Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bob Dylan Song #170: You Angel You

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stayed with Bob for a while, to the point where he'd make it part of that most definitive (at the time; now kind of outdated) profile of himself up to that point.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.


That, I should note, is not meant to be an insult on my part. Were I the type that would attempt to come up with or espouse offbeat theories about Dylan's music (*cough*), I might suggest the possibility that our man Bob is actually making a parody of the songs that he heard on the radio leading up to this album, his own version of a Todd Rundgren song or something ("if this is love, then gimme more/And more and more and more", et. al.), the sort of lark that Frank Zappa was ever so fond of throughout his entire career. And that might make a bit more sense if the rest of the album was full of that kind of musical wink to the audience, but Bob plays it entirely straightforward throughout, and I have no doubt that he wrote this song in all seriousness (and, one would have to assume, about his wife), and knowing that he's being totally sincere actually helps to improve the song. Dylan is no particular stranger to parody, anyway, and I think if that's what he'd been going for here it would have been a bit more obvious.

Quite frankly, it's the sincerity of this song (and of a great deal of this album) that would have made this work as a radio single; AM/FM radio is not really the domain of subtlety, experimentation, or a lot of the qualities we find in the greatest of music (until it's reached the point where it can be properly/annoyingly deemed "classic" rock - after all, the chords that the Beatles played and Dylan found "outrageous" back in the 60s are essential parts of rock DNA in 2010). Even a band like Radiohead, which most of us would consider a progressive-thinking band, recently scored rock radio success with "Bodysnatchers", by far the most traditionally "rock" and least subtle song on In Rainbows. That isn't the worst thing in the world - in general, unless you have Sirius/XM, you're not LOOKING for subtlety or experimentation on the radio, but something you can bob your head and maybe sing along to in the car or at the office or wherever people listen to the radio these days. It's kind of the same thing with the music played at clubs (which I have had experience with the past year or so, somewhat unfortunately) - nobody goes to clubs to hear real cutting edge shit, but to hear something with a beat that they can dance to. It's the nature of the beast.

"You Angel You", with its well-produced glossiness (there really isn't a way I can say that without making it sound like an insult, but it's a compliment in this case, trust me), simplistic lyrics about love, and a catchy melody (even that "gimme more" middle eight has a way of sticking in your head), certainly fits the bill of "song you could tap your foot to on the radio". And, as much as I might bag on most popular music, there is most certainly a time and a place for music like that. Most of all, it had a place on the album from which it comes, serving both as an example of the general aesthetic of the album (some good friends getting together to play some fun songs) and a palate-cleanser after the acidic bite of "Dirge". That, to me, is what really makes the song worth its existence - Planet Waves, for the most part, is a fun album to listen to, and "You Angel You" helps make it fun.

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15 comments:

Wes said...

At this rate, I'll never get to know your opinion on my favorite Bob Dylan song, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

dallasshaldune said...

I'm a long time reader, and would just like to say that this blog has been pretty awesome. I know you've been busy and you haven't posted since August, but I'm excited for future entries. You are ALMOST to Blood on the tracks!

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on the Witmark Demos?

Scott said...

Get back to work, for God's sake.

Bobby said...

This has song has been making my recent-Dylan playlists and like you I thought at first listen the song was a parody but it does come off as 'genuine' at least it does to me now. I mean perception is all we really have to go on anyway.

Regardless, this blog is perfect reading for me. Very pleased to have found it - keep it up friend!

Oh and to further on what Wes is saying, maybe you could review some of the Christmas record? Tis the season.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to hear yopur thoughts on "Never Say Goodbye", which has always been my favorite from Planet Waves, if only because you can hear the Band on the vocal tracks...

Anonymous said...

Please come back!

Anonymous said...

I know you have a life, but I'm loving your blog and I hope you get back to it. You could easily compile these in a book one day- they're great articles!

Just think, you've got Blood On The Tracks coming up soon, then Desire shortly after that- what fun! Keep going, please!

Pat Shuff said...

Colleges are like old-age homes, except for the fact that more people die in colleges.

http://www.basicjokes.com/dquotes.php?aid=2779

Maybe he died? Delayed allergic reaction?

Simon Ginks said...

This is such a great blog!! One of the best Dylan blogs ever. Don't stop!

João Pedro da Costa said...

You know what? I came here everyday. Really. I have still not lost the hope to see a new post from you. Take your time, though. The work you have assembled here is worth of my infinite patience. Hope all's well with you and that you're doing ok.

astronaut omens said...

Yeah!!Totally agree with the comment above! Still, 6 months later, I still keep coming back hoping you're going to post again! Don't give up!

allan said...

What's up with the tape splice in the first line? I assume it is a tape splice and not Dylan fumbling a line and recovering. It happens too fast.

And leaving the mistake on the record, I guess that's just Dylan being Dylan. (There is a gospel-era boot that was supposedly going to be a live album, but Columbia nixed it. And if I recall, this is the finished album -- and Dylan muffs a line in each of the first two songs. Which makes me highly suspicious of its being considered for an official release. But then again ... WTF?)

Tony said...

Allan, I listened to the song again out of curiosity and I think there's still enough of a break between "you" and "got" (I assume that's what you're talking about) where it could reasonably be considered a botch and not a tape splice. Given the track record of Dylan releasing botches on official records, I assume he wasn't a fan of that sort of editing, or just didn't really care.

For those that don't know the bootleg Allan's talking about, it's called Rock Solid (http://www.bootlegzone.com/album.php?name=RsMhTC041980), and it is easily my favorite release of the Dylan era, official or no. The smoking-hot version of Solid Rock that appears on Biograph came from the same run, and may even be the one on the bootleg. It's really fantastic.

really said...

its just brilliant songwriting and playing from the band... the clean guitar, the squeezebox on night like this, i found the bare bones through out planet waves more soulful than tracks. tracks is a sell out he had to struggle to get over in the rest of the 70s. bob does better out in the weeds than in hollywood.