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.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
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.