodbye", since both songs are basically the most straightforward love songs on the album (along with "On A Night Like This"), and writing about straightforward love songs is not always the easiest business. This is not to say that I don't think this is a good song; "dummy" lyrics or no, the song has a pleasant MOR sheen to it (especially the opening, with Robertson's oh-so-70's guitar tone soloing next to Hudson's organ stabs) and Dylan puts as much effort into the song as you could reasonably ask for. And hey, this song ended up on Biograph, so it must have stayed with Bob for a while, to the point where he'd make it part of that most definitive (at the time; now kind of outdated) profile of himself up to that point. Had Dylan chosen to pluck any singles from this album (I'd always thought it was strange that he didn't; one would think that "Forever Young" might have both sold well on its own and helped move a few more copies of the album proper), this song would've been a fine, maybe even natural choice.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Easily one of Dylan's bleakest tracks in his entire catalog, "Dirge" is a song that not only seems rather decidedly out of place on Planet Waves, but something that seems out of place in Dylan's 1970s output; really, maybe out of place in his output after the motorcycle crash (up to that point, of course). I'm quite certain I will be corrected if I'm missing something, but just about everything between the Basement Tapes and 1974 had been lighter in tone (certainly Nashville Skyline, and the notoriously "friendly" Self Portrait spring to mind), and one could have been justified in imagining that the Dylan who wrote "Positively 4th Street" and other such rapier-brandishing classics had grown up, properly matured, and had left all that poison-pen business behind. This makes "Dirge" all the more fascinating, mainly because there really hasn't been precedent for a song like this after the crash (and certainly not on Planet Waves up to that point - even "Going Going Gone" has more of a tone of resignation than anything else) and because Dylan has always had a way of channeling invective into something poetic (that line about paying the price of solitude is really fantastic, isn't it?). That's not a bad talent to have.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
On an album that features the debut of my favorite period for Bob Dylan's singing voice, this song stands as a personal favorite in terms of just hearing Bob sing. I'm not the sort of person that feels any particular need to make excuses for Bob's singing style, even his present day voice (which, like it or not, is a voice that a person not already part of the Dylan club is probably going to have trouble with) - his reputation lies mainly on his songwriting, he was "blessed" with a gritty voice that could hit the notes but not too much else, and he made the very best of it for a very long time (until about 1977, when he blew it out trying to overexert himself for the ill-advised 1978 world tour - but hey, at least we got Live at the Budokan out of it, right? Right?), which is about all you can ask for. But when Dylan decides he's up for a vocal performance, he can deliver - the quintessential example being the Montreal '75 performance of "Isis", where he turns up the vocals to 11 in order to match the RTR's dramatic performance. And this song is another example, at least for me, as Bob hits all the right notes, adds some nice flourishes at the end of every verse, and sounds like he's giving the metaphorical 110% all throughout. The Band gives a sympathetic backing, and the result is another strong tune.
Given that most of this post will be dedicated to The Last Waltz (don't worry, there will be some Dylan-related content), I might as well get my feelings about "Hazel" out of the way here. I like the song just fine (even though Dylan spends the middle eight groping around for the proper vocal key), and I think of it as a fine piece of the album's overall aesthetic, but it's not particularly a song that I would hold up as a classic or anything. To be honest, It makes me think more of the kind of song Dylan might have heard on WABC or something in the '70s and decided "hey, I'm gonna give that a shot"; couldn't you just imagine this song sandwiched between "Same Old Song and Dance" and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" during some imaginary DJ's 7-11 shift as he blathers on about how you can get tickets at your local YMCA for the Neil Young show? Even the lyrics kind of leave something to be desired ("ooh, just a touch of your love", indeed), which is a slight disappointment considering how accomplished the songwriting on this album is otherwise. Maybe I'm making too much of this song - I can't imagine Dylan and the Band imagined this song to be much more than a trifle anyway - so I'll just move on.
If choosing a song that's most emblematic of the style of Planet Waves, I think I would go with "Tough Mama". Everything that you can find throughout the rest of the album is here - the Band's rough-and-tumble playing style (the guitar, in particular, comes flying at you - it sounds like something out of a Jim Croce track, which might very well have been the point); Dylan's raw, more raunchy singing voice; somewhat cryptic lyrics in the vein of his 60s work (without actually sounding like his 60s work - a pretty neat trick, that); and, ostensibly, lyrics about Sara Lowndes. The sum result of that, as you would probably expect, is a pretty damn fantastic song, certainly one that I find myself returning to whenever I pull this album out for a test run. In fact, back in the days when I was obsessively collecting Dylan bootlegs, I would often single out shows that had this song on it (more on that in a moment). I can't really tell you why this song has stuck with me for so long; then again, I'd have difficulty saying that about most of my favorite songs.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
This has always been one of my favorite Dylan songs; I won't even bother using the "sneaky favorite" appellation that I've used elsewhere on this blog. To me, it contains one of the best arrangements on the entire Planet Waves album (that weirdly stuttering Robertson guitar riff that kicks the song off will always be burned in my memory), as well as some of the best lyrics - a bitter Dylan is quite often the optimal Dylan (as we will see not too far from now, of course). Sure, the words to the song may seem slight by comparison to something like "Something There Is About You", but that's what gives it that extra dramatic edge, in my opinion. Even the middle eight, the "Grandma said" part that might seem at first to be at odds with the rest of the track, adds an extra dimension to the darker, angrier verses, a ray of sunshine poking through the clouds. There's a reason the song pops up all throughout the second leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue - it's a song about leaving love behind, and Dylan in 1976 was all about leaving love behind, in the nastiest and most self-destructive form possible.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
It still kind of amazes me, nearly forty years after this song's release, just how damned literal the lyrics to this song are; that this song became a considerable hit for numerous artists amazes me even further. If you listen to the song in the context of the film the lyrics work perfectly well - the Slim Pickens character, who just got plugged during a shootout on the hunt for Billy the Kid, is having a tearful final moment with his wife, and Bob singing about "mama, take this badge off of me/I can't use it anymore" fits seamlessly with the scene. (This link goes into a little greater depth about the song used within the film.) Taking the song out of context, however, the whole thing just seems...I dunno, maybe a bit much for a nominal pop single? After all, this song ended up on AM radio and was covered God knows how many times, and it's basically a man talking about burying his guns as he slips away into death to meet his Maker. Throw in the whole gospel-like harmonies and we're talking about one damn depressing song at its face.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
And, without the slightest bit of warning, Bob Dylan had returned to the forum of protest songs. Cut just over two months after the death of the Soledad Brother in a prison shootout (and released a mere week after the song's recording, a rather amazing turnaround if you stop to think about it), one of the few songs from Dylan's first period in the wilderness was a throwback to his acoustic days, as though the stern young man of the Times cover had inhabited his body for a couple of weeks until he could get the song cranked out before heading back to from whence he came. There happens to be two versions of the song - a mellow full-band version with the guys he'd recorded his Greatest Hits Vol. II songs with, and a solo acoustic version, just Bob and his harmonica, like the good ol' days. It is the solo acoustic version that I'm linking to, simply because it makes the most sense; until "Hurricane", after all, that was just Bob's metier.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
This is a post that, in a way, almost writes itself. If ever there was a Dylan track that would qualify as my all-time sneaky favorite, it would be "When I Paint My Masterpiece", one of those songs that always seems to slip through the cracks when people talk about Bob's classics (some might append that classification to "Watching The River Flow", I think). What I really love about the song is just how laid-back Bob sounds on it, like he really is singing about chilling out in Rome and thinking about when he finally finishes his life's work. One almost wishes that it was true - that instead of being in upstate New York all this time, he'd actually been crossing the Continent by train, suitcase in hand, living it up with a big Derek Flint grin on his face. And the musicians help set that mood from the start, Leon Russell's piano leading us into a bevy of wry guitar solos and a gently propulsive rhythm. One imagines that this is the sound of Bob not taking himself all too seriously (much like the Christmas album, as a matter of fact - what is "Must Be Santa" if not one of his all-time great pisstakes?), and it's hard not to want him to do that more often.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
I've always wondered what it was about "Tomorrow is a Long Time" that appealed to Elvis Presley so much, to the point where he would record his own version for one of his crappy movie soundtracks (the phrase "crappy" can apply to both the movie and the soundtrack, in general). Quite frankly, I wonder why Elvis would bother with a Dylan song at all; after all, this is a guy who used to joke when he had bad breath that "it feels like Bob Dylan's been sleeping in my mouth". But we have Elvis' version of this song nonetheless, and it's a surprisingly good version, a down-home Mississippi Delta touch attached to the tune, Elvis putting in a pretty decent vocal performance (although there are moments where he does something with his voice that reminds me why I don't like him more than I think I ought to, if that makes sense), a casual take on a love song that succeeds because it's so darn casual and laid back. You'd never have thought to turn the song into a crawling blues track, but Elvis and his producers did, and they get kudos for that.
My sincerest apologies to those of you that assumed my discussion of Greil Marcus' review of Self Portrait would cease with the "Alberta #2" post, but I found myself thinking of that album, and rather specifically the bit about Dylan's responsibilities to his audience, during my most recent listen to "Watching the River Flow", one of a handful of original songs Bob recorded between 1970 and 1974's Planet Waves. Listening to Dylan kick the tune off with those fateful words "What's the matter with me?/I don't have much to say", then talk about sitting on a beach somewhere and watching the inexorable progress of some random waterway, one can only assume that Marcus must have been livid. After all, compare Self Portrait, in which Bob makes what could be interpreted as a symbolic retreat from the arena, to this song, in which Bob straight up admits it to all of us. I dunno - were I in Marcus' shoes, I think I might be kinda pissed.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
I had a special post all typed out, I really did. I was going to do one of those "author interviewing himself" conceits, where I asked myself these pertinent questions about where I was in my life, why I'd put this blog on its longest hiatus yet, and whether or not I was really prepared to see this through to the bitter end (I mean, look at that post title - I'm not even halfway to reaching THIS song, let alone the last one!). But, to be quite honest, nobody needs to read all that, especially in light of all the emotional gushing that will soon commence in the post proper. So I've instead condensed said special post into three questions and answers:
Q. Where the hell were you?
A. It's like John Lennon said - "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."
Q. Why this song?
A. Because the time to write about it was right, for me at least. Normal chronological order will resume after this post - I just wanted to get this out of my system. If this somehow seems like a cheat, I apologize. I fully acknowledge that this post is the rare one that's more for me than anybody else.
Q. Will you continue this project?
A. Yes. I don't know how regular I'll keep things, but I will do my level best to maintain at least some sort of schedule. That anybody reads this at all is amazing, and it's at the point now that I want people to keep reading and to look forward to what I do. It means more than you could ever know, believe me.
And so back I go into the maelstrom. Just a heads up - this gets into some REALLY emo shit. If you're not prepared or that sort of thing doesn't suit you, I suggest you come back later in the week. Trust me.