Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Songs of BOB DYLAN - Part 4

It's a tricky thing ... on the one hand, I don't consider myself to be a BOB DYLAN fan ... I never bought into all the intellectual hype back in the '60's and found most of his music boring and hard to listen to. Yet, I absolutely LOVE songs like IT AIN'T ME BABE, SHE BELONGS TO ME, I SHALL BE RELEASED, THE MIGHTY QUINN, IF NOT FOR YOU, DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S ALL-RIGHT and many of the others that we've featured during the course of this special series … which, I guess means, that I really DO like BOB DYLAN's music ... just not when it's performed by him!!! And the realization of that very fact was the inspiration for this special BOB DYLAN series.

However, in all fairness, DYLAN has ZILLIONS of fans out there who, to this day, still tout him as THE spokesman for our generation ... and I wanted to show THAT side of DYLAN, too, during this feature.

So I called on long-time FH list member CALOTOONZ to see if perhaps he would like to show ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN's music ... and, he did an OUTSTANDING job!

Here's the piece that PHIL prepared for our special series:

" ... In the city's melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin' rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an' forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin' constantly at stake
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing ... "

It was the autumn of 1965 and, as a six year old boy I heard a voice howling and snarling these words. I was mesmerized. My best friend's older brother introduced me to Bob Dylan and on and on it went...

" ... Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now ... "
(from 'My Back Pages')

" ... Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand,
Vanished from my hand,
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming ... "
(from 'Mr. Tambourine Man')

Bob Dylan's legacy is immense, unmatched and indisputable. We will never know this, but Dylan's contribution to the rock and roll era may very well have saved the genré from extinction. The doom predicted by rock's critics was silenced by a single troubadour from Hibbing, Minnesota. Our generation's most influential individual, musically speaking, of course.

Yes, there were storytellers like Chuck Berry, and there were plenty of bards in the folk circuits but Bob Dylan crossed over into popular music. Bringing influences from old bluesman and folksmen, country sounds and western sounds (before they became known as one) and even seminal styles of rock's pioneers (Dylan was a fan of Buddy Holly and Elvis... it is rumored that a 18 year-old Robert Zimmerman attended Holly's performance in Minneapolis the night before his infamous date at the Surf Ballroom in Cedar Rapids).

What Dylan did differently and poignantly was that he brought articulation to a culture that had previously been given over to platitudes and expressions of adolescent sentiments. What were once clichés and silly stories were now profound statements of society and actual biographies (and autobiographies) put to astonishing rhyme. Riding on a variety of styles, from the minstrel pose of a man, a guitar and a harmonica to the swirling, driving power sound of a rock ensemble, blues, country and even ragtime, Dylan's music was powerful and explosive. This was no longer music to be hummed along to, but a Tour de Force that forever changed popular music. All of this driven by the vehicle that is his voice, reviled by some but effective to all.

His personal chart success is respectable, although none of his "hits" were his best songs. 

Here is his Top 40 legacy:

'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (widely regard as the first urban rap song): #39, 1965.

'Like a Rolling Stone' (that's future founder of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Al Kooper, playing that searing organ): #2, 1965.

'Positively 4th Street': #7, 1965.

'Rainy Day Women #12 & #35' (ehhhhverybody must git stoned): #2, 1966.

'I Want You': #20, 1966 (" your dancing child in his Chinese suit, he spoke to me, I took his flute. No I wasn't very cute to him, was I ?...")

'Just Like a Woman' (who else had this much chutzpah)?: #33, 1966.

'Lay Lady Lady' (written for his then wife, Sarah Lowndes): #7, 1969.

'George Jackson' (about a black militant who was shot to death during a prison riot): #33, 1971.

'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' (from his acting debut in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid): #12, 1973.

'Tangled Up in Blue' (from arguably his best album, Blood on the Tracks): #31, 1975.

'Hurricane (Part I)' (which helped to eventually acquit boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter from a questionable murder conviction): #33, 1976.

'Gotta Serve Somebody': #24, 1979.

An impressive catalog, indeed, but Dylan's greatest achievements were in his more popular songs that were simply too long for AM-pop radio formats. Accordingly, he helped proliferate the popularity of underground and independent radio play and elevated FM-radio to its eventual dominance.

Of course, Dylan appeared as a composer to many familiar Top 40 hits by a diverse range of artists. 

Here's a brief list:

Peter, Paul & Mary
'Blowin' in the Wind' #2, 1963.
'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' #9, 1963.

The Byrds
'Mr. Tambourine Man' #1, 1965.
'All I Really Wanna Do' #8, 1965.
'My Back Pages' #4, 1967.

The Turtles
'It Ain't Me, Babe' #8, 1965.

Stevie Wonder
Blowin' in the Wind #9, 1966

Manfred Mann
The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) #10, 1968
(Incidentally, this was also recorded by 1910 Fruitgum Company in 1969. This is Forgotten Hits, after all!).

Jimi Hendrix
'All Along the Watchtower' #20, 1968.

The O'Jay's
'Emotionally Yours' (R&B Chart), 1991.

It said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but what about being referred to in songs? In 'The Seeker' by The Who, they say, " I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked The Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary but he couldn't help me, either... ". This, of course, puts to mind The Beatles themselves, where in 'Yer Blues' John Lennon opines, "I feel so suicidal, just like Dyaln's Mr. Jones" (a reference to Dylan's epic 'Desolation Row'). How about Rick Nelson? You've sung it in the shower a thousand times, without giving it the emphasis that it deserves: "Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes, wearin' his disguise". Not to be outdone, Counting Crows piped in with their 1991 rocker, 'Mr. Jones' by declaring, "I wanna be Bob Dylan, Mr. Jones wishes he was something just a little more funky". Had enough? Of course not, there was the FM-radio hit by Hootie & The Blowfish 'I Only Wanna Be With You' in which they not only mentioned Bob Dylan, they quoted both his lyrics and his song... "Put on a little Dylan, Sittin' on a fence, I said that line is great! You asked me what it meant by, said I shot a man named Gray, took his wife to Italy... she inherited a million bucks, when she died it came to me, I can't help it if I'm lucky... I only wanna be with you. Ain't Bobby so cool, I only wanna be with you, Yeah I'm tangled up in blue... I only wanna be with you".

He is also the subject of Joan Baez' best song, 'Diamonds and Rust' (Dylan's reply is contained in the incredible, "Idiot Wind' (pssst ... check it out:
Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind). He even referred to himself in his 1979 hit, 'Gotta Serve Somebody'.

Bob Dylan's songs read like a movie script. His unrivaled employment of imagery and his absolute command of the English language are vivid and descriptive. If one has the inclination, the following are links to some of my favorite Dylan story-songs. Even without the music, it's like watching a TV mini series. Here you are:

Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Dream
Bob Dylan: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Bob Dylan: Seven Curses
Bob Dylan: Simple Twist of Fate
Bob Dylan: Black Diamond Bay
Bob Dylan: Jokerman

From Johnny Cash to Traveling Wilburys to Guns 'n' Roses, Dylan has collaborated with many artists (remember his nasal snarl in 'We Are the World'?). He has undeniably influenced, directly or indirectly, nearly every other rock/pop artist since bursting onto the scene in 1963. It is reported that, as of August 2002, an unspeakable 5,870 covers of 350 Bob Dylan songs by 2,791 artists have been recorded (see Bob Dylan: Links).

What about love songs? While a minuscule part of Dylan's archive, he has written some of the most beautiful love songs of all time. Here are just a few:

'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' (an entire album side!)
'Sara' ("... glamorous nymph with an arrow and bow...")
'Forever Young' (written to his son, Jakob, now the leader of The Wallflowers)
'If Not for You' (covered beautifully by George Harrison on All Things Must Pass).
'Love Minus Zero/No Limit' (covered by the angelic Judy Collins)
'Girl from the North Country' (a duet with Johnny Cash)
'Lay Lady Lay' ("... I long to see You in the morning light, I long to reach for You in the night...")
'Tomorrow is a Long Time' (covered by Elvis Presley)
'You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go' (covered masterfully by Shawn Colvin)
'Emotionally Yours' (The O'Jays performance of this is Gospel great)

Perhaps his greatest is 'Make You Feel My Love' from his Empire Burlesque album. This achingly romantic song has been covered by such luminaries as Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Billy Joel, Luka Bloom, Joan Osbourne and Timothy B. Schmidt.

Bob's appearances at Newport Folk Festival (where he defied and confounded a crowd of devotees by appearing in 1965 with an electric band), Isle of Wight Festival, Woodstock (both in '69 and '94), The Concert for Bangla Desh, the aforementioned USA for Africa appearance and dozens of others have added to his legacy as not only a performer nonpareil but also as a humanitarian. His 30th Anniversary Concert *(which Neil Young wryly labeled "Bobfest"), available on both CD and VHS is a veritable Who's Who of Rock's legends. The 1965 Rockumentary, D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back demonstrates the utter power of Bob Dylan's early performances. Alone with his guitar and harmonica, Dylan performs before huge, rapt audiences, listening in stunned silence at the feet of the Master. A DVD has been released chronicling his command performances during his 1966 world tour as well.

In recent years, Dylan's voice... once crystal clear and explosive, has been reduced to gravel through years of singing, touring, smoking (and, no doubt, a lymph node or two). Despite this, his singing is as good as ever. He has recently covered some of the great classics of all time, such as 'Return to Me', 'You Belong to Me' and 'A Fool Such as I'. He sings them with aplomb and his guitar playing, once merely acceptable, is now skilled and deft.

It behooves our generation to acknowledge he who is perhaps the most influential performer of the rock and roll era and undoubtedly its greatest composer, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Venerable Bob Dylan.

I wish to conclude with the words of the Master himself, in homage to his mentor, Woody Guthrie. I challenge you to read it all, it's incredible:

When yer head gets twisted and yer mind grows numb
When you think you're too old, too young, too smart or too dumb
When yer laggin' behind an' losin' yer pace
In a slow-motion crawl of life's busy race
No matter what yer doing if you start givin' up
If the wine don't come to the top of yer cup
If the wind's got you sideways with with one hand holdin' on
And the other starts slipping and the feeling is gone
And yer train engine fire needs a new spark to catch it
And the wood's easy findin' but yer lazy to fetch it
And yer sidewalk starts curlin' and the street gets too long
And you start walkin' backwards though you know its wrong
And lonesome comes up as down goes the day
And tomorrow's mornin' seems so far away
And you feel the reins from yer pony are slippin'
And yer rope is a-slidin' 'cause yer hands are a-drippin'
And yer sun-decked desert and evergreen valleys
Turn to broken down slums and trash-can alleys
And yer sky cries water and yer drain pipe's a-pourin'
And the lightnin's a-flashing and the thunder's a-crashin'
And the windows are rattlin' and breakin' and the roof tops a-shakin'
And yer whole world's a-slammin' and bangin'
And yer minutes of sun turn to hours of storm
And to yourself you sometimes say
"I never knew it was gonna be this way
Why didn't they tell me the day I was born"
And you start gettin' chills and yer jumping from sweat
And you're lookin' for somethin' you ain't quite found yet
And yer knee-deep in the dark water with yer hands in the air
And the whole world's a-watchin' with a window peek stare
And yer good gal leaves and she's long gone a-flying
And yer heart feels sick like fish when they're fryin'
And yer jackhammer falls from yer hand to yer feet
And you need it badly but it lays on the street
And yer bell's bangin' loudly but you can't hear its beat
And you think yer ears might a been hurt
Or yer eyes've turned filthy from the sight-blindin' dirt
And you figured you failed in yesterdays rush
When you were faked out an' fooled while facing a four flush
And all the time you were holdin' three queens
And it's makin you mad, it's makin' you mean
Like in the middle of Life magazine
Bouncin' around a pinball machine
And there's something on yer mind you wanna be saying
That somebody someplace oughta be hearin'
But it's trapped on yer tongue and sealed in yer head
And it bothers you badly when your layin' in bed
And no matter how you try you just can't say it
And yer scared to yer soul you just might forget it
And yer eyes get swimmy from the tears in yer head
And yer pillows of feathers turn to blankets of lead
And the lion's mouth opens and yer staring at his teeth
And his jaws start closin with you underneath
And yer flat on your belly with yer hands tied behind
And you wish you'd never taken that last detour sign
And you say to yourself just what am I doin'
On this road I'm walkin', on this trail I'm turnin'
On this curve I'm hanging
On this pathway I'm strolling, in the space I'm taking
In this air I'm inhaling
Am I mixed up too much, am I mixed up too hard
Why am I walking, where am I running
What am I saying, what am I knowing
On this guitar I'm playing, on this banjo I'm frailin'
On this mandolin I'm strummin', in the song I'm singin'
In the tune I'm hummin', in the words I'm writin'
In the words that I'm thinkin'
In this ocean of hours I'm all the time drinkin'
Who am I helping, what am I breaking
What am I giving, what am I taking
But you try with your whole soul best
Never to think these thoughts and never to let
Them kind of thoughts gain ground
Or make yer heart pound
But then again you know why they're around
Just waiting for a chance to slip and drop down
"Cause sometimes you hear'em when the night times comes creeping
And you fear that they might catch you a-sleeping
And you jump from yer bed, from yer last chapter of dreamin'
And you can't remember for the best of yer thinking
If that was you in the dream that was screaming
And you know that it's something special you're needin'
And you know that there's no drug that'll do for the healin'
And no liquor in the land to stop yer brain from bleeding
And you need something special
Yeah, you need something special all right
You need a fast flyin' train on a tornado track
To shoot you someplace and shoot you back
You need a cyclone wind on a stream engine howler
That's been banging and booming and blowing forever
That knows yer troubles a hundred times over
You need a Greyhound bus that don't bar no race
That won't laugh at yer looks
Your voice or your face
And by any number of bets in the book
Will be rollin' long after the bubblegum craze
You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
You need something to make it known
That it's you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you're sitting
That the world ain't got you beat
That it ain't got you licked
It can't get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope's just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner 'round a wide-angled curve

But that's what you need man, and you need it bad
And yer trouble is you know it too good
"Cause you look an' you start getting the chills

"Cause you can't find it on a dollar bill
And it ain't on Macy's window sill
And it ain't on no rich kid's road map
And it ain't in no fat kid's fraternity house
And it ain't made in no Hollywood wheat germ
And it ain't on that dimlit stage
With that half-wit comedian on it
Ranting and raving and taking yer money
And you thinks it's funny
No you can't find it in no night club or no yacht club
And it ain't in the seats of a supper club
And sure as hell you're bound to tell
That no matter how hard you rub
You just ain't a-gonna find it on yer ticket stub
No, and it ain't in the rumors people're tellin' you
And it ain't in the pimple-lotion people are sellin' you
And it ain't in no cardboard-box house
Or down any movie star's blouse
And you can't find it on the golf course
And Uncle Remus can't tell you and neither can Santa Claus
And it ain't in the cream puff hair-do or cotton candy clothes
And it ain't in the dime store dummies or bubblegum goons
And it ain't in the marshmallow noises of the chocolate cake voices
That come knockin' and tappin' in Christmas wrappin'
Sayin' ain't I pretty and ain't I cute and look at my skin
Look at my skin shine, look at my skin glow
Look at my skin laugh, look at my skin cry
When you can't even sense if they got any insides
These people so pretty in their ribbons and bows
No you'll not now or no other day
Find it on the doorsteps made out-a paper mache´
And inside it the people made of molasses
That every other day buy a new pair of sunglasses
And it ain't in the fifty-star generals and flipped-out phonies
Who'd turn yuh in for a tenth of a penny
Who breathe and burp and bend and crack
And before you can count from one to ten
Do it all over again but this time behind yer back
My friend
The ones that wheel and deal and whirl and twirl
And play games with each other in their sand-box world
And you can't find it either in the no-talent fools
That run around gallant
And make all rules for the ones that got talent
And it ain't in the ones that ain't got any talent but think they do
And think they're foolin' you
The ones who jump on the wagon
Just for a while 'cause they know it's in style
To get their kicks, get out of it quick
And make all kinds of money and chicks
And you yell to yourself and you throw down yer hat
Sayin', "Christ do I gotta be like that
Ain't there no one here that knows where I'm at
Ain't there no one here that knows how I feel
Good God Almighty

No but that ain't yer game, it ain't even yer race
You can't hear yer name, you can't see yer face
You gotta look some other place
And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin'
Where do you look for this lamp that's a-burnin'
Where do you look for this oil well gushin'
Where do you look for this candle that's glowin'
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there
And out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist
And turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown

Your brother in song,
Phil (CaloToonz)

Thanks to a track submitted by CALOTOONZ, we've got DYLAN's TRIBUTE TO WOODY GUTHRIE as today's featured track.

He also highly recommends checking out the following tunes (if you're not already familiar):


In the meantime, enjoy a couple more classic tracks as recorded by the master's BOB DYLAN doing two of his 1966 hits JUST LIKE A WOMAN (#28) and I WANT YOU (#20).