Wait a minute. Time out. Start over. We can't move into the Bob Dylan top 10 with a Kenny Loggins quote. And as tempted as I am to say something long-strange trip-y, I'm not gonna. That song blows. The only appropriate quote that comes to mind follows, and if you missed yesterday's part one, you can find it here:
"’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood,
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud,
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form."
10. Self Portrait
release date: 06/08/70
cover: something hanging in the art-room hallway of a middle school
sales note: gold
AllMusic stars: 2/5
lyric to love: “All the tired horses in the sun/How’m I s’posed to get any riding done? Mmmmm…MMMMM….mm-mmmmm.” -- from "All the Tired Horses"
notes: “All the Tired Horses” chills the spine with opening female vocals, and I will, to the end of time, sing that refrain over til the song’s end. “Alberta #1” has a fat, froggy bass and conjures memories of the Eric Clapton version. Dylan continues to boggle with wonderful musicianship on “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” while “Days of 49” makes one expect chants of “Hi-Yooooh, Hi-Yay!” to erupt. The track has a fat-necked, low-icy horn that sounds like a gangster kazoo. Dylan, in this number, returns to an earlier version of his voice.
Albeit overstated, there’s a tempo-appreciation thing happening in “Early Mornin’ Dew,” and it’s still worth noting. The combination of bass, piano, and mandolin-like strumming is remarkable. Next are the soothing “In Search of Little Sadie” and “Let It Be Me.” “Little Sadie,” however, possesses a moving tranquility of joy and release that compensate for the void left by the album’s previous track. It’s a better version of “In Search of Little Sadie,” has the addition of mandolin and percussion, plus a higher tempo, all of which make the song really enjoyable. The late appearance of the bass line, as well as some Jerry Garcia-sounding acoustic guitar riffs complete the cut.
“Woogie Boogie,” while a foolish title, has a nice blues intro with horn accompaniment. It sounds like a rockin’ swing party aboard a 3 a.m. cruise ship. Picture poofy dresses, broads twirlin’ and sliding through their partners’ legs. Tobacco’s in the air and Jack Kerouac’s taking photographic-memory mental notes in the corner. It’s followed by the admirable string arrangements of “Bellie Isle.”
There’s a steel ax, played in nice moderation in “Living the Blues.” Some tranquil female backup vocals flavor the number, painting a picture of gals in green strapless dresses and white platform heels with one side of their hair pinned back. Their flawless complexions, intoxicating smiles, and shoulder shuffles accentuate their song.
The inclusion of “Like a Rolling Stone” confuses, while the composition “Copper Kettle” is nice, but not search-worthy. From the files of redundancy, “Gotta Travel On” dips into that jam-band-influence vat. It’s got a Widespread Panic-y, Phish-y feel to it with some digable female vocals in the refrain.
Scrutiny associated with the inclusion of “Blue Moon” is outweighed by the velvet flow it delivers. It’s like a chocolate fountain you never have to clean, a simple source of imaginary stimulus. Also from the speculation department comes the suggestion that “The Boxer” cover attempts to mock Paul Simon, to which I ask, wouldn’t it have to be a shitty cover to substantiate such a claim? Further revealing my jam-band affinity, I have to thank BD for writing “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)" as Phish absolutely crushes it when they cover it live.
“Take Me As I Am” acts as a calming bedtime number, while “Take a Message to Mary” has some backing vocals, guitar (sounds like Charlie McCoy again) that’re right on the money. Lyrical suggestions that Dylan is still inspired by the country motif inhabit this track. Notes of the random: Really? Fifty-two musicians collaborated on this release? I’m not complaining. Very impressive.
More jam-band love: always dig a good version of “It Hurts Me, Too.” And, in “Minstrel Boy,” there’s some strange lyrical theme occurring, one that’s fleshed out by bubbly bass and scratchy guitar licks. A nice gospel-rock feel to the track.
I’ve always loved “Wigwam,” but never knew its name before this project. It’s got a nice theoretical answer to countless questions surrounding criticism of BD’s work, and the tendency to compare current work to that of the previous. It’s as though he said, If I want, I’ll bring in four dozen artists, record a double album with minimal linear theme strings, and yes, one track will be a horn-driven instrumental in which I “la-dee-day” for the vocals. And yes, I’ll name it after a Native American dwelling.
“Alberta #2” closes it out and leaves one with the feeling of a fine, fine meal’s conclusion, a meal shared with seldom-seen friends, a feeling of security, warmth. Not sure I came across more scrutiny for any particular album greater than the seeming demise that exists for this one. It's covers, it's not deep, it's not genuine. It's a joke, a spit in the face of critics, a sham, and a letdown. Know what I thought it was? Real damn good.
9. Highway 61 Revisited
release date: 08/30/65
cover: a color version of a jaded-yet-rejuvenated Dylan seen previously on the album’s predecessor
sales note: platinum
AllMusic stars: 5/5
lyric to love: “The sun’s not yellow/It’s chicken” –- from “Tombstone Blues”
notes: Every album ever recorded in the history of music will take second place in one regard: beginning an album with as powerful a track as this one. Naturally you get BD’s vocals and harmonica with titanic lyrics, but the organ, the peak-and-valley climbs of the bass line, the ragtime piano all make “Like a Rolling Stone: one of the most omnipotent cuts of all time. “Tombstone Blues” then, has an impossible act to follow, but with it does so successfully since the album genre hops into the blues and picks up the organ pace where “Stone” left off. Dylan, as this record gets rolling, develops themes of social commentary via peculiar characters, the importance of their presence self-evident, the absurdity of their actions a critique of certain elements of human value.
Track three, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” shows us more potential influence later seen in Led Zeppelin, specifically “Boogie with Stu” from Physical Graffiti. “From a Buick 6” piggybacks on that motif with an even-more-upbeat bouncy ragtime feel, and then we get the haunting sounds of “Ballad of a Thin Man,” wherein auditory foreshadowing of offspring-yet-to-be-born Jakob can be heard; there’s something similar to the vocals directed at Mr. Jones and the bellowing heard in The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight.”
The recurring power of the organ embeds this album in an essence of old-time heroism that recorded American music had never known until Highway barged into its living room with a welcomed exuberance and “Queen Jane Approximately” is a perfect example of how. The title track offers a slide-whistle sound effect, a rhythm, and vocals that combined evoke next to nothing save for an appreciation of the chunk of the United States it inhabits: a Mississippi River frontage road.
“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” shares a comforting level of piano that’s almost outdone by exhausted vocals and a harmonica solo that wonders whether or not, in this instance, less is more. “Desolation Row” brings it all back home with some of BD’s most powerful mashing of historical figures into modern-day societal situations, an epic that features some stunning guitar work by Charlie McCoy, leaving the listener with the kind of sense that inquires, After this, what next?
8. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
release date: 05/27/63
cover: a walk every cold-weather-dwelling western human has taken at least once
sales note: platinum
AllMusic stars: 5/5
lyric to love: “…I catch dinosaurs, make love to Elizabeth Taylor, catch hell from Richard Burton…” -– from “I Shall Be Free”
notes: It’s hard to strip away pop culture from things 65 or younger, and it’s hard to remove the Forrest Gump from “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but the beauty of the entire composition, the messages to humanity that rival quotes of some of our greatest leaders demand that you appreciate this number for what it is, regardless of where and how often you’ve heard it.
The senseless thing to say about “Girl from the North Country” is that it’s a number about a lass from up yonder. What it makes me think of, though, is a man driving with his dog across the two-lane highways of the west. When we get to “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” we’re officially one and-a-half albums into the 34-title selection. That’s about four percent of the way through, and the lyrical mastery this early lies deep with the BD. That gem’s followed by another: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” a song with a title so great in its simplicity, a sound accented by dancing hammer-ons.
It’s a bit of an oddity to have your name appear in the titles of your first two albums, and again in two song titles on your second release, and that’s all I have to say about “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” In “Talking WWII Blues” BD drops a serious notion that play-fights with humor, a theme ensconced in classic harmonica. It’s followed by a great folk-riddled ballad in “Corrina, Corrina.” I prefer the Leo Kottke version myself, but as is the case with covers, you wouldn’t have your favorite rendition without the original, another theme that has followed Dylan for decades.
Once we arrive at “I Shall Be Free” we’re given more humor, politico, and a man’s man kind of songwriting. This is the kind of song that instills a smile at the very core of being: “greasy kids stuff” wound up being the title of a Frank Zappa ditty; we see “humdinger” dotted across the pop-culture spectrum; phrases like “eatin’ bagels…and pizza,” “the daughter of Mr. Clean” admit to us the Americanness of Bob Dylan, even if he, at such a young age, was displeased by much of what American meant.
7. Bringin' It All Back Home
release date: 03/22/65
cover: the life-loving essence of the beats, a transition, perhaps, of the folk-rooted BD to an avant-garde psychedelic
sales note: platinum
AllMusic stars: 5/5
lyric to love: “Just then the whole kitchen exploded/From boilin’ fat/Food was flying everywhere/And I left without my hat” –- from “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”
notes: This wild, electric-band party gets underway with “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” a shock to the chronologically tuned ear that, to this point, had heard nothing but vocals, six-string strum, and harmonica for four albums. Two years and change later, Dylan comes out swingin’ and goes swiftly away. “Look out, kid.” That packed punch precedes “She Belongs to Me,” a sort of floating staccato riff atop some bass and high hat. It’s got a tropical sound meshed with the railroad-track/campfire vocals, and of course, some harmonica.
I’d rather not say anything about “Maggie’s Farm,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the somewhat customary blues and guitar of BD have a pop in this track, a nice spice to fit the new-yet-familiar flavor profile known as lyrics of rebellion*. In “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” Dylan gives us something of a down-home feeling, and from here it’s clear that the album is building off of itself. The self-development continues with “Outlaw Blues,” where toe tapping morphs into heel stomping, vocals once mildly nurtured on previous tracks sent forth with confidence into the cold world.
There’s no Willie Nelson in this “On the Road Again.” In fact, his version wouldn’t surface for another 15 years, but in Dylan’s cut of the same name, the development of Bringin’ continues, this time with blues roots that are taken back down a notch, settling into a mellower blues-rock route, a sound joined with vocals and harmonica familiar from previous albums.
“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” toys with takes and laughter, yet there’s still more development. This build-while-refining approach continues to astonish, this time with a retreat from calm blues rock, instead selecting a ragtime-blues thoroughfare that evokes images of bustling bar crowds and dancing, care-free, young Americans. “Dream” moves and jumps with a zest greater than any of its predecessors, and, without taking anything away from previous lyrics: The essence of this song is really special. I’d go so far as to say there’re some possible early jam-band roots in this ditty.
As mentioned, it’s always bizarre to hear the stripped-down original versions of songs written by Dylan, made famous later via juiced-up covers, in this case, the Byrds. At this point in the album the electric feel backing Dylan has been reduced to the electric-guitar riff, suggesting that the development has regressed in favor of advancement, another path of experimentation chosen. This is not, for a minute, to suggest that the order of song appearance on an album mirrors its chronological place in the recording-spectrum session, but attention to song-placement detail must’ve been considered, if only for whim.
There could be some powerful allegory twisting within the lyrics of “Gates of Eden,” but overall, the flat vocals and uninspired harmonica, coupled with a basic chord progression leaves this track an auditory dud. “It’s Alright” suggests another track with potential for later evident influence on rock, i.e. Led Zeppelin’s folk-rock tracks. There’s some efficacious preaching in the lyrics, lyrics that deliver a living-life-to-its-fullest message via disenchantment with politics, the suggestion of value in family, a discredit to some social values, and a hint of passion-flushed life. Such a hint is delivered vis-à-vis a line we see years later in The Shawshank Redemption. In this song, however, the original says, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” And since I’ve already used one form of a word twice to discuss one song, why not throw in a third and forth: “It’s Alright” poses the question of the devaluing of things the world has suggested we deem valuable.
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” To close out Bringin’, Dylan, having abandoned the trek out/return to base/select new path progression of the album two tracks ago, gives us a number that has a popping bass line to accompany his usual trinity. A motif of departure dances circles around the B side of this album, leaving a wide-open curiosity unanswered, especially considering the album’s name.
* In Dylan's Chronicles, Volume I, he discusses the notion of rebellion:
"I tried to explain later that I didn't think I was a protest singer, that there'd been a screwup...The rebellion songs were a really serious thing. The language was flashy and provocative -- a lot of action in the words, all sung with great gusto."
6. Bob Dylan
release date: 03/09/62
cover: BD looks like a character out of A Christmas Story
sales note: n/a
AllMusic stars: 3/5
lyric to love: “A lot of people don’t have much food on their table/But they got a lot of forks ‘n’ knives/And they gotta cut somethin’” –- from “Talkin’ New York”
notes: Running through some of the tracks on this self-titled debut, an element of rawness exists in “She’s No Good.” “Freight Train Blues” delivers daring vocals, energetic strumming, and a childlike enthusiasm. We get a rendition of “In My time of Dyin’” that perhaps inspired some future songsmanship via Led Zeppelin. “Man of Constant Sorrow” leaves the listener wondering whether or not BD’s fertilizing the roots of the man he’ll become or the one that’d already arrived. It’s got a campfire feel of an old soul that let’s you know it’s always been here, even if you’re only discovering it for the first time.
Across the Dylan discography, a consistency of highway and train imagery pops up, a theme apropos of an album like this one in which the start-to-finish feel hints at the artist having plowed through the tracks during the recording sessions. Somewhere at the midway point is “Gospel Plow,” an awesome title for a song that feels like a steamroller. In the era of modern music, the ability to record a record at a young age is no new trick. How many, though, were dropping their first LP a few months shy of turning 20 50 years ago, and doing so with to-be-famous cuts like “House of the Rising Sun”? I was not aware that the most famous version, by The Animals,” was not the first. BD’s version doesn’t quite equal it in prowess, but rivals it in passion.
“Talkin’ New York” makes me feel as though, prior to it, never had a song been recorded with the combination of musical integrity and the ability to make, via lyrical comedy, a man smile. Men and women, young and old must love it.
Where does the history of odes begin? In poetry, it’s decades and centuries ago, but who was the first in music? Bobbie Gentry’s “Billie Joe” came five years after BD’s “Song to Woody,” leaving me feeling like a gambling man: This was the first, and it remains one of the best.
Regarding the closer, I don’t know how one logistically keeps a grave clean. A headstone I can see. More importantly, how does one ponder death (“See That My Grave is Kept Clean”) with such vigor, intensity, and seriousness at 19?
5. Nashville Skyline
release date: 04/09/69
cover: a Howdy-Doodyish salute
sales note: platinum
AllMusic stars: 5/5
lyric to love: “His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean/And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen.” –- from “Lay Lady Lay”
notes: The album-starting duet with Johnny Cash is smooth like a perfect Hollandaise. Great strumming, gorgeous vocals. Track two has an uber-fun start. It’s got fat, bumpin’ Charlie Daniels bass, delicious steel guitar work of Pete Drake and Charlie McCoy is of course in on the work. The foresight and creativity of Dylan to drop an instrumental at this juncture was pure genius. The quick pulse of the number carried over into “To Be Alone with You, as track three is spiced with ragtime piano and Dylan vocals. It’s a brief cut, but it’s tight. “I Threw It All Away” gets back to the wavelike rolls of the organ. It’s a soft, soothing kind of picking happening on the guitar, a beautiful composition.
There’s a country twang to “Peggy Day,” and it’s 10 times better than anything contemporary. The song closes with a nice tempo change and vocal outro. Exquisite craftsmanship. I never noticed the percussion in “Lay Lady Lay” before now, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. Ken Buttrey’s story about this song pretty much rules:
"I went over to Dylan and said, 'I'm having a little trouble thinking of something to play. Do you have any ideas on ['Lay Lady Lay']?'... He said, 'Bongos'... I immediately disregarded that, I couldn't hear bongos in this thing at all... So I walked into the control room and said, 'Bob [Johnston], what do you hear as regards [to] drums on this thing?'... [He] said, 'Cowbells.'... Kris Kristofferson was working at Columbia Studios at the time as a janitor and he had just emptied my ashtray at the drums and I said, 'Kris, do me a favor, here, hold these two things... hold these bongos in one hand and the cowbells in the other,' and I swung this mike over to the cowbells and the bongos... I had no pattern or anything worked out. I just told Kris, 'This is one of those spite deals. I'm gonna show 'em how bad their ideas're gonna sound.'... We started playing the tune and I was just doodling around on these bongos and the cowbells and it was kinda working out pretty cool... Come chorus time I'd go to the set of drums. Next time you hear that [cut], listen how far off-mike the drums sound. There were no mikes on the drums, it was just leakage... But it worked out pretty good... To this day it's one of the best drum patterns I ever came up with."
One of Dylan’s best songs from start to finish, and the steel riff at the chorus couldn’t get much better.
“Tell Me That It Isn’t True” is a rosy composition that radiates in your ears like sun beams through your window the morning of a day you’ve really been looking forward to. “Country Pie” is cute, and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” equates to a subtle retract from the country feel of the album, a shift toward blues, even a sprinkle of calypso jazz. An alluring ditty.
4. The Times They Are a-Changin'
release date: 01/13/64
cover: a street fighter to whom you do not wanna step
sales note: gold
AllMusic stars: 4/5
lyric to love: “When the Second World War/Came to an end/We forgave the Germans/And then we were friends.” –- from “With God on Our Side”
notes: The title track is a great follow-up, if you will, to “Blowin’ in the Wind” in terms of both its lead track, and Freewheelin's as well. Hard to say if there’s a more token BD track in the archives. The “Ballad of Hollis Brown” is a point-blank disturbing folk tale about starvation, death, and ultimately, rebirth. The murderous lyrics are prettied up by Dylan’s guitar playing, and it's this notion -- the marriage of the serious, important theme to splendid, unique audio craftsmanship -- that really puts Dylan above all other icons. With Elvis, it was dancing, love, and heartbreak. Michael Jackson and Madonna were meta -- they frequently wrote songs about pop culture from within pop culture itself. Dylan wrote about war and love and strife and humanity, the common man, the common woman, the politician, the celebrity.
“With God on Our Side” is absolutely stunning. The crisp audibility of the pickwork and strumming is amazingly clean. One of his best tracks, if not the best, through three albums. It’s amazing how much this album grew on my from listen one to two, and “God” was a huge hook.
Next is an introspective composition called “One Too Many Mornings.” It consists of calm pickwork and mild harmonica, channels visions of Dylan staring out a rainy window while writing and recording it. A switch in perspective follows with “North Country Blues,” the jarring tale of a woman’s loss that boasts the same clean, crisp sound as “God.”
Sticking with an historical thread, “Only a Pawn in Their Game” might contain the origin of the modern derogative use of the word “tool.” More importantly, this is a heavy civil-rights track about the murder of Medgar Evel, and it’s literally impossible to gauge the impact the number must’ve had. Very powerful. “Boots of Spanish Leather” is a dusk-time-sounding love ballad of loneliness. Envision a calm breeze by a dock, the rolling out of a few quiet ships pointed toward the horizon.
Speaking of ships, “When the Ship Comes in” props the album’s tempo back up, and has some lively harmonica. A great tune. Dylan offers more of the historical with “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and this one -– not to take away from “God” or “Pawn” is worthy of the overused wow-just-wow sentence combo. It’s a shocking tale, and the antagonist made news again two years ago when he died, after a mostly quiet life not devoid of further legal problems. The tempo of the album, though, mellows out with “Restless Farewell” as closer.
3. Time Out of Mind
release date: 09/30/97
cover: It may be a blurry me, a blurry me that matches the sound of this record -– but it’s me, and I’m back, bitches.
sales note: platinum
AllMusic stars: 4/5
lyric to love: “Sometimes the silence can be like thunder.” –- from “Love Sick”
notes: I spent the second half of the ‘90s living in Durango, CO. I matriculated at THE Fort Lewis College, and logged countless hours in the classroom and on the job. For most of five years, any spare funds I had went to a small main-strip business called Southwest Sounds. It was owned by the road-bike egotist Hal, and his main employee was a gal who my roommate and I unaffectionately referred to as Peppermint Patty.
Peppermint Patty liked three things: 1) to talk about her ink, 2) to talk about her knowledge of music, and 3) to use any opportunity possible to note when an artist or an album had won a Grammy. She was an odd duck, to say the least. I think she was a stoner, but she was one of those weird stoners that had excess energy when she was baked. I was not that kind of stoner. I was the more commonplace stoner that gets real mellow (,man) when high, the kind of stoner that gets easily wigged out by the energy of the Peppermint Pattys of the pot community. She would pace behind the counter (while talking), walk awkwardly quick in and out of the aisles when her assistance was requested, and she would also frequently say awkward things, like the time she told my roommate and I how great this Miles Davis album was to have sex to. She was also built like an inside linebacker if that accents the picture at all.
Anyway, she used to chat me up a lot because, if memory serves, she (like myself) hosted a radio show at the college station, and so we had two spots in town where we might bump into each other. She knew my purchasing tendencies, and one afternoon in late September, I came into the shop and she threw a verbal sack full of paragraphs at my face before I’d even removed my sunglasses. She wanted to know when I would be purchasing my own copy of Time out of Mind, and she wanted to let me know that Dylan was back with Daniel Lanois on this album, that it was a shoe-in for a Grammy.
I didn’t know then who Daniel Lanois was, and mistakenly told her as much. I also, at the time couldn’t keep Grammys and Emmys and Oscars straight, but whatever. She bombarded me with facts about Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel and U2, and though I’d intended to buy the album already, I couldn’t purchase it and exit quick enough. Part of me wanted Peppermint Patty to be wrong. Part of me wanted her information to be inaccurate, for Daniel Lanois’ production efforts to be atrocious, for this album to tank. Well, not really, but it was one of those embarrassing moments where you felt, beforehand, like you were the expert on this subject, and afterwards, you humbly realize the degree to which you’d been served.
I will always associate the release of this album with Peppermint Patty, namely because this album blew my mind, and because, yes –- it won a damn Grammy.
It starts with “Love Sick” and frankly I can’t think of a better way to open an album than with the cryptic keyboard bounces that bleed into a Fisher King creek bed. Unreal. “Dirt Road Blues” storms out with popcorn ax riffs, bee-boppin’ bass, and quiet gospel keys, while “Standing in the Doorway” is a return to the curious obsession Dylan has with the ringing of bells (in this case church) and for whom they ring.
“Million Miles” revisits the keys from the “Love Sick” intro, and this is as good a time as any to note that yes, the return of Lanois to produce was a phenomenal choice. Good things happen when artists do this, i.e. Phish with Steve Lillywhite when they hired him to produce Billy Breathes in 1996, having worked with him on Rift a few years earlier.
It seems that critics have lumped Time in with “Love and Theft” and Modern Times, done everything shy of call them a trilogy. I disagree, see the trilogy, if you will, to be Good As I Been to You, then World Gone Wrong, and finally Time. Using Good and World, BD was able, in my opinion, to get back to his folk roots and be at peace with the simplicity of recording songs again. With Time he was re-energized, ready to hammer out new material, material that wouldn’t disappoint, a theme that would carry through the following trilogy of "Theft," Modern, and Together Through Life.
Anyway, “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” is magnificent. It has inspired keys, a great theme, some skankin’ rhythm guitar, and a tucked-in harmonica solo halfway through that’s quietly powerful. It’s also repeated after the last verse: “Gonna sleep down in the parlor/And relive my dreams/I’ll close my eyes and I wonder/If everything is as hollow as it seems.”
“’Til I Fell in Love with You” seems an unprecedented mix of ragtime, blues, rock, and soul. If you listen to this cut and don’t dance, or at least bounce and swivel in your chair, see a shrink: “Tomorrow night before the sun goes down/If I’m still living, I’ll be Dixie bound.”
“Not Dark Yet” has an exquisite tribal feel of mortality, a strange and humble peace with everything in the world, at least in the music: “Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from.”
Dylan and company offer another cryptic intro with “Cold Irons Bound.” The composition features some out-of-this-world bass, ripping electric guitar. Leading into the refrain is like the music spectrum is swirling around the sink drain. There’s a crooked-scowl feel to the thing; it’s the best display of musicianship on a BD track since Oh Mercy’s “Man in the Long Black Coat.” It’s so rockin’ that I had to keep tightening my headphones to keep them from flying off: “Up over my head nothing but clouds of blood…Reality has always had too many heads…” Straight shredding after the last verse closes it out strong.
Every album, we could argue, needs the token ballad spot. “Make You Feel My Love” fits this role, albeit it’s an odd feel compared to the rest of the record. It’s less produced, like Lanois stepped out for a smoke. At least it’s short.
Hey, Bart Scott! Check out the creepy guitar loop in “Can’t Wait.” This number feels like it was recorded laying down in the parlor from “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.” It’s got a pitter pat of drum playing, some see-saw organ, and guitar chords that stream out at you and disappear like a haunted-house ghost. The way the cut resounds and trails off after the last verse is a great finish.
“Highlands” begins with a dusty-saloon keyboard intro and features some nice drum rim shots that add to the western feel. Wicked guitar patterns give the thing a sparse fluid motion and just when the return-home feel couldn’t get any cooler, BD drops a Neil Young reference. I also love the vagueness to the track, a vagueness that vanishes when the narrator finds himself in a Boston diner and we get seven verses of some epic dialogue with a waitress. The album’s liner notes detail which musician plays what on what track, but it’s too complicated to get into. Lanois’s listing, however, is worth noting, suitably bizarre: guitar, mando-guitar, firebird, Martin 0018, Gretch gold top, rhythm and lead.
No Dylan album has given me such joy since his mid-‘70s material, granted the preceding two folk albums do, but in a less energetic fashion. Put this one up there with (Note: SPOILER ALERT) Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks. An undisputable home run.
2. Blonde on Blonde
release date: 06/20/66
cover: BD has exploded into an essence none can mirror
sales note: platinum x2
AllMusic stars: 5/5
lyric to love: “And he just smoked my eyelids/And punched my cigarette” -– from “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”
notes: What’s left to be said about “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35”? It’s maniacal-sounding, provocative, something everyone wants to shout, a clever title that spurns radio heads from temptations to omit it from airplay.
BD gives us a return, perhaps, to fundamental blues with “Pledging My Time.” It’s got sustain, jamming, some of his most lucid harmonica work and an irony in that the vocals in this track might have launched the disdain some have for the sound of his voice.
If anyone were to utter that “One of Us Must Know” does nothing for them, then that person should be reported to the feds for fear that they are an extra-terrestrial being. This is not to suppose that aliens do not have souls, but most humans, it would appear, do, and this track is a spiritual knockout. It’s got down-home keyboard work mixed in with marching-marine-corps drum hits –- all with the guitar toned down to an appropriate level –- and molds a relationship (without actually being one) song out of it all.
(Reminder: Until this project reached the current century in terms of record-release dates, track listings are coming from cassette and vinyl, which may not match compact-disc listing.)
“I Want You” takes the goof of the Monkees, the pop-rock of the Beatles, whittles out the nonsense and replaces it with a crisp display of spot-on musicianship BD contemporaries could perhaps envision but not execute, then or ever. It’s got a bold sense of honesty in lyrics woven into a sound spectrum that defines perfect.
“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” gives me the chills two seconds in every time I hear it. Inside the story of this track are historical figures placed with improved subtlety, and as has been mentioned on many occasions, the organ play sings the songs mountain ridges hum when the human ear is out of reach. Also, some astute textbook drumming happening inside this gem.
When a cadence is laid down, nurtured and tinkered with to the point of near perfection, that accomplishment is seldom repeated. Dylan and his personnel in these recording sessions are the exception, sequential asterisks adorn each track, and “You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” is no different.
It should be noted that the piano/keyboard work of Al Kooper and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on this album deserve a gush-heavy segment all their own. Their play is phenomenally inspiring.
BD throws a total change-up o the church-funk organ work and goes back to a blues-roots-based piano roll in “Temporary Like Achilles.” It’s a sound that billows the vocals of pain via lost love. Next is “4th Time Around” which features the delicate guitar work of Robbie Robertson placed in a bed of simple drum patterns. Together, they make this cut swim through a clear river of lust.
“Visions of Johanna” is a seemingly broken, individuated cut that resembles remolded clips of musicianship pieced together with a cadence that suggest a mythical consummation of blues and rock. “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” is, and will always be, a fun song, while “Just Like a Woman” gives us that Jakob Dylan/Wallflowers sound again. It’s a timeless track embedded in beauty.
And speaking of overstated redundancy, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” reminds me that the musicianship on this album set the bar for tempo changes and scale fidelity. With “Obviously 5 Believers,” we get a decent track, and on an album with so many high-caliber cuts, it’s nice to have the occasional decent track, and in the department of honesty, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is nothing to scoff at, but the troubles-with-the-wife cuts are only getting started.
1. Blood on the Tracks
release date: 01/17/75
cover: Billy Joel at the piano with Elton John’s shades, and some “Welcome Back, Kotter” hair
sales note: platinum x2
AllMusic stars: 5/5
lyric to love: “People see me all the time/And they just can’t remember how to act.” –- from “Idiot Wind”
notes: I’d be remiss to not say anything about “Tangled up in Blue,” but perhaps more remiss to attempt to say anything substantial about it. Track two, “Simple Twist of Fate” goes back to that notion of relationships with songs. I’d like to think that even if I didn’t have such a deep bond with this track, it’d still give my skin bumps and make my eyes water two notes in. A work of magic. The only thing bigger than it is “You’re a Big Girl Now,” which forces me to literally have to sing through tears.
Continuing with that theme: “Idiot Wind” is my Jerry Maguire “Free Falling” moment. This cut has to be one of the best songs ever recorded in a studio. As I write this, I’m unsure of the total number of Dylan songs I’ve listened to, or for that matter, the hours spent listening to them, but this one trumps them all, the one I wake up with in my head more often than perhaps the rest of them combined.
“Buckets of Rain” is a nice, mellow recovery-period song to come down from the highs of “Idiot Wind,” and “Meet Me in the Morning” contains some phenomenal musicianship. The guitar picking is like the strut of the rooster in the track, the hum of the cut a churning motorcycle rumbling down the highway before dusk, before the sinking-ship sun vanishes.
“Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” remains one of the more difficult Dylan compositions to wrap one’s head around. It’s not that its complexity is overwhelming, rather that it’s, well, complex. It’s an odd number, though a very enjoyable one. And quite the story. Regarding the tale’s plot, an uncertainty hovers over it, an ambiguity of sorts, but it’s one of the few foot-stomping tracks in which you stomp gently so as not to disturb your astute ears that attempt to follow the tale’s twists. It’d be amazing to see either of the two screenplays allegedly based on it become film.
I’m not a song composer, but I recognize the need for a spot, be it live or in the studio, for the slow song, and in this instance, the placement of “If You See Her, Say Hello” is perfect. Oddly, if I owned this album on CD, I might be tempted to skip this track from time to time, but I’m glad I don’t; the cassette gives me the full-album feel. Also, it’s a nice segueway from “Lily” to “Shelter from the Storm.”
“Shelter,” “Tangled,” and “Simple Twist” beg to be addressed together as a trio. These tracks are ridiculously invaluable, and that they came from the same album is preposterous. I can’t remember back far enough to think about the time in which I didn’t know them so attempting to analyze further feels weird and pointless.
On one end, the sentiment of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” has been captured in the rest of the album. In another, it gives the author a voice that says he’ll be okay.
And there it is. Project complete. Here's to hoping you enjoyed, even if you disagree with parts or all of what was said. You know the catchphrases: It's a matter of opinion, one man's trash, etc. Now dust off all of your basement tapes, crank some Dylan, and enjoy your Friday. And if you're on the east coast bracing for Irene: "I ran into the fortune teller, who said beware of lightnin' that might striiiiiike!"