Bob Dylan (1962)
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You're No Good A-
This is a rather brief though catchy composition written by Blind Willie Johnson originally as "Jesus Make Up Myh Dying Bed," and Dylan sings it with conviction (and he even does a little 'chuckle' in here, I do wonder what that was all about ... maybe it was just a trip-up). It's great that he has passion in his voice. Some reviewers have wondered if he was overcompensating by singing so passionately because he was concerned that people wouldn't like his singing voice. That's difficult for me to fathom nowadays; even though it takes awhile of getting used to, I consider Dylan's vocal style to be one of the best in the business. The acoustic guitar is strummed excitedly and boldly, and he turns in some fast-paced harmonica while he wasn't singing.
Talkin' New York A
It's one of only two original songs of this album, and it reflects upon Dylan's first arrival in the Big Apple. He rambles off the lyrics in a conversational manner, and it's quite humorous. That's a stark contrast to the ultra-serious stuff that he would do on his album immediately after this. He manages to come up with a harmonica riff that's pretty catchy, and his pleasant laid-back strumming is breezy. Quite good! I'd say this guy has a future ahead of him!
In My Time of Dyin' A
It's impossible to deny that this old timey gospel song (written by some genius named “Traditional”) isn't one to blow you out of your socks. Its dramatic melody is phenomenal. Dylan manages to deliver a rough vocal performance of it, proving once and for all that his voice make him sound well past his years. You would expect an old person to gruffly sing these lyrics (“Well, well, well, so I can die easy / Jesus is going to make up my dying bed”).
Man of Constant Sorrow B+
This is the song you'll probably remember from O Brother Where Art Thou?. Yes, that version was better, but remember this is just old Bob Dylan singing with an acoustic guitar. Anyone who hates his voice will probably be grating their teeth hearing him sing these extended notes! He does the same thing with the harmonica. As a folk arrangement, this drags a little more than the previous songs. I'm not nearly as engaged listening to it. It has a good melody, though.
Fixin' to Die B+
It's really great hearing Dylan's vocal performances. He's completely singing it over-the-top, frequently taking to growling and snarling. I don't really see that as passion but playfulness. This probably wasn't the most compelling old blues song he chose to cover (although Wikipedia states that Dylan changed the vocal line to what it was in the original, written by Bukka White).
Pretty Peggy-O A-
This is a playful cover of an old Scottish folk song. Dylan seems to have a lot of fun, chugging away with his harmonica, strumming his acoustic guitar quickly, and letting out little “woohoo” calls throughout. His vocal performance is intentionally tacky, but it's fun. This sense of humor and fun puts Dylan's folk covers 1,000,000% over Joan Baez folk covers, even though Baez was probably technically better and had a prettier voice.
Highway 51 A-
Hell yeah... It's Highway 61's older brother. I love that gruff way Dylan sings this. You can tell he's not trying to sing as well as the old blues masters sung these, but he's giving it a go with a laugh under his breath. He picked a good song to cover. This one has a catchy riff, which he strums confidently with his acoustic guitar. On a whole, he does an excellent job keeping our interest!
Gospel Plow A
This is one of my favorites just by listening to how it starts with that furiously strummed acoustic guitar and rapidly chugging harmonica. Dylan comes in with one his stronger and more confident “snarling” vocal performances of the album, and he's a lot of fun to listen to. Again, he's not better than the people who originally sang these songs, but he's really not trying to be. He's different, at least!
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down C+
There's nothing terribly wrong with this song. It just doesn't do anything in particular that pops out at me. The melody is forgettable, and Dylan doesn't do anything particularly silly with his vocal performance. What you get here is the standard acoustic guitar playing, harmonica, singing. He says he heard this from Rick Von Schmidt from Cambridge. That explains why this uninteresting. (Burn, people who go to Harvard. As a matter of fact, I hate all the ivy leagues.)
House of the Risin' Sun A+
This is a phenomenal song. It's most famous for the electric version The Animals did after this, but it's difficult to decide which version of it is better. ...It's probably The Animals', but you'll like this one as well. It's just Bob Dylan playing that killer riff with his acoustic guitar and giving a convincingly world-worn vocal performance. We also know that the melody is great. It's the sort of melody that gets caught in your head after the first listen.
Freight Train Blues A-
This song makes me laugh every time I hear it. I'm reviewing this album for the third time right now, and that ridiculously long-sustained note he sings always seems to catch me. When he's not doing that, he rambles off these lyrics as though he were a rapid-tongued auctioneer. It's quite a lot of fun. If he would have sung this straight, I probably would have been bored with it. So thank goodness; he saved me from boredom.
Song to Woody B+
This is the second and final original composition on this album, and it's quite good. As you might suspect from the title, this is where he pays tribute to one of his principle influences, Woody Guthrie. Musically, it's nothing too special. It's a strummy sing-songey tune, and the vocals are performed quite seriously. The melody is rather forgettable.
See That My Grave is Kept Clean B
Yeah, when I'm buried, I don't want all this dirt around me! (Actually, I want to be cremated. I don't want worms eating through my eye sockets, thank you very much.) But anyway, I'd say Dylan chose a rather underwhelming song to close things with. The melody doesn't interest me at all, but Dylan does what he can to sing it with these outlandishly overblown guttural singing. Again, I find this amusing, so I'm not criticizing his vocals. ...All that said, now I'm looking forward to reviewing his classic albums!
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
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Blowin' in the Wind A+
Yes!!!!! Finally getting to these massively wonderful Bob Dylan classics. Even if you don't usually like music consisting only of someone strumming with an acoustic guitar and singing with it (and the occasional harmonica), I have a feeling that you'll like this. The melody is brilliant. It's not terribly complicated, but it's bold and memorable. The lyrics are just as memorable as the melody, which is saying something for me, because I'm not really a lyrics fan. But they're beautiful.
Girl From the North Country A+
One problem with reviewing folk music is that I don't really have much to describe in the track reviews, since they're all strummy acoustic guitar songs (with the occasional harmonica). Nonetheless, I can still give you my gut reactions to them, and my gut reaction is another WOW. This is more somber than the previous song, and the melody is very beautiful. The lyrics are also evocative (“Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair / where the wind hits heavy on the borderline / remember me to the one who lives there / she was once a true love of mine / Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm / where the rivers freeze and summer ends / please see if she's wearing a coat so warm / to keep her from the howlin' winds”)
Masters of War A+
Another problem with reviewing this album is that there are so many A+-level songs that I can't immediately give away which songs are my absolute favorites. This has some of the most seething lyrics known to mankind, and Dylan's performance perfectly matches it. (“How much do I know / To talk out of turn / You might say I'm young / You might say I'm unlearned / But there's one thing I know / Though I'm younger than you / Even Jesus would never / Forgive what you do.”) ...I'd hate to be the person he was directing that at. I guess I never started any wars, so I'm pretty safe. Anyway, what else should I say about this? This is the sort of song that continues to echo in my head long after it's through playing. Great melody, powerful vocal performance, horrifying lyrics... Yeouch...
Down the Highway A-
This is more of an old-timey blues song than a hardened folk song, which of course I have no problem with. But I've always found old blues melodies to sound so similar to each other that there's a limit to how much I can get excited about it. Indeed, this melody doesn't strike me as fresh or original as the previous three songs. However, I certainly adore the way he sings it... The only proper way to sing an old blues song is if you're a cranky old fogie. Dylan might have been in his early 20s at the time, but he certainly didn't sound like it! He repeats a quickly strummed riff throughout this song, which is OK, but I'm not terribly excited by it.
Bob Dylan's Blues A
Back to the folk melodies, but this melody sounds like a lot of other folk songs that came before it. ...Of course Dylan probably knew that perfectly well, which is evident in the playful, almost tossed-off, way he sings the lyrics. He didn't take this one too seriously, and I suppose it's not one of the significant songs of this album. But I still like it! The funny monologue he delivers at the beginning as well as the especially playful harmonica he plays through this.
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall A+
Oh man! Picking a favorite song on this album is difficult. It's either going to be this song or “Masters of War.” The first thing I want to talk about is the melody. If you think Dylan writes poor melodies (shame on you!!!) then listen to this song as a shining example of how excellent his tunes are. I can listen to Dylan sing it and love it, I can whistle it to myself and love it, I can listen to someone play it on a piano on YouTube and love it, and I can imagine Aretha Franklin singing it and love it, theoretically. I at least think I have a notoriously short attention span, and I don't think I ever noticed until now that this song is almost seven minutes long. This is just one of those songs that puts me in an immediate trance. The lyrics are beautiful. And despite me not really being a lyrics guy, I actually play close attention to them here. (“Oh who did you meet, my blue-eyed son? / Who did you meet, my darling young one? / I met a young child beside a dead pony / I met a white man who walked a black dog / I met a young woman whose body was burning / I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow / I met one man who was wounded in love / I met another man who was wounded with hatred / And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard / It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.”)
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right A+
This song title is proof why commas are so important to pay attention to. If you remove it, it would mean exactly the opposite thing. Let that be a lesson to ye, young apprentice... Once again Bob Dylan came out with another brilliant tune; you don't even need to pay attention to the lyrics to like it. The tone is more laid back and summery as Dylan's picking his acoustic guitar in a laid back way and singing these bittersweet lyrics in a rather endearing manner. ...This is done in such a wildly different tone than a song like “Masters of War” was. So even though these are *just* guitar-and-singing songs, they do manage to cover the entire range of its spectrum.
Bob Dylan's Dream A-
Without a doubt, it's easy to see that this song doesn't quite pack the same punch as the previous two, but it's still a mightily fine folk tune. The lyrics sound like Dylan is reminiscing of a time 30 years ago in his life, which is amazing, because he wasn't even 30 years old... It's a thoughtful song, of course, and it's very easy for me to take to heart. The melody is still good, appropriately simple and hooky, but it's not quite as memorable as the previous two. It would have been a highlight on virtually any other folk album at the time... I mean, holy crap, I'm blowing my mind just thinking about Joan Baez performing such a song in such a way in one of her early '60s folk albums... PA-POW
Oxford Town A-
This is still good, dammit. I don't know why I don't think anyone out there is going to believe me. It's a very simple song with a melody that sounds very derivative of folk music. (I'm almost certain that there are at least a handful of classic folk songs with the exact melody as this... but of course I don't have the time to find them!) What I like about the song is its sheer simplicity and the light-fingered acoustic guitar playing. The lyrics are quite harrowing, though and particularly topical for the time. (“He went down to Oxford town / Guns and clubs followed him down / All because his face was brown / Better get away from Oxford town”) It's about James Meredith, the first black student of University of Mississippi. So there you go.
Talkin' World War III Blues A
Ha! I almost hate to say this but the main reason I like this is because I find it so amusing that Dylan is playfully trying to sound like an 80-year-old man. He does an excellent job sounding like a 60-year-old man in his regular singing voice, but he has to really get his old-fogie on to get that 80-year-old man down right. He doesn't sing, but rather talks with style. (“I was feelin' kinda lonesome and blue / I needed somebody to talk to / So I called up the operator of time / Just to hear a voice of some kind / “When you hear the beep / It will be three o'clock” / She said that for an hour / And I hung up.”) ...Really this whole song is entertaining as hell.
Corrina, Corrina A
My, this is an anomaly. (Forgive me for using the term “anomaly” in the context of a rock album.) This is a cover, and it's also the only song to feature drums and a bass. You only hear the bass and drum very quietly, and they only play one simple pattern through the whole piece. It's probably easy to pick on this for being a cover and everything, but really I quite like it. I like the sweet way Dylan sings it, and that harmonica gently chugs around in a strange manner. The acoustic guitar arpeggiates in a hypnotizing way. ...I dunno. Maybe this just proves I'm too much of a Bob Dylan fanboy to think straight. (If the fact that I wanted to strangle some cowboys at a Bob Dylan concert for getting up and leaving while he was in the middle of a show wasn't evidence enough of that... I guess they were going to go buy some pot from one of Willie Nelson's dealers...)
Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance A-
This is the album's second and final cover. (I guess this album had to be the negative image of his debut album, which was two originals and the rest covers.) The goofy and exuberant manner in which Dylan performs this is certainly a product of his debut—he does a few yelps and 'woohoos' all over the place. Probably one of the more forgettable and “throwaway” pieces of the album, but I still like it. At least it goes to show that there's quite a lot of diversity on this album... I mean, for one with just an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a voice.
I Shall Be Free A+
Dylan ends this on a very humorous note. Of course it's not as soulful as a song like “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall,” but that doesn't mean I can't take this to heart. After all, laughter is good for the soul. (I think Abraham Lincoln said that.) (“Well, my telephone rang it would not stop / It's President Kennedy callin' me up / He said “My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow? / I said, “My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot / Anita Ekberg / Sophia Loren / Put 'em all in the same room with Ernest Borgnine”) I almost don't even care for the melody on this one, although it certainly helped the lyrics flow. But I don't get it... I'm not supposed to be the guy who likes lyrics more than melodies...
The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
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The Times They Are A-Changin' A+
Great song, no doubt. It was considered iconic to people who lived in the early '60s, particularly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which happened a month after he wrote this. However, it's easy to see how the lyrics would apply today as much as they applied back then. (“Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call / Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall / For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled / The battle outside ragin'”) To people who usually don't give a damn about lyrics and just want melody won't be disappointed with this one. Dylan sings a terribly hooky melody. I know for a fact that it's memorable as well, since I knew this song before ever buying a Bob Dylan album! ...Also, interestingly, this was among the first of three Dylan albums I bought, and of them it was the first I listened to, because of this song. But unfortunately, this is kind of a boring album. Read the rest of the track reviews for more information. The instrumentation consists of the standard acoustic guitar drumming, harmonica playing, and Dylan's torn vocals. Of course, that's nothing new!
Ballad of Hollis Brown B+
This song tells the story of a destitute farmer whose life becomes even more destitute. Some of the lyrics really sting me. ( “You looked for work and money and you walked a ragged mile / Your children are so hungry they don't know how to smile.”) I mean, it's a good song. The melody and riff derivative of the blues, but Dylan delivers it in a fresh way. ...But don't I get enough of these sorts of weepy stories from Joan Baez? Dylan made me laugh in his previous two albums. Why so serious? ...And this is such a straightforward song. Nothing particularly clever or ironic to keep me amused. ...Unfortunately, most of the album is like this.
With God on Our Side B
( “But now we got weapons of chemical dust / If fire them we're forced to, then fire them we must / One push to the button and a shot the world wide / You never ask questions when God is on your side.”) It's nothing terribly new. Dr. Strangelove told the same story, but that was funny about it... and telling sometimes harrowing stories in a humorous fashion was what Dylan did ALL THE TIME in his previous album. Oh well. But my main complaint about this is the melody, which also seems too folk-derivative and nothing that makes a lasting impression on me. It's also very repetitive and starts to get boring. Lastly, Dylan's also strumming his guitar in a loose and rather uninteresting way.
One Too Many Mornings B
If I could get up every day at noon, that would improve my life 100 percent... Anyway, this is a very low-key and downbeat song. I like the way that he's very delicately strumming his acoustic guitar and the thoughtful way he's blowing on his harmonica, but other than that, this is on the boring side. The lyrics seem more poetic than the previous three, but I have no idea what they mean. (Then again, I was never a lyrics buff, so I only spent a minute or so reading them.) The melody is OK, but it never makes a lasting impression on me.
North Country Blues C+
…..................Oh man. I'm suspicious that this song would have gotten a higher score if it came after the title track, because my “boredom” seems to be exponentially increasing. People who say folk music is boring is probably thinking of this album. It's such a shame, because a prospective fan would probably buy this album first because it's named after a much-beloved song. ...Well, he's just strumming his guitar very boringly in 3/4 time, and repeating an uninteresting melody over and over again. Like everything else here, the attitude is downbeat, and the lyrics are depressing. ( “Oh, the years passed again and the givin' was good / With a lunch bucket filled every season / But three babies born, the work was cut down / To a half a day's shift with no reason” )
Only a Pawn In Their Game B
Yet another protest song. I enjoy the melody more than the previous song hence the higher rating. The lyrics pertain to the death of Medger Evers who was murdered by the KKK in 1963. And, more generally, the song is about racism. I don't think anyone disagrees with anything Bob Dylan is singing about, which is why these lyrics don't interest me much. I mean, it's a straightforward telling of his story. You'll get the same effect from reading newspapers (the mid-20th Century version of Wikipedia).
Boots of Spanish Leather A-
This is yet **ANOTHER** protest song, this time about a bull that's murdered in a bullfight and someone makes a pair of boots out of its skin. I wouldn't have pegged Bob Dylan as an animal rights activist.................. Er, I'm kidding, of course. This is actually more of a love song, about a sailor who has to go out to see and leave his love behind. (“So take heed, take heed of the western winds / Take heed of the stormy weather / And yes, there's something you can send back to me / Spanish boots of Spanish leather.”) It's a lovely song even though Dylan is still being relentless with the depressing tones.
When the Ship Comes In B
This song is about a half dozen prostitutes who wait desperately for the navy to come in for their next meal ticket, when the arrive, they only end up contracting syphilis and dying painfully...................... Just kidding, again. Am I faking anyone out? Actually the lyrics are less interesting; he's using a sailing ship as a metaphor for something or other. I don't “get it,” but as I said before, I suck at lyrics. Anyway, this is a decent song. Dylan's strumming his guitar in a more upbeat manner, which is appreciated because the last few songs have been *ssssssllllooowwww*, but the melody still isn't that great.
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll C+
This song is about someone named Hattie Carroll who was lonesome and died................. Hah hah, did I just FAKE fake you out? …Er, probably not. Anyway. About this Bob Dylan song. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Does that give you the picture? I'm reading the lyrics and... you know... it's terrible that there are racist people who kill people. I guess anyone who disagrees with that should listen to this song and be taught a lesson. Me? I'm not racist, so I'm allowed to listen to other songs. You know, songs that actually tell me things about life that I didn't know.
Restless Farewell C
I'm giving kind of a restless farewell to this album right now. This is such a sloooooow and down-key song, and I'm sooooo borrrrrrrreddddddddd-d-d-d-d-d-d-d. I'mmmmmm sooooooooooo booooredddddd thattttttt I'mmmmmm keepppppinnggg mmmyyyyy ffffffffingeeeeeersssssssss onnnnnnn theeeeeeeeese keeeeeyssss fooooooorrrr lllllonngerrrrrr thannnnn necccccesssssarry fffffforrrrr noooo appppppparrrrrrrrenttttttttttt reeeeassssssssonnnnnnnnn. The lyrics? ( “But if the arrow is straight and the point is slick / It can pierce through the dust, no matter how thick / So I'll make my stand and remain as I am / And bid farewell and not give a damn”) I have no idea what I just copied down there. I don't care.
Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
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All I Really Want to Do A
Awesome. Remember that Freewheelin' Bob Dylan guy? He used to sing in his albums warmly. Forget that no-nonsense, serious-as-lupus dude from The Times They Are A-Changin'. He's gone and been re-replaced with that warm-hearted, humorous dude that we remember best. Hear how his vocals switch to a falsetto at the end of the line “All I really want to do-OOOOOOOOO.” At one point, he even starts to giggle a bit. What other things should I say about this song? Well, the melody is fantastic—it's breezy, sunny, and something that manages to linger in my head long after it's through playing. Perhaps it doesn't strike me squarely in the heart like a “Blowin' in the Wind” or a “Times They Are A-Changin',” but do we really expect every Bob Dylan song to do that to us? Instrumentally, it's as we expect: Acoustic guitar, voice, and a harmonica.
Black Crow Blues A-
What is that?! A piano?! Chalk one up for diversity, I guess! ...Of course I'm really surprised to hear this, because usually folk albums didn't have pianos on them. They're too flamboyant, you see. Hear how the piano player takes his finger and let it slide down the scale? ...Superfluous. ...Of course I'm just kidding; I love hearing the piano. It's very fun, and I like the energetic way Dylan sings this. (“I woke in the mornin' wanderin', weary and worn out / I woke in the mornin' wanderin', weary and worn out / Wishin' my long-lost lover will walk to me, talk to me / Tell me what it's all about”) As you can see the lyrical matter isn't anything huge, and the melody and the piano riff are standard for blues music.
Spanish Harlem Incident A-
Back to to the acoustic guitar music. But I can't complain about that, since this melody is interesting. You might also recognize it from The Byrds' debut where The Byrds took the same melody and added some 12-string guitar awesomeness to it. With that said, it was certainly not one of the Byrds' better Dylan covers, and their somewhat cooled vocal performance doesn't help. Dylan sings this more passionately! (Or maybe I'm such a huge fan of his voice that people think I'm slightly nuts?)
Chimes of Freedom A+
Guess what? The Byrds also covered this in their debut! (Maybe I should stop writing about The Byrds in this Bob Dylan reivew?) ...Anyway, this is surely one of the more iconic tunes from this album. The melody ought to give that one immediately away; if this doesn't strike you immediately as whistleable, then I wonder what does. What's most interesting (to me) about it is that it goes on for more than seven minutes basically repeating the same old thing over and over, and I don't get sick of it. And the poetry is lovely. (“Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail / The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder / That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze / Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder.”)
I Shall Be Free No. 10 A
Yes, it's like The Times They Are A-Changin' never happened. “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is very much like “I Shall Be Free” from The Freewheelin'... In other words, the melody is a sort of generic folk melody, but it is delivered humorously and freshly by Dylan, and he also has some more funny stories to tell. ( “I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day / I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay / I said “Fee fie fo fum, Cassius Clay, here I come / 26 27 28 29, I'm gonna make your face look just like mine / five four three two one, Cassius Clay you'd better run / 99 100 101 102, your ma won't even recognize you / 14 15 16 17 18 19 gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen”) …Violence! ( “Now they asked me to read a poem / At the sorority sister's home / I got knocked down and my head was swimmin' / I wound up with the Dean of Women / Yippee! I'm a poet and I know it / Hope I don't blow it” ) …Naughty!
To Ramona A-
Right about now, I'm quite aware that Another Side is a step down from The Freewheelin'. Songs like this love song are quite nice, but they're kind of easy for me to tone out whereas most songs on The Freewheelin' had me excited to no end! The melody is good, but nothing huge for this guy. His singing style is fairly straight, and he's playing his acoustic guitar in a typical manner. For some reason, it sounds a bit like an Italian folk song to me.
Motorpsycho Nightmare A
vThis is a little more like it! The melody isn't anything huge for me, but the lyrics are pretty entertaining. It starts out like almost every dirty joke I've ever heard—a vehicle breaks down and he takes refuge in the nearest farmhouse where the farmer has a daughter who “looked like she stepped out of La Dolce Vita.” The daughter tries to seduce him, but to get away from her he pretends he's a communist. (“I said I like Fidel Castro / I think you heard me right / And ducked as he swung / At me with all his might / Rita mumbled something / 'Bout her mother on the hill / As his fist hit the icebox / He said he's going to kill me / If I don't get out the door / In two seconds flat / You unpatriotic / Rotten doctor Commie rat”) Very entertaining storytelling.
My Back Pages A+
Yet another iconic song. It's amazing how many “iconic songs” you find strewn all throughout Dylan's '60s albums! And you know what else? The Byrds covered this as well. ...I usually think Dylan's originals are better because I like Dylan's delivery so much more, but in this case it's close. The back-beat, electric organ, and tight vocal harmonies were pretty great ...At any rate, the melody is fantastic, and Dylan has a way of singing it that it sounds like he's singing about the most important thing in the world. (“A self-ordained professor's tongue / Too serious to fool / Spouted out that liberty / is just equality in school / Equality, I spoke the word / As if a wedding vow / Ah but I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now.”)
I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) B+
I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed that “My Back Pages” is over when I get to this song! Oh well... It's perfectly nice. The melody is simple and sweet (though it doesn't make much of an impression on me I have to say), and he strums his guitar in a lighthearted manner. He chugs a bit with his harmonica. ...Eh, it's fine.
Ballad in Plain D B
Well... I guess this one's for the real die-hards. This eight minute song goes on and on, and the melody is merely *good* and nothing I find too memorable. I usually space out when I listen to it. The lyrics are good as always, but they're not on-the-edge-of-my-seat awesome. According to Wikipedia, they're about his break-up with Suze Rotolo (the woman he was walking with on the cover of The Freewheelin'). Oh my! An eight-minute break-up song!!
It Ain't Me Babe A
Haha, I was positive that The Byrds covered this one as well, but it was actually The Turtles I was thinking of! (I guess The Byrds couldn't cover everything.) Johnny Cash did a cover as well, but I never heard it. ...But anyway, I gave this an A, and that can only mean one thing: It's one of the classic songs on here! It doesn't quite strike the same chord that “Chimes of Freedom” did, but nevertheless the melody is catchy. According to Wikipedia, the lines “no, no, no, it ain't me babe” were directly meant to parody The Beatles' “She Loves You.” ...So there you go. Some trivia for the evening.
Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
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Subterranean Homesick Blues A+
You probably know it best as the song that's played in that iconic music video in which Dylan holds up bits of poster with words written on them. It's also called one of the precursor's to rap music, since Dylan rattles the words off his tongue through some of this in a more rhythmic fashion than an actual melodic fashion. The lyrics sometimes seem nonsensical to me, but other times, I sort of understand them. (“Ah get born, keep warm / Short pants, romance, learn to dance / Get dressed, get blessed / Try to be a success / Please her, please him, buy gifts / Don't steal, don't lift / Twenty years of schoolin' / And they put you on the day shift / Look out kid / They keep it all hid / Better jump down a manhole / Light yourself a candle / Don't wear sandals / Try to avoid the scandals / Don't wanna be a bum / You better chew gum / The pump don't work / 'Cause the vandals took the handles”)
She Belongs to Me A-
Gotta say, even though he's officially “electric” now, I only hear one small electric guitar noodling away thoughtfully in one of my ear holes. The predominant instrument in use here is that acoustic guitar, and Dylan is singing as he always does and even supplements it with a harmonica. ...Oh, and there's a light drum keeping a steady beat. ...I've got to say, this doesn't strike me over the head or anything. It's a nice ballad.
Maggie's Farm A
This is a heavier blues-rock, and it's also awesome. The song itself isn't terribly original... The melody specifically has a typical blues pattern... But the presentation of it is certainly fresh and unique, even to my 21st Century ears. The instrumentals are gloriously cluttered (that was sort of the style of his following album, which is probably considered more iconic than this one), and it's fun hearing Dylan's boisterous vocals come in on top of all that. ...More importantly than anything, it's just a blast to sit through. (Yay!)
Live Minus Zero / No Limit A+
I really don't know why I never noticed this before, but this song awfully resembles a song that Dylan would later write to open for George Harrison's first album, All Things Must Pass. But anyway, both of those songs are great! The melody is beautiful and breezy. Once again, the “electricity” is reduced to a thoughtfully noodling electric guitar going into one of my ears and a set of drums. (Did those hardcore folkies who hated Dylan for making this album consider drums evil? They're not electric, fools!)
Outlaw Blues A-
Like “Maggie's Farm” before it, this is a very unoriginal hard-blues song, which uses a generic riff and a generic melody. In fact, it strikes me as even more generic than “Maggie's Farm.” Nevertheless, it still works beautifully, because I'm completely buying Dylan's delivery of it. His torn vocals soar over the proceedings wonderfully, the beat is driving and toe-tapping, I like that gruff tone the guitars pound out, that bluesy harmonica playing at all times in the background is a lot of fun... Oh and do I also hear some lively piano playing in the background? Hell yeah!!!
On the Road Again A
Dylan is really making up for some lost time with the blues-rock front, but at least he sounds like he's having teriffic fun doing them. Again, I won't give him too many props for creating an interesting or original melody, but it's a lot of fun hearing him deliver these things freshly. The rhythmic guitars sound really good, and so does that flailing harmonica that goes all over the place. If you don't find songs like this fun, then you're barking up the wrong tree!
Bob Dylan's 115th Dream A
Once again, this melody and riff is the basic blues that is orchestrated with a very sloppy and cluttery backing band. Nonetheless, it has that certain *quality* to it that makes it fun to listen to. The lyrics are surreal and seem to pertain to the discovery of America. (“I think I'll call it America / I said as we hit land / I took a deep breath / I fell down, I could not stand / Captain Arab he started / Writing up some deeds / He said, Let's set up a fort / And start buying the place with beads / Just then this cop comes down the street / Crazy as a loon / He throw us all in jail / For carryin' harpoons”) …that sort of thing happened at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, didn't it?
Mr. Tambourine Man A+
Oh, here's the start of the acoustic side of this album... Yessir, no electric guitars or drums or garage-rock rhythms can be heard past this point. ...And, well, I love that sound, but I really like this song. If you've never heard the Bob Dylan version, then you all know it from the iconic version The Byrds did of it. ...As I said in my review of that Byrds album, I find this version far superior just because Dylan comes off as a much more sincere than The Byrds did... but of course, their tight vocal harmonies were beautiful as well as their 12-string guitars, which made it sound more like a “jingle jangle morning.” ...Of course, the melody is beautiful. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, I reckon. The acoustic guitars are beautiful to hear... There are at least two of them—one that strums, and another that plays some high-pitched arpeggios. There's also the standard harmonica.
Gates of Eden A
I just love the way Dylan sings this—a rather loud and confident way, as though he is telling some sort of epic folk story. The melody is surely one of the better ones here (i.e. it's not based on a generic blues melody). Although if you read the lyrics, they're quite lovely, but they don't make a whole lot of sense to me. (“With a time-rusted compass blade / Aladdin and his lamp / Sits with Utopian hermit monks / Side saddle on the Golden Calf / And on their promises of paradise / You will not hear a laugh / All except inside Gates of Eden”). ...They are awfully fun to read, though.
It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) A+
This is one of the most iconic folk songs ever written, probably. Dylan's vocal delivery seems a bit darker, like he has some bile at the back of his tongue. The song length is huge, clocking in at seven and a half minutes, but it's the sort of song I listen to entirely transfixed through it, trying to hang onto every word he's saying. ...Even in its rambly melody, he manages to uncover a few hooks that I find memorable. The four notes he uses whenever he sings 'It's alright, ma' manage to get stuck in my head. (“While preachers preach of evil fates / teachers teach that knowledge waits / Can lead to hundred-dollar plates / Goodness hides behind its gates / But even the president of the United States / Sometimes must have / To stand naked.”) ...This is a one-of-a-kind sort of song. It's something that begs to be listened to and absorbed.
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue A+
I like this song the most for the melody. (And as any Bob Dylan song with a great melody, you'll find that The Byrds did a cover version of it... Except they kind of screwed it up...) It's a nice, hummable melody, and Dylan delivers it in a very heartful way. The acoustic guitar strums in a rather solemn way, and that feeling is supplemented nicely with a harmonica solo. (“Leave you stepping stones behind, something calls for you / Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you / The vagabond who's rapping at your door / Is standing in the clothes that you once wore / Strike another match, go start anew / And it's all over now, Baby Blue”)
Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
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Like a Rolling Stone A+
Well there's one song rating I didn't even have to think about, but what I'm going to say about it is another story! This could very well be Bob Dylan's best song of his career (but many, many others came close). The melody is classic; it's catchy and something I always want to scream along with. His vocal performance is stinging, and really every word manages to get inside of me. (“Once upon a time you dressed so fine / You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you? / People'd call, say, beware doll, you're bound to fall / You thought they were all kiddin' you / You used to laugh about / Everybody that was hangin' out / Now you don't talk so loud / Now you don't seem so proud / About having to be scrounging for your next meal / How does it feel / How does it feel / To be without a home / Like a complete unknown / Like a rolling stone?”) ...The instrumentation is sloppy and uncouth, which is a continuation of the same style that we heard on the rock music of the previous album. That's Al Kooper famously improvising a riff on organ...
Tombstone Blues A+
Rock 'n' roll! This is maybe one of the coolest songs ever written. It's a rapidly paced song with sloppy organ, sloppy guitars, and those characteristic boisterous and stinging lead vocals. I mean, this song rocks so much that you wouldn't be inaccurate to call it hard-rock. (Of course it's 1965... But absolutely revolutionary for 1965...) It lasts for six entire minutes, and it never loses and ounce of its momentum. Man! Listen to those hard-rocking guitar solos! That's gritty isn't it?
It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry A+
Well... I pretty much love this album to pieces, which you can probably tell already with all these ratings I'm giving it... This is a mid-tempo, slow blues chugger with a gritty rhythm section, some very nice ivory tickling in the background. Dylan comes in with a soulful harmonica solo, which supplements things beautifully as always.
From a Buick 6 A+
He does sound a lot like The Rolling Stones here. It's based on a driving and rather menacing riff, and Dylan follows suit with another passionate vocal performance. The melody doesn't strike me as being terribly original, but like everything in Bringing it All Back Home, it's presented so freshly that I can hardly fault it. ...I suppose it also helps if you don't keep expecting Bob Dylan to move you with his poetry... Here he just wanted to rock out like The Stones, and he wrote a great song for it. I mean, The Stones only wish they had this song...
Ballad of a Thin Man A+
Alright, this A+ is a higher A+ than the previous three songs. This is right up there with “Like a Rolling Stone” in terms of pure Dylan classicness. That dark piano riff that opens the song immediately draws me into it, no matter how many times I heard it. Dylan's biting and cynical vocal performance is utterly shredding. I love the lyrics, too. More than anything, they're interesting to read. Pretty much everything about this song reeks of classicness. It's also quite long, six minutes, but it's captivating.
Queen Jane Approximately A+
Man, it's like this guy had awesomeness oozing out of him at the time. This song seems quite a bit nicer than the previous song. This is so great, but I'm used to making fun of something in my review by now... This is weird to me... There's a little bit of lead guitar that sounds a little bit like The Beatles... except as always, it's just apart of the song's overall messy fabric. We hear more of that organ playing blocky chords in the background and a nice beefy drum beat. It's all apart of the classic sound. Dylan's melody once again is catchy, and it's the sort of thing I just want to scream along with. (I'm in the university library right now, so I had better not!)
Highway 61 Revisited A+
The title song! ...The second title song in Dylan's history! (I was going to call it the first, but then I remembered that I was trying to forget about The Times They Are A-Changin'.) Dylan changes things up a bit here to bring us another upbeat bluesy rocker, although unlike “From a Buick 6” it doesn't strike me as Stonesy. Dylan almost yells the lyrics instead of singing it, and of course that very well matches the mood of the lyrics. (“Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored / He was tryin' to create a next world war / He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor / He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before / But yes I think it can be very easily done / We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun / And have it on Highway 61.”) The band here is phenomenal. Especially Mike Bloomfield's stinging guitar licks. ...Even if you don't care much for lyrics (and I usually don't), this is a great thing to get up off your chair and boogie with.
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues A+
Ah, I gave everything else here an A+. Why not this one? This mid-tempo song particularly is one of the more laid-back songs of the bunch, with that rather jovially played piano. (This is a really good album for the piano... I don't think that instrument gets enough credit here...) Although the lyrics continue to be quite biting. The melody once again is fantastic, and shows that Dylan was at the top of his game at this point. (Ugh, I'm feeling a little bit of fanboy guilt right now...)
Desolation Row A+
So there you go. A+s all around. I don't even think I did that to any of The Beatles' albums. This is one of Dylan's most ambitious songs of all time, an 11-minute folk song that never, ever gets boring. (An amazing feat? Well remember that Dylan is the storyteller!) ...Oh yes, this isn't “electric” as far as I know, but in addition to the usual strummy acoustic guitar, there's some very pretty guitar lines that noodles throughout. The melody is catchy, and it's delivered boisterously by this youthful man. (“Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood / With his memories in a trunk / Passed this way an hour ago / With his friend, a jealous monk / He looked so immaculately frightful / As he bummed a cigarette / The he went off sniffing drainpipes / And reciting the alphabet / Now you would not think to look at him / But he was famous long ago / For playing the electric violin / On desolation row.”) ...Here, I would like to point out that they also played an electric violin on Revenge of the Nerds.
Blonde on Blonde (1966)
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Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 A+
For my first act of blasphemy, I'll admit that when I first hear these 1-2 pounding drums pop up, I'm more reminded of “They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha” than the opening track of Blonde on Blonde. Does that make me crazy? ...Not only does it have that crazy marching beat, but it also has a saloon-style piano and a full brass band. (And I hear a bunch of crazy, drunk people yelling and carrying on in the background.) It's based on a fairly normal blue progression, but of course the presentation of it makes it sound fresh and exciting. The lyrics were controversial back in the day, because of the lyric “Everybody must get stoned!” ...He's talking about the New Testament where some people felt obligated to stone one another. So it's Biblical! But I don't think it's much of a stretch of the imagination that Dylan probably consciously twisted his words to make it appear as though it were a drug song... Or maybe he wrote the rest of the lyrics around the line “Everybody must get stoned?” ...I guess we'll never know...
Pledging My Time A+
I've had a self-made reputation for hating blues music over the years, and this song is about as bluesy as it gets. Not only the rhythm and chord progression is a typical blues one, but Dylan comes in with some extremely bluesy harmonica. ...And you know what? I still have an aversion to it... unless it completely rules like this one. The rhythm section is hard and gritty... the guitarist comes in with a few heavy licks here and there, and Dylan's harmonica playing is probably more interesting than hearing Dylan's blues melody (which, let's face it, is completely generic). It was really that harmonica playing that pushed it over the edge for me... It's like no harmonica playing that I've ever heard. At the end of the song, it sounds like he muffled it somehow.
Visions of Johanna A+
Seven and a half minutes for a pop song? How come I always throw a hissy fit whenever I run across seven-and-a-half-minute pop songs except when it's Bob Dylan? Could that be because I'm a starry eyed fanboy who thinks his hero could do no wrong? ...Or maybe this is a genuinely good pop song that it never, even for a split second, runs out of steam? The pacing is a laid-back, and the melody is breezy and likable. Dylan's vocal performance is very nice, too, matching the laid-back tone of the instrumentation well. The lyrics are also beautiful to read, if you're into that sort of thing. (“Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet? / We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it / And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it / Lights flicker from the opposite loft / In this room the heat pipes just cough / The country music station plays soft / But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off / Just Louise and her lover so entwined / And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind”).
One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) A+
...Yeah, I'm doing it again. A+s all around. ...But then again, I know I'm going to have to savor the moment, because I'm reviewing the man's entire discography and they're not all like this. ...The reason this song is awesome, is because it has a beautiful melody, and the loose orchestration is passionate and dynamic. Dylan's vocals are as stronger as ever who sounds like he's feeling what he's singing, and the melody he sings is soaring and extremely hooky. (“I didn't meant to treat you so bad / You shouldn't take it so personal / I didn't mean to make you so sad / You just happened to be there, that's all / When I saw you say “goodbye” to your friend and smile / I thought that it was well understood / That you'd be comin' back in a little while / I didn't know that you were sayin' goodbye for good”) How can I say “no?”
I Want You A+
There's no dilemma going on in my brain about this A+, since this is one of the songs I still have playing in my mind after I turn this album off. This is one of Dylan's poppiest tunes, and since I like pop music... well, put two and two together... The riff is bright, sunny, and pleasant... In fact, considering how much bile he likes to spit out in his music, it's a little bit unusual hearing him sing something so kind-hearted. The melody is very catchy as well. ...Dylan could certainly write one mean catchy tune, couldn't he?
Stuck Inside Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again A+
Like “Visions of Johanna” before it, this is a 7+ minute song, and it never for even a millisecond grows boring for me. The groove is played so solidly that it's completely unstoppable. I especially like the electric organ grooving around happily, which was provided to us by Al Kooper. Dylan sings the catchy melody with verve and passion... Do I sound like a broken record? When I listen to this song, I'm completely absorbed by it... Seven minutes of my life melt away just like *that* except, I was very much enjoying a song during that time. ...Finally, I also like that there's an actual ending to this song instead of a boring fade-out. It's just a slowed down performance of the main chord progression, which is all that it needed!
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat A
Haha!!! Not an A+!!! It's a pure blues song, which is why I can be so harsh on it. ...But I still think it's an awesome blues song. Maybe the groove isn't as menacing and driving to me as it was on “Pledging My Time,” and one of the guitars play a sort of high-pitched tone that I'm not really into until a moment halfway though it where it plays a pretty mean solo. But of course, Dylan sings his generic blues melody with some verve, and I love the rhythm section... It doesn't take long for me to get into its bluesy groove, and to get my foot tapping.
Just Like a Woman A
Another non-A+? Could my fanboydom be slipping? …It's true, there's nothing extreme about this song that riles up my soul or anything, but it's nevertheless a very pretty ballad. The melody is so excellent that it proves, once again, that Dylan was able to write some of the best melodies in the business. It has a typical song structure with verses, chorus and middle-eight and all these sections have nice themes to it. The pacing is laid-back and pleasant. ...I suppose I could complain that the lyrics don't actually do much for me, although there's nothing wrong about Dylan wanting to go for simplicity.
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) A+
Back to the rock 'n' roll, which is the best sort of music, if you want my honest-to-god opinion about it. There's nothing like a good ole driving, toe-tapping beat to get my blood pumping. There's a marching-drum quality to the rhythm section, which makes it especially good music to take with you on a a walk sometime, and the guitars come in with a crunchy texture that I just want to eat up. There's a horn leftover from the album opener that plays a pretty catchy riff in spots, too. Dylan's vocal performance is of course rough around the edges, which makes this song even better. (There's another one of my stabs at people who don't like his voice! How dare you think such things!!!)
Temporary Like Achilles A
Another mere A? Uh oh... Well, aren't these ratings arbitrary, anyway? I'm not a rock 'n' roll professor! ...This is a beautiful song with a pretty melody that's strongly delivered. It's a nice song to listen to, but I don't quite feel it in the center of my chest like I feel the others. It also doesn't help that the melody sounds a lot like “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues,” which might be indicative that he was running out of ideas. Another problem, maybe, is Dylan's words, which aren't piercing my chest. Perhaps also, the instrumentalists are a little too laid back and don't do anything to dazzle me? There's a harmonica solo in the final third that's very good, but he's done better ones on this album!... Of course, this is a beautiful song. The melody is strong enough that I want to sing with it, especially on those days I think “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues” is too fast for me. See what nitpicky things this album has me complaining about?
Absolutely Sweet Marie A+
Oh yeah... you and I both knew those mere As were going to be temporary... This of course is yet another catchy and brilliant song by Bob Dylan. The instrumentation continues to sound loose with only the rhythm section and the riff-ridden organ playing predictably. The lead guitar, who sounds like he's muting his instrument, just sounds like he's doing whatever he wants! If you don't feel like listening to Dylan's lyrics or melody, you can direct your attention to that guitar and be equally as entertaining. ...But why would you do that when the melody is so good. Huh?
4th Time Around A
It's the battle between the A+s and the As. The A won on this one, because it's only completely awesome instead of phenomenally awesome. I like that twinkly arpeggio pattern being played with some acoustic guitars and that busy, pattering drum beat. Dylan's vocal melody has a gentle nursery rhyme quality to it and his vocal performance matches it swimmingly, and thus this is difficult to not love to pieces. All in all, another wholly classic Dylan ditty... albeit not quite as classic as some of these other songs...
Obviously 5 Believers A
If you go on the Wikipedia page for this song, they'll give you a short list of old R&B songs that this is similar to. Oh yes, it's been no secret all along that Dylan could be original... but only when he particularly wanted to. Sometimes he just wanted to rock out like his heroes he was listening to when he was a teenager... His take on the style, as always, is fresh and fun to listen to. The instrumentalists sure know how to rock out. The drums are upbeat, exciting, and ridden with some excellent, tight fills. The guitar noodles around in an attitude ridden way. The harmonica comes in at times to chug around in a Rolling Stones sort of way. Dylan's lead vocals are fun and exciting. ...I don't know if people give him enough props at being a good R&B singer! Well? He's not Mick Jagger, but he's still good.
Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands A+
Guess what? This is an 11-minute-long folk song that—surprise, surprise—completely engages me. Like all of his extremely long songs, they draw me in without letting go. Dylan has a way of making everything he sing sounds important, so it's like he's singing to us a grand epic. The slowly sung melody is catchy, and it has a swaying quality to it that helps amplify the song's epic quality. (“Oh, the farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide / To show you the dead angles that they used to hide / But why did they pick you to sympathize with their side? / Oh, how could they ever mistake you? / They wished you'd accepted the blame for the farm / But with the sea at your feet and the phony false alarm / And with the child of hoodlum wrapped in your arms / How could they ever, ever persuade you?”) ...I can't be too sure I understand what that means, but it at least ignites my imagination. The instrumentalists, who rumor has it played this whole thing straight in one last take, play it gently and sweetly. Some might find it too long and dull—I'd understand that, since Dylan's basically repeating the chorus and verses endlessly—but for me, it's an engaging experience. (Also, I'm a fanboy. I cannot write that enough times. Fanboy. Fanboy. Fanboy.)
John Wesley Harding (1967)
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John Wesley Harding A+
This is a Bob Dylan song. Therefore, it's AWESOME. (Just more warnings about more probable fan-rants ahead.) ...If you're listening to Dylan's albums for the first time in order, you might be surprised to hear how simple and straightforward it is. He's strumming his guitar in basic patterns, and his melody is simplistic and delivered in a straightforward manner. More importantly, this sounds CLEAN. No more of those anarchic instrumentals. Everything is entirely in order. Come to think of it, that provides a good contrast to his famously torn vocals. This almost harkens back to his pre-electric folk days, except there's a bass guitar and drums. ...The story goes he changed his sound to try to alienate the people who had been calling him the 'voice of the generation.' Unfortunately for him, it didn't work: He made the music too good! The melody is catchy as hell, and I love the harmonica he plays throughout; it the melody but not enough to be a boring copy of it. The lyrics are a character sketch of a Robin Hood type outlaw from the Wild West.
As I Went Out One Morning A+
Yeah, if Bob Dylan wanted to alienate his fans, then he should have found a different drummer and bassist. These guys are just too good. The bassist even plays a riff, which is integral part of what I remember about this song, and I eat up all those tight, crispy fills the drummer can throw at me. More harmonica? More greatness. Dylan's melody might not be the catchiest of the disc, but it's still very engaging. He's continuing writing simple lyrics, although they're still pretty good... (“As I went out one morning / To breathe the air around Tom Paine's / I spied the fairest damsel / That ever did walk in chains / I offer'd her my hand / She took me by the arm / I knew that very instant / She meant to do me harm”)
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine A+
Absolutely beautiful. This A+ is better than the previous song's A+! (Oh no... what happens when I've listened to an album pretty consistently for a period of nearly 10 years? ...I get the impression that everything on it is perfect. ...Well, maybe it is?) It's more slowly paced, but this melody is particularly good—it was something that I'm sure got stuck in my mind from the first time I heard it. Instrumentally, it's once again quite simple, and the lyrics are straightforward. Not bad things, because they're quite powerful.
All Along the Watchtower A+
Oh yes... the song that Jimi Hendrix covered... What version is better, do you ask? The Bob Dylan version! Because Bob Dylan could do no wrong! ...Once again, the instrumentation is straightforward, although Dylan starts to get pretty passionate with his guitar strumming. The pat-pat-pattery drumming once again is cool and crunchy, and the bassist has a few good fills here and there. Easily the best thing about the song is the melody, which is catchy as hell. This song is a huge classic, and there's great reason for that.
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest A
This is the story of a street bum named Frankie Lee who nearly became the lead singer for the heavy metal group Judas Priest... (Could somebody please tell me that I was at least witty in my younger days?) ...So, here's a reason for me not to give a song on here an A+: It's too long! The descending chord progression he plays with his acoustic guitar is very cool for the first three minutes, but this song goes on for about five and a half minutes. ...Not that it gets boring to listen to... it just gave me an excuse not to give something an A+! Dylan sort of talk-sings the melody, which he always comes off as great doing, and his juicy and soulful harmonica work throughout this is especially good.
Drifter's Escape A
I think as long as that rhythm section stays with Bob Dylan for the duration of his career, he'd never be able to make a mistake. It almost doesn't matter that Dylan's simple vocal melody is laden with some powerful hooks, I'm listening to that tight, chugging drum rhythm and that catchy bass line! Once again, the lyrics tell a story: (“Well, the judge, he cast his robe aside / A tear came to his eye / You fail to understand, he said / Why must you even try? / Outside, the crowd was stirring / You could hear it from the door / Inside the judge was stepping down / While the jury cried for more”)
Dear Landlord A+
(“Dear landlord / Please don't put a price on my soul / My burden is heavy / My dreams are beyond control / When that steamboat whistle blows / I'm gonna give you all I got to give / And I do hope you receive it well / Dependin' on the way you feel that you live”) Heartfelt lyrics once again from the master, and the melody he finds to sing with it is memorable and catchy. Instrumentally, it is almost exactly like the others … except he plays a piano instead of an acoustic guitar. (How's that for subtle instrumentation? I'm not sure I ever completely realized that.)
I Am a Lonesome Hobo A
I have a funny fascination for hobos... until I actually see one in real life and he's wearing clothes that look more ruined than mine. (I'm not kidding, my only pair of shoes has holes in it.) As usual, this is another excellent song from Dylan. The instrumentation is just his acoustic guitar, bass, drumming, and a harmonica, but that's all it needs. It's all he ever needed. The melody is catchy, the lyrics are interesting. What else do you want? Isn't this proof that you don't need all those hazy instrumentals to distract us from pure Dylan-ness?
I Pity the Poor Immigrant A+
This is surely one of his more heartbreaking songs. (“I pity the poor immigrant / Who wishes he would've stayed home / Who uses all his power to do evil / But in the end is always left so alone / That man with whom his fingers cheats / And who lies with ev'ry breath / Who passionately hates his life / And likewise, fears his death”) Dylan was going for an old-timey folk/country theme for all these songs, but for some reason I feel it more here. He's also singing in a more high-pitched voice than I'm used to. (Though not quite in the voice he would adopt for Nashville Skyline.) The melody is something that's so beautiful and memorable that I immediately recall it from reading the song title. ...That's usually a good indication to me how memorable a song is, since I don't always have a great memory! The harmonica playing continues to be top notch. ...It serious has me wondering if this could be the greatest rock album for the harmonica ever.
The Wicked Messenger A-
Probably the worst song of this album, but I still like it. (I checked with my original review of this album written circa 2004 and I said the same thing. Why do I always seem to be surprised whenever I agree with myself?) The melody isn't much to speak of, and the instrumentation doesn't thrill me like so many of these others. Dylan's vocal performance is actually quite ugly here... I know, calling his vocals 'ugly' is pretty much blasphemy, but for once I'm willing to entertain the notion. The harmonica work, on the other hand, is piercing.
Down Along the Cove A+
Ah, I must be overcompensating for the fact that I gave a song on here a *gasp* A-. But seriously, this song is pretty cool. They create such a low-key but snappy groove with more of those tight drums, bass guitar, and grooving piano. There's even a lead guitar, which starts noodling pleasantly midway through. Melodically, it's a fairly generic R&B thing, but... Well, when it's presented like this in a manner that we've never heard before, then how could I possibly cry foul?
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight A+
...The dingow ate cho baybey... (How do you like my Australian accent?) ...Well, Dylan closes this album with a rather simple country-western tune, and it's beautiful. The melody is something that I can find myself humming if I feel like it, and the slide guitar that noodles throughout is quite lovely. The lyrics are even lovely in their simplicity, especially how genuine Dylan comes off singing them. (“Close your eyes, close the door / You don't have to worry anymore / I'll be your baby tonight”)
Nashville Skyline (1969)
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Girl From the North Country A
You might remember that this song originally appeared on The Freewheelin', so this is a self-cover. I guess it was a good thing he didn't pick a song that had also been covered by The Byrds, or people with short memories might have complained that Dylan was covering The Byrds! ...Anyway, it's a totally different interpretation of it. The guitar is strummed in a laid-back and simplified manner... and he's also duetting with the one and only Johnny Cash! ...I vastly prefer the original, but there's surely merit to this more laid-back version. The melody is still pretty, of course.
Nashville Skyline Rag A-
Here's something that some of his hardcore fans that came out of 1965/1966 might have had an almost impossible time swallowing. Because this isn't a song at all, but a country-hoedown instrumental! And it's not a terribly complicated one at that, relying on a generic chord progression, and those familiar one-two, one-two country bass guitar. ...But hey! As long as we're listening to this, why not have fun with it? The solos are certainly something that my ears like taking in. A harmonica solo, acoustic guitar solo, electric guitar solo... They all take turns.
To Be Alone A
Pardon me... But this song is awesome. I know, it's only two minutes long and actually sounds like a novice trying to write and perform a song exactly like The Band's eponymous album... But I suppose because Dylan is Dylan, his charm just oozes off of it. This is a bit of a shuffly piano boogie, and it's so much fun that I have trouble refraining from tapping my foot along with its merry beat. The piano player does the most generic saloon-style ivory tickling that he could probably muster, but that's all apart of the fun. The lead guitarist turns in a mighty fine performance with a bit of a muted guitar. ...Of course it helps my enjoyment of this song that the melody is really catchy.
I Threw It All Away A+
Such a pretty ballad... Just because Dylan wanted to write country, it doesn't mean that he stopped writing pretty songs. The melody mesmerizes me. The chord progression seems a bit unusual to me, for some reason, but that's another reason why I find it so mystical. The instrumentation continues to be simple though effective. A pretty electric organ can be heard noodling in the background amidst a few lovely acoustic guitars.
Peggy Day A-
So... When I was listening to this album this afternoon, I knew that I heard this melody somewhere before... Alas, it was on The Kinks' 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies! It's such a simple groove, so I really doubt anyone would consider that to be a huge problem... And Ray Davies made better use of it, anyway!... At any rate, this is a bouncy and cute Americana song. It's a fun toe-tapper, and I presume that Dylan and his silly country-crooner's voice was having fun singing it. ...Especially that cheesy show-tune ending... Holy guacamole. That's pure, hard evidence—right there—that Dylan was poised to do whatever the hell he wanted to for the rest of his career.
Lay Lady Lay A+
Hardcore Dylan fans love this album, and I assume the main reason for that is because of this song. ...Well, yeah! Everyone knows it by heart, don't they? The riff played by slide guitars and an electric organ are right out of a dream, and so is Dylan's vocal melody, which is beautiful. The chorus and verses are equally as memorable, which probably doesn't happen consistently enough in pop-rock... And... Er... Geez. What else is there to say? It's a pure, golden classic.
One More Night A-
Still an enjoyable song even though it's not one of the songs that I find quite as memorable as the others. More than anything, it proves that Dylan at this point of his career was incapable of writing an uninteresting song! This is another catchy country song. It's in 1/2 time, so if you're not bobbing your head agreeably with it, then … I guess you don't much like catchy country songs in 1/2 time... But who's going to deny that the guitar solo is entertaining?
Tell Me That It Isn't True A
One again, it might not sound as important or hard-hitting as his classic stuff, but it's impossible to deny that this is a good song anyway! It's a ballad with a particularly pretty melody, which works well with its descending chord progression. ...For that reason, it sounds a bit like “Lay Lady Lay” except without all that dreaminess.
Country Pie A-
Mmmm... Country pie... Again, it would be really easy to call this a “toss-off,” but … I'm pretty sure that it was literally impossible for Bob Dylan to write a toss-off at this point in his career. This is a fun and crunchy song where Dylan sings a simple and catchy melody with lyrics about pies. The piano and guitar grooves along in terribly agreeable ways. ...And it also sounds a lot like The Band.
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You A+
Ah, nothing to complain about this song whatsoever; it's such a pretty ballad. The melody is something that lingers with me long after the album is through playing, and thus it was just about the perfect way to end the album. The instrumentation continues to be organic and Band-ish, and of course it's a great pleasure to listen to.
Self Portrait (1970)
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All the Tired Horses A
Wow... Dylan changed his voice in Nashville Skyline to sound like a high-pitched country crooner, but here, he's changed his voice so much that he sounds like a woman! ...OK, that's not Dylan singing at all. I suppose that's him conducting that full-on, sweeping string section that accompanies this song. The vocals aren't too complicated; perhaps there are about three women repeating the same lyric over and over “All the tired horses in the sun / How'm I supposed to get any ridin' done? / Hmm...” It sounds like it belongs in a 1950s Western or something! Not that it should be such a surprise to anyone, since Dylan was still riding high on his country-western phase. ...And it's a nice song, anyway. The melody repeats a lot, but I like it anyway. The women sing it beautifully. The sweeping string section is excellently arranged. This album is filled with mostly covers, but this one's original.
Alberta #4 A
This is a cover, though, credited to the wealthiest songwriter in history: Mr. Traditional. It's best known for being recorded by Lead Belly in 1940. And Dylan does an excellent version of it, giving us a nice, laid-back rhythm section. He's singing in his normal Mr. Wheezybags voice instead of the country-crooner tone he'd adopted in his previous album. He even treats us to some nice harmonica work! The back-up singers sound really good, and of course the melody is CATCHY. To be honest, it sounds like one of Dylan's own songs; I might have assumed as much if I weren't looking on Wikipedia. (I'm not much of a blues guy, so I'm unfamiliar with the original...)
I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know A-
This is a really good country song from 1953. ...Again, not that I'm specifically familiar with the original, but I'm familiar with this really nice cover version by Bob Dylan. He's singing in his goofy country-crooner voice again, and he actually sounds very beautiful singing that gorgeous melody. The instrumentation is nothing complicated, but it shouldn't be! A shuffley drum, dreamy slide guitar, arpeggiating acoustic guitars, more of those back-up singers. ...Mmmmm! (I read my original review of this album, and for some reason I hated the back-up singers!)
Days of '49 A+
Here is another cover, although I'm not terribly sure where it came from, but it sounds like an old Wild West tune. I don't think the song itself was notable enough to earn that A+, but it's Dylan's performance of it that pushes it over the end. It's that utter conviction I hear him snarling off the lyrics... He's even yelling some of these lyrics... (“My comrades they all loved me well, a jolly saucy crew / A few hard cases I will recall they all were brave and true / Like good old bricks they stood the kicks in the days of '49 / In the days of old, in the days of gold / How oft'times I repine for the days of old / When we dug up the gold, in the days of '49.”) ...And even more icing on the cake is that really dark and rumbly harmonica I hear in the chorus. It doesn't even know how cool it is. I love that drumming, too. ...Everything about it is great.
Early Mornin' Rain A-
Bob Dylan covering Gordon Lightfoot! ...The apocalypse is here!!!!!!!! ...In all seriousness, this is a very pretty song, and Dylan's giving an earnest vocal performance. He's not singing in his country-crooner voice, but he's still singing pleasantly and hitting all the notes. The melody is good, and it's orchestrated nicely with some light ivory tinkling, guitar strumming, and laid-back drumming. The harmonica is all over this, and it's another pure treat for anyone who likes to hear Dylan's harmonica playing...
In Search of Little Sadie B
So everyone who says this album is terrible, I might be able to concede to their opinions if only they're talking about this song. ...Where Dylan sounds like he's purposefully butchering an old song, singing it a bit too raucously with his torn vocals... and it sounds like he's frequently switching keys. ...On the other hand, I start liking the song quite a lot when he slows down the pace of it midway through when he gets a nice cowboy shuffle going.
Let it Be Me A
How can anyone seriously have lukewarm reactions to an album with songs like this in it? Granted, this is another cover, but it's a really good song, and I love Dylan's presentation of it. He's using his country-crooner voice again, which matches nicely dreamy female back-up singers, twinkly piano, and mid-tempo rhythm section. It seems like a very earnest cover version (I'm unfamiliar with the original), and it makes a great listen.
Little Sadie A-
Well... I guess they found Sadie! This is a much more normal version of the song that I'm assuming Dylan purposefully butchered two tracks ago. Now, it sounds like a quickly paced country song where those rapid bongo drums and acoustic guitars create a nice shuffle, and Dylan's torn vocals seem perfectly appropriate for such a song. The melody is actually pretty catchy, which is a bit of a difference from the earlier version of this song.
Boogie Woogie A-
I think this is another reason a lot of people hate this album: Whenever there are original songs on here, they're things like this: An instrumental based on an extremely generic boogie progression. Holy crap!!! Now, I find this thing to be pretty entertaining, just listening to that jumbly lead guitar wobbling around all over the place. Midway through, the electric organ starts to groove around, joining in the fun, and then later on, there's a saxophone. ...The rhythm is very solid and forceful. ...I gotta say, I'm not thrilled that Dylan would do a song like this, but as long as he did, at least he made it entertaining!
Belle Isle A
Once again, this album has some really good songs on it for what's supposed to be one of Dylan's all-time career-worst albums. This is another old song credited to Mr. Traditional, but it has a beautiful melody that's earnestly delivered by Dylan. He might not be hitting all the notes with precision, but his torn vocals always seem more passionate to me. ...And then putting it over the edge is a sweeping string section, which fits the mood of the piece beautifully. This should be in a movie somewhere.
Living the Blues A
Again, here's a song written by Dylan that's generic that it doesn't seem original at all. I mean, this seems much more generic than most of the actual covers he does. ...But, I don't know if I'm too much of a Dylan fanboy to really think straight, but I'm having a blast with this one, too. The melody is really catchy even though it's reminding me strongly of several old-timey songs that I can't really name. (..Oh wait, I'm pretty sure I'm thinking of Ringo Starr's “You're Sixteen.” That came after this. Oh well. ...Maybe someone can e-mail me with an actual old-timey song this melody resembles?) The lead guitar is amazing. As long as Dylan was writing generic stuff like this, at least he did them RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like a Rolling Stone A
Reason #454 everyone seems to hate this album: Dylan haphazardly threw in live recordings. But that's what this album is, right? Just a goofy bag of party favors. You'll treasure some of them, and probably toss the rest. But so many of these trinkets interest me! ...The thing about this live recording, while not the best recording imaginable, is that he's singing this iconic song of his in his country-crooner voice with The Band. I recognize their voices there in the background! ...Who could not possibly like this? Of course it has nothing on the original, but I can do nothing but love this version as well.
Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight) A
This is a beautiful recording of a famous old song that's probably best known for the Joan Baez cover. (It's the song that appears before “Kumbaya” on Joan Baez in Concert, Vol. 1... So basically, it's the song before that album goes completely downhill!) Naturally, it's a great song, and Dylan gives a very earnest interpretation of it. His vocals come across as sincere, and he hits all the notes! He uses that same sweeping string orchestration that he's used previously in this album, and it's still great. The backup singers are nice, too...
Gotta Travel On A-
Yet another excellent cover. I've never heard the original, but it must've been great. This is a tight, upbeat toe-tapper with a catchy melody. Dylan's vocal performance is excellent, and I like those backup singers. I'm giving it an A-, but I could have easily given it an A. ...Yes, I'm not being terribly generous with my song ratings!
Blue Moon A-
Hah... I believe this is the song most people cite as the main reason Self Portrait stinks. It's an OLD song written by Rodgers and Hart, and I believe is still a well-known song. It's cheesy for sure, but who's going to deny that this also isn't a good performance? Dylan's singing with his crooner's voice again, and he's hitting all the notes. The band plays loosely, and they're quite pleasurable. There's an eerie violin solo in there... Ooooo! The backup singers are there, and are as pretty as ever.
The Boxer A
This one's pretty hilarious... Bob Dylan does a duet with himself... One voice is in his usual Mr. Wheezebags voice and the second is in his Nashville Skyline croon. The overdubbing is rough, but the entertainment value is endless. I assume that everyone knows this Simon & Garfunkel classic by heart... So, you know it's a great song with a great melody that's great even if you're not terribly amused at this alleged butchering.
The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) A
This is another bit taken from that live show. It was a song that had come out of The Basement Tapes with The Band and then given to Manfred Mann who turned it into a hit in 1968. It's not bad! The recording quality, as with the previous live recording, is a bit iffy, but it's a fun song. It's catchy, and Dylan's vocals are boisterous.
Take Me As I Am A
Once again, I might rather hear Bob Dylan do an original song, but when he's finding these really enjoyable country-western tunes to perform, I'm not gonna complain. The melody is beautiful, and he sings it earnestly with his country-crooner voice. The instrumentals come off as homely and organic... They're not too sloppy, but they're not too neat, either. The slide guitar that flows in and out in the background is beautiful, and the female back-up singers continue to be well done... surprisingly...
Take a Message to Mary B+
This is another country-western ditty that was written by the same people who wrote the previous one. Hmmm! I never heard of them before. Maybe he was a fan? ...This is another nicely written song with a fun melody and organic instrumentation, but it doesn't strike me quite as memorable. Again, I'm not sure why I so frequently read that Dylan's vocals are substandard throughout this album when it sounds like he's singing so earnestly...
It Hurts Me Too A
He does another cover of an old blues song, and it sounds pretty fantastic to my ears. Of course Dylan doesn't have a typical blues voice, but this his self-portrait, after all! His vocals are nonetheless done well, hitting all the notes and with a soulful verve. The organic instrumentation taken on by a couple of acoustic guitars and a walking bass are just about right for it.
Minstrel Boy A-
Another song recorded live with The Band although it's a Bob Dylan original that never appeared on any of his albums, other than this, as far as I'm aware! It's a little bit slow paced for my tastes, but the melody is nice. I also like that drunken-chorus quality Dylan has going with The Band.
She Belongs to Me A-
Another live song! I hear this huuuuge eruption from the crowd as he starts to sing this, although I suppose many were wishing that he'd lay off that goofy country-crooner voice! Anyway, The Band provides solid, shuffly instrumentation to it... And of course this is a great song. The recording quality probably could have been better, but … eh... it's fine.
Now, if this album were filled only with songs like these, then I might be more sympathetic to everyone who says stuff along the lines of Self Portrait ruined their childhoods. ...But, if no track on Self Portrait tells you not to take it too seriously, then let it be this one. It's a Dylan original where he sings “La la la la” in a nearly operatic voice with a full brass band. It's pure silliness. ...But even so, can you claim that it's a poorly written song? The hooks are quite strong.
Alberta #2 A-
This is just another version of a song that had appeared earlier in this album. ...Hey, this is an album full of random stuff, so a second version of a song that had already appeared on an album is allowed. It's straightforward, earnestly sung, and nicely performed. The first version was certainly much more polished and slowly paced, but this version wins points back for being more spirited.
New Morning (1970)
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If Not For You A
This is the same old song that opens George Harrison's masterpiece All Things Must Pass, and it's great. It's a more straightforward interpretation as opposed to Harrison's more thoughtful and atmospheric interpretation, but this version is a bit more snappy. The acoustic guitars are lighthearted, which is complimented nicely with a xylophone and a bubbly electric organ. So really, both versions are great! ...Oh, and I didn't even bother mentioning that they both have excellent tunes that get caught in my head.
Day of the Locusts A
I can sense, at least, how relieved Dylan fans were to hear a long like this after bearing through (the heavily underrated) Self-Portrait. These are, like, normal songs. In my previous review, I criticized it for being too normal, but I don't know what I was complaining about. This is a very beautiful and soulful piano ballad featuring a boisterous and soulful vocal performance from Dylan. The lyrics are excellent, too. (“I put on my robe, picked up my diploma / Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive / Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota / Sure was glad to get out of there alive / And the locusts sang such a sweet melody / And the locusts sang with a high whinin' trill / Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me”)
Time Passes Slowly B+
...Well, I'm too much of a Dylan fanboy to ever hate one of his songs... at least until the late '70s... You see, he was still riding high in his golden years. But this piano ballad doesn't really do the world for me. The melody has never engrained itself in my brain, and it doesn't have a particular drive to it to make it that much fun to listen to. Now of course, Dylan is still singing it like he means it, which was always one of the most important qualities to his songwriting. (“Time passes slowly up here in the mountains / We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains / Catch the wild fishes that float through the stream / Time passes slowly when you're lost in a dream”)
Went to See the Gypsy A-
Once again, this is an extremely nicely done song with a good melody and soulful, torn vocals from Dylan. He's playing his piano well, and I like hearing that electric organ once again. The lyrics are nice; they evoke Dylan's home-state, for some reason. (“I went back to see the gypsy / It was nearly early dawn / The gypsy's door was open wide / But the gypsy was gone / And that pretty dancing girl / She could not be found / So I watched that sun come rising / From that little Minnesota town”) This is great, down-to-earth, organic songwriting that doesn't quite blow me away.
This one's reminding me of Self Portrait although obviously not enough for many contemporary critics of the time to proclaim this as being Dylan's return-to-form! It's a waltz in which he uses pretty extensively female back-up singers. ...But you know what? I like waltzes and female back-up singers, which combined with a loveable-as-always melody and breezy vocal performance all makes me enjoy the crap out of this.
If Dogs Run Free A-
Ha!! This is a piano-jazz bit where Dylan reads off his lyrics as though he were a '50s beat poet. There's a goofy female singer scat singing through it. ...I'm almost certain this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. (“If dogs run free, then what must be / Must be, and that is all / True love can make a blade of grass / Stand up straight and tall / in harmony with the cosmic sea / True love needs no company / It can cure the soul, it can make it whole / If dogs run free”) It's a lot of goofiness, if you ask me... Entertaining goofiness at that. Al Kooper tickles the ivories in an entertaining way, and the steady beat is deep and smooth.
New Morning A+
Clearly one of my favorite tunes of this disc! ...And the main reason for that is because of the melody. (Aren't I always singling out the melodic songs as my favorite? ...Well, if I get the inkling to whistling it under my breath after it's through playing, doesn't that just make me want to play it over and over again?) Dylan and his torn vocals seems like he's on the verge of singing out-of-key, but he manages to hit all the notes as far as I'm able to tell. The instrumentation is loud, bold and terrific. Unlike most of these other songs, it's guitar and organ based... although that's not specifically why I like this better than most of the piano based ones!
Sign on the Window A-
This is a low key piano ballad that... er... is so normal that I have trouble finding things to write about it. Dylan's singing nicely to a piano. Maybe it reminds me more of other singer-songwriters from the era such as Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro or Randy Newman than specifically Bob Dylan because of its normalness. But anyway, I like all those guys, and this is a good song.
One More Weekend A
Isn't weird that I rate a rhythm & blues song higher than a piano ballad? ...How uncharacteristic of me! Or maybe I just like hearing Dylan putting a little bit of verve in his step. He's of course always sang these blues song with a hearty, gritty tone, and he's as convincing at it as ever at it here. Another reason is that he always employs fantastic musicians. There's Al Kooper playing some jazzy piano, and some other awesome person playing some wicked, bluesy licks with his electric guitar. It's a whole lotta fun.
The Man in Me A
Another one of my easy favorites of this disc; the melody, in particular, is one that completely takes off with a smooth flow, and Dylan sings it with his great level of enthusiasm. There's a piano playing in the background, but I would say has equal footing with the guitars and the electric organ. The female back-up singers help build up the song, which is a stark contrast to how they were throughout Self Portrait, which was weird. ...It's certainly one of the keepers of this disc. (You might also remember this from The Big Lebowski, one of the most awesome movies of all time.)
Three Angels A-
So not to state the obvious, but Dylan's exploring Christian themes in his music! Of course this is a precursor to his Born Again Christian phase in the late '70s, and this shows that such a move probably shouldn't have been such a shocker. ...So anyway, this is a relatively simple, two-minute song where Dylan is talking gently to a descending electric organ chord progression. He might have been aping some of the televangelists he'd seen on TV... It's surely not one of the “substantial” songs on the disc, but I like that chord progression and the arpeggiating acoustic guitar compliments it well. Hearing those high-pitched “angel” voices come in at the end was a nice touch.
Father of Night B+
This is another religious-type song. This isn't the first time they've been appearing in his albums... It's just the first time I've bothered to point them out. (“Father of night, Father of day / Father, who taketh the darkness away / Father, who teacheth the bird to fly / Builder of rainbows up in the sky / Builder of loneliness and pain / Father of love and father of rain”) Musically, this is a difficult song to classify. He's playing the piano in a bouncy and upbeat manner, but the female back-up singers are singing a strange moaning pattern in the background. The melody isn't catchy at all, but his vocal delivery is nice enough that I don't care so much about that. ...It's only a minute and a half long, which I suppose was about the right length for it. I like it well enough.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
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Main Title Theme (Billy) B+
Welp. I've never seen Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. But I've listened to its main title theme, and it's OK. It might fit perfectly with whatever's going on the screen, but for the time being, I only have the music to hear. Without a doubt, it's a nice, laid back acoustic guitar theme. Some critics have called it something like a masterpiece in sparse looseness, and I suppose I'm feeling that. It has a definite lazy outdoorsy quality to it thus especially appropriate for a Western. Moreover, it does seem rather unusual for a film soundtrack. ...However, it doesn't mean I have to be terribly enthusiastic about listening to it! It goes on for six minutes, and you can kick back and enjoy it guiding your mind to wander through its looseness.
Cantina Theme (Workin' for the Law) B
Aw... I was expecting some of that fruity Star Wars music! But anyway, here is yet another loose instrumental that sounds like it must've been pretty great for a Western soundtrack. It's even more loose and sparse than the previous song. ...If you've been basking in that song, there's no reason to stop here. But the drawback is the instrumental theme is far less memorable, and I might even wager to say that this is boring. ...Yeah, yeah, it's a film soundtrack—I know.
Billy 1 A-
Here's another drawback to soundtrack albums: We get songs that repeat. Now, that serves a function in soundtracks, because repeating musical themes helps the audience make connections in the plot. (Definitely see Ennio Morricone's Once Upon a Time in the West soundtrack for a perfect example of this done masterfully.) But as I'm listening to a stand-alone soundtrack... well... it's only the third song, and I've heard this one before! The big difference here is that Dylan sings on this one, hence the higher rating. ...No disrespect to “Main Title Theme,” but I'm reviewing a Bob Dylan album, and I want to hear him sing! Besides, the vocal melody is pretty great. It has a definite Western flavor to it. Maybe it even has a Mexican folk vibe to it... as little as I know about Mexican folk. (All I can say is listening to this makes me crave refried beans.)
Bunkhouse Theme B
Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen! Bask in more of this instrumental looseness! ...Again, this must be pretty darn good for a soundtrack, because I can sort of picture a scene that would fit this mood. But doing that doesn't necessarily thrill the pants off of me. The instrumental theme Dylan comes up with is nice, but that's also not something to write home about. Put this on as background music, and I think you're using this piece about how it was intended.
River Theme B+
Old man riverrrrrrrrrrrrrr... No, it's not that song. But we do get to hear some Bob Dylan singing on it even though he's mostly singing “ahhs” and “lahhs.” The extremely simple vocal theme is rather nice, though, and he's continuing to strum that guitar in a laid-back and sparse manner. ...Indeed, we all shall embrace the sparseness!
Turkey Chase A-
Well surprisingly, you might be able to guess how this piece would sound before you even put it on. There's a bluegrass twidding away while a fiddle plays some rather involved arpeggios. ...It's still not a very forceful song as it continues to seem nearly as laid back as anything else on this album. But it's more upbeat and not quite as sparse, which I'd consider a welcome change of pace!
Knockin' on Heaven's Door A+
There's a good reason why people consider Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid as that album with “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” on it, because that's the only song on here that anybody likes. ...And that's not to mention that it's only one of two actual songs on here! But anyway, this is a pure classic in every sense; it has a haunting atmosphere and the sort of melody you listen to once and it sort of sticks with you for the rest of your life. For the pure classic that it is, I find it weird that it's only two and a half minutes. Well, I guess it didn't need much more convincing!
Final Theme A
This is basically a reiteration of “Knockin' on Heaven's Door,” unless my brain is playing tricks on me! But instead of the singing and lyrics, we get a pan flute noodling around for five minutes. But I like it! The pan flute plays a few nice notes, rattling off far more fancy acrobatics than Dylan ever could with his vocals. The atmosphere isn't quite as heavy, but it does have a definite “conclusive” aura about it. So its dubbing as “Final Theme” is probably quite accurate!
Billy 4 A-
If the previous track was the “final” theme, then what's he doing still coming up with more songs? Ah these high-falootin' rock stars! I never understand them! As you might have gathered from the title, this is another version of “Billy 1,” which occurred earlier in the album. The good news is that we hear Dylan's vocals, and he sings longer. The instrumentation, however, seems far less refined. The only instrument he's playing is a simply arpeggiating acoustic guitar and the usual harmonica. His singing is so rough that I can even hear him make clumsy “puh” noises into the microphone. ...Now, none of this is necessarily a bad thing! The melody is still good!
Billy 7 B+
How many Billys were there? ...So this here is a slowed down version of the same song that we had just gotten over listening to. Maybe this was music for the closing credits? Don't forget to deposit your popcorn containers into the nearest trash receptacle! Seriously, I used to work in a movie theater, and I'm shocked over how many people thought it was my job to pick up after them. I mean, everybody should feel free to accidentally spill a few little bits of popcorn on the floor; that's fine! I'd clean it up! BUT HOLY CRAP, PICK UP YOUR FRIGGIN TRASH AND THROW IT AWAY YOURSELF!!!! I MEAN, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!!? But I digress. As you'd expect from a slowed-down version of a song that we've already heard multiple times in this album, this is far less exciting. I do like that he brought in a little bit of electric guitar to orchestrate it a little more fully.
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Lily of the West A
And this bastard album starts with a cover of an old folk song. Since this came out in the Self Portrait era, then I guess we can expect a lot of those! Anyway, this cover is pretty awesome. It's quickly paced and upbeat. Dylan sings the memorable melody in a pleasant and straightforward manner. To help give it some extra flavor, there are some female background singers who actually sound very nice. Just a bit gritty without ever sounding corny. And, I don't know what it is, but it sounds like someone is playing some crazy scales with a harpsichord. I've never heard anything like that before.
Can't Help Falling in Love A-
...Well, maybe I get a semblance of an indication why this album seems to be so universally panned. I mean, I've never seen a scorecard like this: 1/5 Rolling Stone Magazine, 1/5 allmusic.com, E Robert Christgau, F Entertainment Weekly. But then again, these publications were probably stuck giving Dylan their lowest ratings since they'd already given Self Portrait abysmal reviews. There wasn't much else to go ...Now, this is a cheesy song. We all know it from the Elvis version, right? ...Well, for my money, it's a good cheesy song. Dylan's vocals aren't terribly pretty here as he hits a few pitchy notes. But call me the eternal fanboy, but I actually like that tattered and raw interpretation of that song. The instrumentation is downbeat, but still pleasant to the ears. The loose acoustic guitars are nice and the woody drums. The minimal electric organ noodling throughout was an excellent touch. More than that, I like the tune!
Sarah Jane B-
Still a pretty good song although where this one loses out is just its quality. The instrumentation is kind of muddy and sloppy... and that doesn't work so well in its favor so much this time around. Also, the song itself isn't that great. I mean, it rocks and it's generally fun to listen to, but the melody is forgettable and the lyrics aren't too interesting. In fact, the only thing interesting about this is that it's the album's only original song. ...Geez dude! No wonder the whole wide world loves Planet Waves! This was everyone's medicine ball!
The Ballad of Ira Hayes C
He should have written a song called “The Ballad of Isaac Hayes.” That would've been something! This song, on the other hand, is an extremely loose and meandering piano song. Dylan doesn't sing the melody but he talks it. Although unlike some reviewers, I don't think this is really an abysmal part of his discography... I also don't get a perverse pleasure listening to it. ...It's decent as a coda to his image-bending but still enjoyable Self-Portrait. As far as entertainment value goes, I'm afraid there's not much here.
Mr. Bojangles A
Now who doesn't like this song? I've heard it before, but I never knew before who wrote it... Jerry Jeff Walker. I hope you remember that one if you're on Jeopardy and you have to come up with that guy's name.... This version really isn't a whole lot worse than the original, and of course we have Bob Dylan's distinctive voice taking the reigns. The acoustic guitar is strummed well (of course) and I like that electric organ, which flares up appropriately in the chorus. Some female background singers are there to sound weird in that Self Portrait way. In other words, awesome.
Mary Ann B
Really, this isn't so much a bad album as much as it'd be closer to what you'd expect from a normal, below-radar singer-songwriter act. Most of the songs seem to just pass me by, but occasionally, there's one that stands out. ...This is one of those songs that just sort of passes me by. The melody isn't distinctive, and the singing and instrumental performances aren't terribly passionate. It's a bit lumbering and underwhelming, but it makes a decent listen, as long as you have this thing on.
Big Yellow Taxi A-
Ah, we all know where this song originates doesn't it? Joni Mitchell's famous, isn't she? Probably a good reason for that, because she could come up with melodies that linger on in your head... But anyway, Dylan gives her a nice tribute with this straightforward rendition of one of her most loved songs. The instrumentation continues to be loose and something nice to sit back and soak up. Strummy acoustic guitar, meandering electric organ, and some surprisingly playful female back-up singers.
A Fool Such as I A
Here is a pretty rousing rock 'n' roll cover of the country classic popularized by Hank Snow. This is far more upbeat than the original, so can you guess which version I think is better? Dylan's singing with his country-crooner's voice, so I'd hope even the hardened country fan might enjoy this, too. There are some female background singers who have a few playful lines. The rock 'n' roll instrumentation is loose and fun. The lead guitar, which imitates a slide guitar in a few spots, has a few especially nice licks. Absolutely nothing to complain about here!
Spanish is the Loving Tongue C+
...the lost girl in the midnight sun? Well, if there's one song that I would ever get a “perverse” pleasure in listening to, it'll be this one. Dylan's singing this old standard in his country-crooner's voice. The fact that Bob Dylan is singing this is the only thing remotely interesting about it. If this were Frank Sinatra in 1973, for example, it probably would have been about the same. Bongo rhythms, pretty female back-up singers, some Spanish guitar, a piano playing Carmen-esque patterns. ...But as far as songs go, this isn't bad. ...Yeah, usually we want Dylan to write songs that we can take to heart!
Planet Waves (1974)
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On a Night Like This A
Well hey! Hello there, Mr. Dylan! You're writing songs again! This is the first proper Bob Dylan release since 1970's New Morning, which in terms of the early '70s was pretty much an eternity. I'm sure some of his longtime fans worried that he was going to remain in that semi-retired state for the rest of his career. ...But rest assured, Dylan would stick around for a LONG time. (Last night, I did an inventory of every Bob Dylan album I'm going to review. Holy hell.) ...But this song is so good that I'm sure his fans breathed a sigh of relief after hearing it the first time. The melody is catchy as the DICKENS. Moreover, that's The Band he's playing with, and I'm pretty sure we all know it as a stone-cold fact that The Band ruled. They give Dylan a tight and busy drum beat as well as some awesome accordion playing. So sweet.
Going, Going, Gone A
And they follow up that quickly paced, toe-tapping bit of awesomeness with this more contemplative slow-song. Dylan, being the excellent songwriter that he is, comes up with a melody that's so catchy that I sort of want to sing along with it. The Band also know how to orchestrate it beautifully. Not only is the rhythm section thick and determined, but Robbie Robertson gives us quite a brilliant muted guitar solo. I like how he plays it like a mandolin in some spots. Isn't that weird? The song starts quietly, but it gradually builds up to a large and passionate conclusion.
Tough Mama B+
“Tough Mama” sounds like a song title The Band would come up with... I know Dylan wrote all these songs, but The Band should have written a song with that title! And give it a little bit of mean, thumpy bass! ...Now, there is some thumpy bass in this song, but it's nowhere as mean and snarly as it should be. Although it's still pretty good. ...The song as a whole is just a bit of a disappointment, though. Unlike the previous two songs, the melody doesn't stick in my mind at all. Rather this is more groove-based where the drums are upbeat, the rhythm guitar is bubbly, the keyboard are rockin'... But I wish I could listen to this and really love it! As it stands, I just like it. ...In other words, this isn't Dylan at his best!
Now, this is a good song. It sounds like a Randy Newman song. (I don't think I would have said that if I didn't just see Randy Newman at a concert a week ago! But … well, that melody does come up a bit Randy Newmanish.) The melody is obviously fantastic and as always I like Dylan's delivery of it. The Band helps orchestrate it beautifully with full-sounding guitars and keyboards. It comes off as loose, but the haze it produces is thick. Dylan closes it out with a lovely harmonica solo. ...No sir, I'm not going to complain about anything here!
Something There is About You B
It seems like Dylan is either on fire, in this album, or he's lukewarm. This is one of those lukewarm moments. It's a nice song and The Band continues to orchestrate it very well, but the melody is kind of forgettable. Also, it's quite long—nearly five minutes—and thus by the end, it's quite repetitive, and I'm extremely prone to spacing out to this. ...Now, I've spaced out to more boring things. After all, this is The Band that's orchestrating this, so expect your spaced-out ears to be dazzled with guitars, harmonicas, watery organs, and pianos going all over the place.
Forever Young A+
Now this is something! Easily the most well-known song of the lot... (It's also the theme song to Parenthood, a drama that I was watched for about two dozen episodes when I suddenly realized that I don't give a crap about anyone on it.) So, why has this song stuck around after all these years? Because it RULES, that's why. It's one of the most heartwarming anthems of all time. (“May God bless and keep you always / May your wishes all come true / May you always do for others / And let others do for you / May you build a ladder to the stars / And climb on every rung / May you stay forever young”) Nothing at all against Dylan's more complicated lyrics from the mid-'60s, but there's something more powerful about these direct lyrics, too, aren't there? The melody is fantastic, too.
Forever Young (Continued) A
I don't know why, but he followed that up with a completely different version of the song. I might understand putting one version at the beginning of the album and another version at the end, but it's weird that he put them back-to-back like this. ...This is a more danceably and upbeat version (and also the very one that's the theme-song to that TV show), and it's almost as good. All the same, I prefer the more atmospheric and thoughtfully paced ballad.
This is just about where Dylan loses me. It's a very slowly paced and long-drawn-out piano ballad that isn't terribly interesting the moment it starts... and it never actually becomes interesting—at any point—in its five-and-a-half-minute running length. The piano plays 1/4-chords nearly the entire time, and comes off amateurish in the process. Robertson has a few good licks with his acoustic guitar... which had might as well be the only thing you listen to! Dylan's vocal melody doesn't interest me in the slightest, I'm afraid. ...Sorry. Bob Dylan still rules, though.
You Angel You B
Man! These guys are starting to sound very contemporary to 1974! Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that guitar is so polished and pretty that it makes this song sound like it belongs in a Peter Frampton record! The song itself isn't even that special. It's a nice enough of a pop tune that makes for good at-the-moment listening, but it's one-ear-out-the-other. Dylan's vocals are fine, at least.
Never Say Goodbye B+
Goodbye! ...Sorry, how am I never supposed to use the term “goodbye.” That'll make for some pretty rude endings to telephone conversations... Anyway, this is another good song, but it doesn't thrill the endless crap out of me, or anything. I'm disappointed that Dylan could come up with consistently good melodies as he had seemed to do so effortlessly in the past. Again, once this thing is through playing, it's completely out of my head. At least it's upbeat, and the instrumental quality (thanks to The Band) is quite good!
Wedding Song B
This is where Dylan gets back out the old acoustic guitar and harmonica and sings us a song the way he used to... Except these lyrics aren't too interesting. (“You gave me babies one, two, three, what is more, you saved my life / Eye for eye and tooth for tooth, your love cuts like a knife / My thoughts of you don't ever rest; they'd kill me if I lie / I'd scrifice the world for you and watch my senses die”) The melody is OK, but most folk covers I hear out of old Joan Baez records are more interesting than this one. Moreover, Dylan repeats the old-timey hook so much that it gets dull to my ears. All the same... I guess this isn't bad. Just drab and disappointing.
Before the Flood (1974)
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Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) A
Well. Dylan and The Band might be seemingly treating his old classics with just a little bit of disregard for their holiness, but this is quite a lot of fun. These guys do pick up a lot of energy, and Dylan's sloppy vocal performance is usually off-key and weirdly littered with howling noises. (“You go your way and I'll go MIIIIINE!!!”) Robbie Robertson lets out a brief but energetic vocal performance. I also like how seemingly every member of The Band contributes to playing that catchy riff, making this sort of pulsating NOISE that sounds like a train chugging.
Lay Lady Lay B+
Geez... Dylan's really trying to butcher these songs. This is such a hatchet job that I have a hard time believing he knew exactly what he was doing. I mean, he's singing this like some sort of rabid wolf. “Why wait any LONGURRR / For the world to BEGIIIIIIIIIN / You can have your CAKE and eat it Toooooooooooooo / Why wait any LONGURRR / For the one ya LOOOOOOOOVEE!!!!! / When he's standing! in front of you-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou.” Robbie Robertson is fun to listen to, though.
Rainy Day Woman #12 and 13 A
Now, this is a difficult song to butcher in the same way he butchered the previous song, because this was originally a sloppy bit of rock 'n' roll that had a lot of yelling in it. So, everyone fits in perfectly! Dylan's screaming those lyrics in an energetic way, while The Band takes on that blues riff with plenty of verve. ...That strange, twisty keyboard solo in the middle is... interesting! ...I like it.
Knockin' on Heaven's Door A-
They did a pretty good job with this one... as long as we're accepting the fact that Dylan is sounding like he's some sort of mental patient. In the middle of this, I think Dylan realized that he hadn't done anything overly weird, so he starts to makes some raspy intonations. (“I can't SSSShhh-OOT them anymore.”) But The Band sounds OK. Sloppy as hell, but they do manage to pick up some dust.
It Ain't Me Babe A-
Well... it must be a testament to how good these original songs were that these absolute messes still manage to be entertaining. The cutesy beat they concoct for this classic from Another Side, sounds a bit like a hit from that '80s ska band Madness. (I hope you listen to it and hear the same thing. Just show me I'm not insane!) At least it's vastly different from the original... I do have a tendency to complain when artists recreate songs note-for-note on their albums. All the same... I might have hoped for something nicer than this!
Ballad of a Thin Man A
This is in the running of my favorite Dylan songs of all time (...though pinpointing a precise favorite is an impossible task). Thus, it's great to hear a different version of this! And you know what? He might be singing it oddly, but in this case it suits it relatively well. (“Do you, Mr. JoooOOO-hoonessss?”) The Band concoct a pretty solid groove. It's fun in that messy way.
Up on Cripple Creek A
I see Levon Helm is trying to get into Bob Dylan's habit of screaming the lyrics on the top of his lungs... But I guess he wasn't talented enough! There are a few guttural screams scattered throughout this, but he gives an otherwise straightforward rendition of it. ...Oh, and this is a song by The Band from their album The Band. It's catchy, catchy, catchy. I've actually been to Cripple Creek before (it's in Colorado). Other than the tacky casinos I wasn't allowed to go into, having this song running through my head the entire time was the most interesting thing about it. (Guess what? They have a creek there. Go figure.)
I Shall Be Released A
Now, if The Band is going to play their songs at a Bob Dylan concert, then it had might as well be this one... A song written by Bob Dylan (that never appeared on one of his albums). Richard Manuel gives a screechy, falsetto vocal performance at the beginning of this, which I suppose is getting into the spirit of the bad vocal performances of this album! ...But you know, I don't mind it. Maybe I kind of like it. ...The instrumental playing is very good—for once. The Band slows down and delivers a thick atmosphere that never lets up.
Endless Highway B
It seems like The Band liked this song way more than everyone else does. (Or maybe I'm wrong and there are some huge fans of this song out there? I guess not everyone has the same opinions on things as I do. ...Although they should.) It picks up some steam, especially through Robertson's extended and rather disgusting guitar solo. The melody never catches fire, though.
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down A
Now, this is the Band classic that I WANT to hear... them butcher! ...Well, they can't ever really butcher this song, bad vocal performance and all. That still doesn't prevent me from getting in an utter trance when I listen to it! Their instrument playing could have stood to be less clumsy since this is the sort of song that works best with a little bit of sensitivity. ...But still! I LOVE this song!!!!!!!!!!!!
Stage Fright B
Seriously, they should just play songs from their only two albums that ruled. These songs from their '70s albums just don't float my boat as much. ...But the audience (probably stoned) gives them a mighty applause as they start to play the title track to Stage Fright. It's uninteresting as far as songs go, but they pick up a bit of a rollick especially with that distinctly out-of-whack electric organ solo. ...It fits in well enough with everything else on this album. ...But I'm ready for the Bob Dylan songs to come back!
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right A-
Uh oh... I just thought twice. Will it still be all right? ...Anyway, Dylan's giving The Band a break, and he's just playing this with his acoustic guitar and a harmonica. ...Now, you might be thinking, without The Band to slop this up, could Dylan possibly mess this up? ...Oh, he finds ways. Not only does he sing it with those howls that I described on songs earlier in this album, but he strums his guitar so ferociously that I'm surprised he didn't wear down his fingers to his knuckles.
Just Like a Woman B+
OK, if you thought Dylan's singing on this album was ridiculous on earlier songs, this one will still blow you out of the water. “She takes just-a-like-a-woman! And she ACCCCHEESSS just like a woman! And she WAAIITSSS just-a-like-a-womaaaan! But she BREAKSSSS just like a little gir-hirrr-hirrrlll!” Again, he's just strumming this with his acoustic guitar, but not as madly as he was in the song previous to this.
It's Alright Ma B+
How come Bob Dylan spelled “Alright” two different ways in his discography? I never noticed that before... ...Not that that's terribly interesting! Anyway, this is another flagrantly sloppy rendition of a classic song. ...He does get a lot of cheers as he hollers out these lyrics as though he were some sort of Klingon warlord. Especially that line “But even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.” ...What, did all those potheads in the audience think Richard Nixon was sexy, or something?
The Shape I'm In B+
The Band is back! And they're singing their own songs again! Hearing The Band's songs interspersed with Dylan's is basically evidence that Dylan was a far superior songwriter. Especially in their albums of the '70s. (There was probably a time in the late '60s when The Band was releasing better material than Dylan, as a whole, but that wasn't meant to last.) But I guess everybody in the world was aware of that, probably including the members of The Band. This is an upbeat and likable song with energy and verve in its groove, but do I get out of it, whistling its tune under my breath? No.
When You Awake A-
Now, this is one of those songs that The Band released in the late '60s, which eclipsed some of Dylan's work in that decade! But I'll grant you that the vocal performance is excessively butchered here. ...The difference between that and all these other songs is the word excessive. He just doesn't get many of the notes right. But it's a good song, still.
The Weight A
Everyone likes this song, right? ...YOU'D BETTER, OR I MIGHT HAVE TO BEAT YOU UP!!!! ...But it's OK if you're not thrilled over this live version. But this great song by The Band still packs power in an environment where they're purposefully trying to butcher the hell out of it. They pick up some real dust with that groove—the bass, the piano tickling, the straightforward drumming, and the occasional lick from the electric guitar... all exciting. The singing? Weird. But whatever. We've stuck with the album this far.
All Along the Watch Tower A-
Holy crap, they're covering Hendrix now! (...OK, I didn't find that funny, either.) Surely, Robbie Robertson's electrifying and stinging guitar solo was more related to the Hendrix version than the Dylan original. ...Again, the vocals, supplied to our howly voiced hero of the hour, are completely butchered. The rhythm section does pick up an exciting groove, but it seems like it's over just as it was getting started.
Highway 61 Revisited A-
Why is it that it sounds like they're playing a T.Rex riff? I don't remember that from the original! But anyway, this is some more rock 'n' roll, and it's such a good song that they couldn't butcher it if they tried. ...Despite it sounding a bit like a T.Rex riff, I like what they're playing. It's sort of disjointed and danceable. Robertson lets a few big chords and big licks rip through his fingers. I like it!
Like a Rolling Stone A
Hohh yeah! How could Dylan do a concert without performing this song? ...Even if he's screaming the whole way through! Members of The Band get in on the action by the end, trying to match the range in which Dylan can awkwardly scream and growl through his songs... But no, they don't even have close. The instrument playing is sloppy, but it rallies up a storm.
Blowin' in the Wind A-
(My farts are) Blowin' in the Wind. ...There's some wit fit for a Jane Austen novel. Anyway, this sounds like it was an encore, or something, because the audience excitedly cheers before this song starts playing. ...And despite this being one of the most famous acoustic folk songs of all time, The Band orchestrates this fully. So, that might be interesting for some listeners. ...But then Dylan's still bellowing the lyrics in a way that frequently veers off-key. Oh, why is he doing that? Is it just to prove a point that these songs shouldn't be worshiped like golden idols? ...Well, consider me guilty! (And consider me guilty for still kinda liking these butchered versions.)
Blood on the Tracks (1975)
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Tangled Up in Blue A+
I might not think Blood on the Tracks really represents the pinnacle of his career, but I love this song anyway! Most importantly, the tune itself is catchy. I wonder if The Byrds were kicking themselves for breaking up before having the chance to cover this song? (Can you imagine what would've come of The Byrds never breaking up and still covering new Dylan songs in the '80s? ...That would have been awesome.) But anyway, the instrumentation is laid back and quite beautiful to listen to. There are a few acoustic guitars in there providing a bit of a jangly texture (but not like The Byrds), and there's some very subdued drumming. Dylan's singing the lyrics with a passion that recalls the way he used to sing songs on Bringing it All Back Home. The lyrics are good—seeming to chronicle an uneven relationship he had with a woman—but they certainly don't pack the same punch as they did on his '60s albums.
Simple Twist of Fate A+
Here's another song with a melody that's just killer. I mean, if this song and the previous one were the only basis for people calling this the best album of Dylan's career, then … there are some excellent melodies here! The instrumentation continues to be tasteful—this time relying only on his acoustic guitar and harmonica as instrumentation. Although I hope you realize the acoustic guitar is merely strummed whereas it was more intricately played on his '60s albums. The lyrics are certainly nice and surprisingly personal...
You're a Big Girl Now A
Could this be the long awaited answer-song to The Lovin' Spoonful's “You're a Big Boy Now?” (Wouldn't that be awesome if that was true?) The acoustic guitar and piano textures seem to be more feathery than the more straightforward previous songs were, which comes off as a bit more interesting to me than how the previous songs were instrumented. Where it loses those points is the melody, which doesn't strike me quite as powerfully as the others did. But that's OK. I like the melody, after all!
Idiot Wind A+
Surely, you can hear the passion in Dylan's voice as he sings these obviously very personal lyrics. (“People see me all the time and they can't remember how to act / Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts / Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at / I couldn't believe after all these years, you didn't know me better than that / Sweet lady”) More than that, this is another melody that's so catchy that it's pretty difficult to keep yourself from singing along with it by the end. The instrumentation continues to be very tasteful—this time, along with the usual acoustic guitars and drums, he brings along a bubbly electric organ.
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go A-
Well... it turns out the lyrics, instrumentation, and vocal performances are so consistent on this album that the only reason for me to ever knock down the song ratings is if I think the melodies are less-to-par than usual. That's this case here. Everything about it is very nice—the acoustic guitar is nice and the love lyrics are even nicer—but I don't find the melody too interesting at all. ...Well that is on Dylan's standards, of course; you could whistle to this if you felt like it. Nonetheless, when the album is over, I don't ever think about it.
Meet Me in the Morning A-
Welcome to the BLUES, ladies and gentlemen! Granted, Dylan was no stranger to such music, but it's a little bit unusual to hear him do that in the '70s sounds like he was trying to emulate Eric Clapton or something. (I guess there's nothing wrong with that!) Nonethless, this is another good song. The melody is a bit derivative, but he certainly performs it well. The instrumentation is way more flowery than it was on the previous couple of songs. Some bluesy guitar licks sound very pretty coming through my speakers, and his vocal performance is as passionate as ever.
Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts B+
This is sort of a cheesy sounding country song, and the melody is as generic as can be. (Case-in-point, do we really want to call Blood on the Tracks Dylan's best album when it has songs like this in it?) But I like it nonetheless since I seem to like everything Dylan does. The instrumentation continues to have that nice, breezy quality to it that I like. It's mellow and pretty, characterized by a shuffley drum beat and the classic one-two/one-two country-western bass groove. The worst thing about this, by far, is that it extends nearly nine minutes. Now, I can think of worse things to listen to for nine minutes. ...But four minutes would have been plenty.
If You See Her, Say Hello A+
Well... after that lengthy country-western song was done, he gives us this remarkably pretty ballad that reminds me why so many people think this is his best album. Not only is the melody beautiful and those gentle, arpeggiating acoustic guitars captivating, but his vocal performance is so stinging that it can be construed as nothing less than passionate. (“We had a falling-out, like lovers often will / And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill / And through our separation, it pierced me to the heart / She still lives inside of me, we've never been apart”) Oooh... I guess the poor dude has been through a rough break-up... (I guess I haven't really kept track of Dylan's personal life...)
Shelter From the Storm A
This one, more than anything else here, sounds like The Freewheelin'. Could this have been left over from that album? Ah, Wikipedia doesn't indicate as such... Well I hear a bass guitar, but other than that it's Dylan singing an old-timey story with an acoustic guitar. The vocal performance is a little light from what I remember on that album, but it's an excellent performance all the same. (“Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there / With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair / She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns / Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm”)
Buckets of Rain A-
Is it just me, or does this sound weirdly reminiscent of “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry? ...I hope not, for the sake of my own sanity. ...Well, Dylan decides to close this album with a simple and extremely downbeat acoustic ditty. I would say the melody is good also, if only it didn't remind me so much of Mungo Jerry that it's distracting. It's a remarkably low-key song to end the album, which isn't necessarily a bad idea. ...I sometimes end mix-CDs I make with low-key folk songs, too. ...Post-breakup Bob Dylan and I must think alike.
The Basement Tapes (1975)
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Odds and Ends A-
Well, we can tell one of the main reasons some fans reject The Basement Tapes, right here... This is derivative R&B! Oh, Dylan has done that before, but you would generally argue that he added something to the genre. Here, he's more or less straightforward about it. The Band concocts a fun, tight and bubbly groove with it featuring a piano, bass and rhythm guitar, and there's a brief electric guitar solo in the middle that sounds like the standard Chuck Berry solo. In other words, it's kinda fun!
Orange Juice Blues B+
Here's another reason why some fans don't care much for The Basement Tapes: It has all these frigging Band songs on it! Now, I love The Band, so I was never on-board with that sentiment. Furthermore, this was recorded before their debut album, which had already shown them as a fully mature and developed group. Isn't it cool to hear them in their more tender beginnings? This song is another derivative tune with a non-distinct melody and a standard honkytonk groove. It's sorta forgettable. But isn't it well-played? I think so! The saxophone playing is great.
Million Dollar Bash A-
I might like The Band, but I'll tell you right now I'm going to give the Dylan songs the higher ratings... that's just the order of things. Don't his songs always seem better than everyone else's? The melody is extremely simple, but that's not a huge surprise for this album! But even simple melodies can be really catchy. The instrumentation lacks drumming, and that makes me wonder if that was doing it an injustice. I could picture something with a little more drive! The other instrumentation is pretty fully fleshed, though. There are some thick acoustic guitars, a noodly organ and some groovin' honky-tonk. Not bad.
Yazoo Street Scandal B
Wow, a lot of these Band songs appear on bonus tracks on Music From Big Pink. This is the first bonus track and usually my signal to turn the album off! Now, I like this song just fine, and if you REALLY like hard blues music, then you'll love this. It's rough and it's rude. The melody is basically three notes being repeated over-and-over that are scream-sung in a very blues-like fashion. But of course the star of the show is that heavy groove given to us by a stinging lead guitar, soulful electric organ, and a hefty rhythm section.
Goin' to Acapulco B+
Well, isn't the problem with The Basement Tapes was that these things were never meant to be released? They were just a bunch of people who like to make music locking themselves in a basement. As you'd expect, it doesn't have the careful planning of a normal studio album. But then you'd be able to claim that this method allowed artists to gain spontaneity. ...But, urgh, there's not much spontaneous to report here. It's a fairly ordinary ballad sung by Dylan with a melody that's nicely sung but ultimately forgettable. It's also quite long—five minutes and thirty seconds—and I pretty much notice all the seconds going by.
Katie's Been Gone A-
Yeah, ever since she married that nutcase Tom Cruise... Anyway, I kind of like this Band song. It sounds a lot like a Band song. If someone told me this was rejected from The Band in favor of the songs that actually made it on the album, I'd probably believe it. Surely it wouldn't have been among that album's highlights! But it's a solid song all the same. The melody is nice and the instrumentation is upbeat. The chord progression is interesting. Do people usually like this song? (It was also in the bonus tracks of Music From Big Pink. I didn't even look, and I gave it the same score! I'll give myself those props for consistency.)
Lo and Behold A-
Lo and behold, it's another Bob Dylan tune! Maybe I understand why some people REALLY like this album. This is like hardy mountain-man music. There's Dylan talking most of the time into a tape recorder of so-so quality in his rough voice while The Band chug away a subdued groove. Most of this might be spoken, but there's a sung chorus, which he just WAILS. ...It's not a great song by any means, but it's kind of cool.
Bessie Smith A-
I must be a major Band fan, or something, because I really like this. I've read some reviews of this album from people who claim to not like The Band very much, but I guess I don't really hear what they're hearing. This is a lovely, homemade sounding song with a warmly sung and catchy melody. It doesn't engrain itself in your mind like—say—“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” But it's from the same guys, and it has the same sort of essence. It's a lovely thing to sit through. With its solid, mid-tempo rhythm, noodly organ and the HONKYTONK.
Clothes Line Saga B
Oh Bob Dylan... Doin' the BLUES. I seem to be recanting my earlier claim that Bob Dylan automatically gets higher ratings than The Band. Well, usually that's true, but I'm expecting that The Band were taking these recording sessions just a tad more seriously than Dylan was. And we also have to remember that The Band were working themselves up to the peak of their careers, which were 1968-1969, whereas Bob Dylan was about to enter his first weird phase. But anyway, I sort of like this. Like “Lo and Behold,” this is mostly spoken. But unlike that song, the backing instrumentation is a little bit dreary, and Dylan's vocals are flatly delivered.
Apple Suckling Tree B-
There's some invisible barrier that's keeping me from scoring anything beneath a B- in this album. After all, Dylan didn't want us to hear these songs! ...But this is a pretty forgettable piece. This has the world's most generic blues melody, which Dylan delivers in a purposefully tossed-off manner. The instrumentation is almost surely made-up-on-the-spot. The drums are way too long and it sounds like somebody's hitting a cardboard box. There's a lot of charm in its homemade atmosphere, but that's about all.
Please, Mrs. Henry A-
Now I kind of like this one! It's another one with that musky homemade flavor and some skiffly, though mid-tempo Americana instrumentation. Dylan's singing it like a crusty old cowpoke (which I suppose might point to his style in John Wesley Harding) although at one point, he breaks down and starts laughing. The lyrics are—as Wikipedia describes it—some of the bawdiest you're ever likely to hear. Basically it's about someone too drunk to stand.
Tears of Rage A
Ah, well, here's the first song on The Basement Tapes that we've all heard of! (Or, that is, people who like listening to Band albums.) Because this is the very song that opens Music From Big Pink. But wow! This thing is fantastic! By far—really—it's the best known song of this album, since it was one of The Band's first widely known songs. ...Now, that's Bob Dylan there singing it with The Band on back-up, so you could say that this is the song in its original format. Dylan's vocals sound a lot dreamier than usual, which at least seems like he wasn't tossing it off like the previous few songs! ...And really, that's what this song is. Right out of a dream. Slowly paced and passionate with a husky atmosphere. (“It was all very very painless / When you went out to receive / All that false instruction / Which we could never believe / And now the heart is filled with gold / As if it was a purse / But, oh, what kind of love is this / Which goes from bad to worse? / Tears of rage, tears of grief / Why am I always the one who must be the thief? / Come to me now, you know / We're so low / And life is brief”)
Too Much Nothing B+
This is the beginning of the second disc, which must mean that I am officially half-way through the track reviews! Also, I like this song title. Sounds a bit like my life last summer! (Oh but I loved it, didn't I?) I could sure use a week or so of nothing right now, I think. ...Anyway, here's a nice old Bob Dylan song with The Band on back-ups. The melody is OK but nothing to write home about and I like that husky haze around it. (You might attribute it to poor recording quality... but when it has a haze, it just seems like it was well-aged.
Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Brew B
Bob Dylan writing a drinking song seems pretty appealing to me. ...This isn't really a drinking song, but listening to The Band pipe up over the chorus makes it sound like they're singing in a smoky bar someplace. The main guitar grooving around sounds very out-of-tune, but that lends to its charm. ...Now, you can tell that I don't like this that much from the track rating. Well? This isn't a very good song. There are some good attributes to it, but that groove starts to get stale by the end. I also don't know what's with that silly ending they put on this in which Dylan sings a loooooooong note while a member of The Band hits a comically low note. ...It's funny, but is it good?
Ain't No More Cane A
I'm feeling weird thinking this: But The Band's songs are much more consistent than Dylan's were. Maybe I'd even call them slightly better. How many reviewers will tell you that? (Well someone pointed out to me that these songs weren't actually done in the same sessions that the Bob Dylan songs were. It sure fooled me! But that explains why The Band's contributions sound so much nicer than Dylan's does, generally speaking.) Anyway, this sounds like vintage Band in all the great ways. It has a husky, homemade atmosphere to it with rough, manly singing with manly vocal harmonies, a solid rhythm section, strummy acoustic guitar and (the icing on the cake) a very beautiful accordion noodling around in the background. ...Who was it that said the accordion was the most annoying instrument on the planet earth? ...He was a moron!
Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood) B
Here is some more bluuuues for you, from our good friend Bob... I'm usually not the biggest fan of blues, especially when its vocal melodies don't have a whole lotta originality... Of course I still mostly like this, because it's Bob Dylan singing, and I love hearing that fluid electric organ noodling in the background. But in the grand scheme of things, this one is more forgettable than not.
Reuben Remus B+
Maybe I can understand why some people aren't huge fans of these Band songs... They kind of sound alike, don't they? If you listened to this back to back with "Katie's Gone," it might be hard to figure out where one song started and the other ended (apart from the dead-obvious lyrical cues). It seems like even the hooks are the same. But I liked "Katie's Gone," so why shouldn't I also like this? It has a solid tune, nice honkytonk and electric guitar playing. Not the best Band song, but a good one!
Tiny Montgomery A-
I think when some people say this album is weird, they're talking about this song. I'm also stuck with the notion that this could have been a moderately successful Velvet Underground song. It features Dylan half-singing to a droning acoustic guitar haze. There are also some eerie background singers singing whole notes when Dylan isn't talking. ...Can't you picture Lou Reed doing this?
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere B+
Now this is a pretty nice swingin' song with a swaggering country-rock beat and a simple though catchy melody from our good friend Dylan. Definitely more in common with “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline” than with his previous works... I guess it wasn't such an abrupt shift, after all! It's not exactly the sort of song that'll move you to pieces. It's just a song. A song you'd be lucky to hear in a smokey old bar somewhere along a Texas Interstate.
Don't Ya Tell Henry A-
I guess we're still in that Texas bar! But this time, The Band takes the stage from Dylan. They're still rockin' the house down, alright. Maybe I'll down a few whiskeys, too, or something! This is a very simple R&B song with that obvious '50s rock 'n' roll influence in those electric guitars. (I'm not an expert whatsoever in '50s rock, so I would throw “Chuck Berry” at everything like this. ...Tell me, o '50s expert, which '50s music legend does this remind you of?) As you might expect, this isn't a very mindblowing song—it being a '50s derivative and all—but I like hearing it! The spirit in the performance is undeniable. Just a lot of fun.
Nothing Was Delivered A
Oh my GOD! Bob Dylan is covering THE BYRDS. ...Or was it the other way around? Well, is it any wonder that The Byrds pilfered this song for their own glory, choosing it to close out Sweetheart of the Rodeo? (It was an awful album, and any little bit help went a long way.) This and “Tears of Rage” seems like two of the most genuinely great songs of the album. It's basically a thick 'n' heavy slow blues number with the piano pounding away a wonderful blues progression while Dylan's smokey blues vocals sounds excellent. Of course it's far simpler than anything we heard in Blonde on Blonde... but it's still a good song!
Open the Door Homer B
He walked into the door instead! D'oh! (Am I the first person to think of that joke? ...Well, I must be a genius!) Other than the hilarious joke I just thought of—that wasn't really a joke but more of a random pop culture reference a la Family Guy—this is one of those songs here that are more or less forgettable. It has a cute shuffly, strummy guitar and some electric organ in the background that's noodling around at will. It has a nice sing-songey chorus. Dylan gives out a nice vocal performance, as he usually does. But … eh …
Long Distance Operator A-
Oh, here's more of that HARD BLUES from The Band. I've been so used to automatically disliking the blues, but... hell, this stuff has grown on me, hasn't it? (Or maybe I'm just trying to mentally prepare myself for reviewing Eric Clapton albums in the relatively near future?) But they have a nice, hard rhythm going here with plenty of swagger. Excellent, husky vocals from Richard Manuel and some hard and heavy electric guitar. I also really love that harmonica fluttering around in that way it's supposed to in hard blues music.
This Wheel's on Fire A
Oh my god, it's the Ab Fab theme song! It's in my contract to bring that up every time I run across this song. ...But, for the first time ever, I'm actually bringing it up in its original form. Yes, this is the first time in recorded history that this song was ever played. Right there with Bob Dylan on lead vocals. It's quite a bit slower than the version on the TV show, but... that's because it's a TV show and they have to get on with things! This version is mid-tempoed and probably even epic. Hearing The Band join in with him in the chorus makes it sound like they're old cowpokes drinking whiskey in a saloon. (Why do I get such Wild West imagery when I hear this?) Anyway, this is a good tune, and it's epic.
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Whoah... here's a song that I can tell you all about without even taking the time to listen to it! Because it's ingrained in my brain for all of history! The first thing I ever really noticed about it was that awesome violin that threads itself throughout this song. I mean.... doesn't that thing just dazzle the ears? Also, this song is so catchy and upbeat that the violin seems positively bubbly. ...Now, I say that knowing full well that this song has plenty of controversy surrounding it! The lyrics are about the jailing of Rubin Carter (the subject of the film "Hurricane") and take the stark position that he was framed. ...Carter was still in jail when this song was released, so this counts as a full-scale protest song. (It's also more than eight minutes long, so it would count as a story-song as well.) He even very bluntly brings up all of the racism surrounding the event. So you can tell why this song was controversial! Dylan fans find it controversial for another reason: The lyrics were largely written by Jacques Levy. But I like the lyrics. I usually prefer more subtlety in lyrics, but I also tend to hang onto every moment of it. Or maybe that's just because it reminds me of that Denzel Washington movie?... Now, despite this song being incredibly long (and melodically repetitive at that), there is enough momentum generated to keep it from ever growing stale. ...At least to my ears! Of course that fluid-like fiddle constantly dazzling us plays a huge role in that...
Alright, maybe I should start complaining that these things are so long? This one approaches seven minutes. It doesn't get particularly boring in that span, but it also doesn't have nearly the same drive as “Hurricane” did. The mid-paced piano groove it's based on is quite light and shuffly, which makes it rather pleasurable. Dylan's vocal melody also seems sweet. The fiddler isn't as involved with this one as she was in "Hurricane," but she always seems to come off in the right spots. My main complaint is that it does start to get a little bit old after awhile. Not a lot! But the sparkle starts to lose me. ...The lyrics are not as blunt... They're about a man's troubled marriage to an Egyptian goddess. They don't blow me away or anything, but they're not bad for a story-song! I think this might have been more enjoyable if this had a chorus... or something...
Maybe this album gets a little bit of flack from fans because of songs like this, which could be classified as pop? (Oh, but surely the ones who've dared to venture into Dylan's '80s discography probably don't mind that much. Well, I kind of like most of his '80s albums! But yes, that stuff has REVERB HEAVY STADIUM DRUMS.) This is a breezy tune with lyrics that are sweeter than sugar. (“I like to spend some time in Mozambique / The sunny blue sky is aqua blue / And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek / It's very nice to spend a week or two.”) ...After doing my obligatory Wikipedia search on Mozambique because I'd forgotten where it was (it was 13 years since I needed to know this!), I learned that a Civil War had erupted in that country the year after this song was released. ...I hope nobody took this as an advertisement! Also, why is Bob Dylan writing lyrics that sound like a tourism advertisement? ...Oh, I'm not going to do the obvious thing and blame it on Levy. Dylan's voice is there, sounding cuter than ever. ...But it's a good song.
One More Cup of Coffee A
Another pop song! ...Man, I really love that fiddle! It's out there threading itself throughout this piece in bendy, almost Middle Eastern ways. Even Dylan's bending his voice around just slightly. (Have you heard any of the new Cat Stevens albums? Whoah...) I even hear some clangy sounds, like some sort of gypsy cymbal. But the important thing is that the melody is catchy and it's easy for me to take it to heart. ...Just the whole Middle Eastern connection to this gives it extra personality, and something I've never heard in a Dylan song before!
Oh, Sister A-
Well, this one almost sounds like a 'normal' Dylan song. That is, if everyone knows what I mean by a “normal” Dylan song! It has a forlorn melody and a vocal performance to match. The acoustic guitar is strummed in a sparse way and he even makes some contributions with his harmonica. ...What makes this sound like it's from Desire is more of that beautiful fiddle weaving itself in and out of that simple chord progression and those gypsy-cymbal things. (I'm so lazy. I can't even be bothered to look up what those things are called.) There's also a female back-up singer... which for some reason I failed to mention... can be heard in many of these songs. Here, I'm not so crazy that she's overshadowing Dylan's voice. I might complain that this is a little slow moving for my tastes, and the lyrics don't do much.
It sounded like we were in the Middle East before, but now it sounds like we've made it to France. Or maybe it's Italy, since this is about an Italian American gangster? Also, this song is 11-freaking-minutes long! ...Well, Dylan seems to be on a roll with the long songs on this album, isn't he? This is no “Hurricane,” but I like it all the same. It's a slower song, but he makes up for it by providing such a thick atmosphere. Hearing the violin going at it—in a more forlorn way this time—and also some lonely accordion accompaniment is tasty. ...Also unlike “Isis,” this actually has a chorus! I like the way that atmosphere really starts to TOWER up in that chorus, too. Maybe it gets a little bit sloppy in there, but so what? ...With that said, this is still quite long. It would have been a better five minute song. I suppose if it weren't for the lyrics (verrrry controversial at the time), this wouldn't have needed to be so long! ...Have I ever mentioned to you that I'm not a lyrics guy? ...But I also can't ignore this, since they generated a lot of heat in the day!
Romance in Durango A
Dylan's taking us all around the world with this album, isn't he! In case you haven't guessed, this one is in Mexico and it even sounds like a ballad from that country. It comes fully equipped with accordions, a horn section, and … is it just me or is Dylan wailing this with a bit of a Mexican accent? ...Now, I don't listen to Mexican music anywhere except being in Mexican restaurants, which probably why I can somehow smell tortilla chips when I listen to this. (If I can smell tortilla chips, then it's probably authentic.) But anyway, getting back to my partial sanity, I like this song! The melody does sound like a traditional Mexican ballad, but in this case I couldn't dream of knocking it down for originality. It's delivered with so much conviction. (Aren't I a pushover?)
Black Diamond Bay A-
Still really good, but after everything else in this album, it has a little bit of trouble sticking out of the crowd. (I'm also half-wondering if I'm underrating these songs since I know all-to-well I'm about to enter the darker patch of Dylan's discography... That is, to people who don't think I give out too many As.) The lyrics are another one in the story-song format, and the story is pretty nice... This time it's a tale about some people who get vaporized in a volcano and ends with someone turning off the news and getting a beer. Maybe he's saying we're too desensitized to all the horrible things that go on in the world? ...The melody is pretty upbeat, though. ...Do you think this album created Natalie Merchant?
Dylan was still in the mood of letting the public in on his private life, which you probably remember he did all throughout Blood on the Tracks. This one is very explicitly about his marriage, which was just about to end. (I guess he did a few songs about real people earlier in this album, so why not do one about his wife?) It does show that he regrets losing her, which I suppose is a common feeling in a divorce. Though I wouldn't really know! The melody is OK even though it sounds like a common sea shanty. (It's done in 3/4 time, even.) It's a nice song and I like it, but it's unspectacular.
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