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stayed with Bob for a while, to the point where he'd make it part of that most definitive (at the time; now kind of outdated) profile of himself up to that point.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