Friday, March 03, 2006

And the winner is...

And the winner in this (hotly debated, eagerly anticipated) contest is…(drum roll)…BOB DYLAN, 1963 to 1966.

I’ll skip Bob’s self-titled, debut album from 1962, as it contained mainly cover versions of folk & blues standards, with only two Dylan originals. Let’s jump right into his 2nd album, THE FREEWHEELIN’ BOB DYLAN (May 1963), which contained this AMAZING line-up: “Blowin' in the Wind”, “Girl From The North Country”, “Masters Of War”, “Down The Highway”, “Bob Dylan's Blues”, “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall”, “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right”, “Bob Dylan's Dream”, “Oxford Town”, “Talking World War III Blues”, “Corrina, Corrina” (Traditional), “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” (Bob Dylan/H. Thomas), and “I Shall Be Free”. Wow!

Next up was THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ (February 1964), which included “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, “Ballad of Hollis Brown”, “With God On Our Side”, “One Too Many Mornings”, “North Country Blues”, “Only A Pawn In Their Game”, “Boots Of Spanish Leather”, “When The Ship Comes In”, “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll”, and “Restless Farewell”. Just a shade ahead of “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah,” wouldn’t you say, bloke?

Later that year came ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN (August 1964), with these songs: “All I Really Want to Do”, “Black Crow Blues”, “Spanish Harlem Incident”, “Chimes of Freedom”, “I Shall Be Free No. 10”, “To Ramona”, “Motorpsycho Nitemare”, “My Back Pages”, “I Don't Believe You”, “Ballad in Plain D”, and “It Ain't Me Babe”. Keep in mind that Dylan’s 23rd birthday was right between THE TIMES… and ANOTHER SIDE…crazy, isn’t it?!

Finally, we get to my personal favorite, BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME (March 1965). This one was ½ acoustic and ½ electric. He led off with the electric stuff: “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “She Belongs to Me”, “Maggie's Farm”, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, “Outlaw Blues”, “On the Road Again”, and “Bob Dylan's 115th Dream”. The 2nd side was back to his usual solo acoustic: “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Gates of Eden”, “It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)”, and “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue”. My f-cking goodness, what a freakin’ landmark album! (And people were PISSED OFF at the time!)

Dylan had officially, 100% “gone electric” with his next album, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (August 1965). Many consider this his best album. I suppose it’s hard to fault them when you look at the songs included: “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Tombstone Blues”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”, “From a Buick 6”, “Ballad of a Thin Man”, “Queen Jane Approximately”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues”, and “Desolation Row”. In fact, many consider this the greatest album in rock history. (I’m still partial to BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, though!)

How do you possibly follow all of that up? Well, if you’re Bob Dylan, you release a double-album, BLONDE ON BLONDE (May 1966). “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, “Pledging My Time”, “Visions of Johanna”, “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”, “I Want You”, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, “Just Like a Woman”, “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine”, “Temporary Like Achilles”, “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, “4th Time Around”, “Obviously Five Believers”, and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, not a lot of “filler material”, eh? The man is an absolute genius!!!

Oh, and somewhere in there he also found time to write one of his all-time classics, “Positively 4th Street”, which ultimately surfaced on his Greatest Hits album (1967). Look at the lyrics that end this song, “I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/And just for that one moment/I could be you/Yes, I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You'd know what a drag it is/To see you”. OUCH! Better yet, go to bobdylan.com and you can search by album or directly by song, and read the lyrics to the songs I've listed above. They are really quite phenomenal.

Bob Dylan took the storytelling tradition of folk and blues lyrics, and truly elevated those lyrics to the level of poetry. His lyrics stand on their own as great literature. Not only that, but he introduced a level of social and political awareness that did not exist in the other hit songs of the day (e.g., The Beatles' “Love, love me do/You know I love you/I'll always be true/So, please, love me do” vs. Dylan's “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.”). It was all quite unprecedented, and caused a paradigm shift in the approach to popular songwriting. Not to mention, an incredible number of musicians and musical groups launched their careers by covering Dylan's songs.

All of that is amazing enough. But, here's the kicker: Dylan was an amazing guitar player too. That is so often overlooked that it truly sickens me. I absolutely cannot BELIEVE that he doesn't get more credit for his guitar work. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot (wink, wink), here's a big, heart-felt “F-CK YOU” to anyone/everyone that ever uttered the words Bob Dylan can't sing. It's right back to the most fundamental element of music: FEELING. Are you one of those completely soulless beings that only respect the finest, pitch-perfect, classically-trained singers/musicians? Well, then I suppose Dylan isn't for you...your loss, sh-thead, not Dylan's! I can understand describing his voice as “distinctive”, “unusual”, even “nasal”. But, to say “he cannot sing” is fundamentally incorrect, as I have hours of recordings of him doing just that, singing (and playing guitar and harmonica, too)! If his style of singing does not fit your narrow-minded definition of what singing is, then what a drag it must be to BE you.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bob Dylan's songwriting and recording output from 1963 to 1966 is the single greatest “creative outburst” in the history of rock music. Any thoughts?

I just have to give one more comparison (this is so fun that I could easily go on all day): The Beatles' “Yeah, you got that something /I think you'll understand /When I say that something /I want to hold your hand /I want to hold your hand /I want to hold your hand” vs. Dylan's “You fasten the triggers/For the others to fire/Then you sit back and watch/When the death count gets higher/You hide in your mansion/As young people's blood/Flows out of their bodies/And is buried in the mud”...Doesn't seem like a fair fight, does it? Hey, both songs were from 1963. So, you tell me...

8 Comments:

Blogger rabidt said...

Due to the quality and quantity of songs in this creative outburst, I can't see anyone arguing. Though, it would be interesting to hear opposing views if they surface.

I remember Dylan himself expressing amazement at this point of his career in the 60 Minutes interview he did a year or so ago. He may not have been referring to the quantity, but just how he could come up with those lyrics. He said it was almost as if it was someone else doing it, or something to that effect. It will be interesting to see if his upcoming volumes of his autobiography will cover this period, as it is completely absent from vol. 1. In fact, 2/3 of vol. 1 focus on periods where his creativity is at a lull. So, maybe it is kind of an out-of body experience, and therefore he can relate better to the slow periods than when the creativity was peaking and it was just flowing out of him. We'll see what he comes up with next.

Anybody want to come up with unreleased songs from this period to underline the fact this is the top outburst? I suspect just the unreleased songs from this period would make a strong enough argument, too. I'll check my Bob Dylan "Lyrics" book when I get home, though I imagine there's an easy way to find this info on the web. Don't have time now.

Nice series of posts!

8:40 AM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

You hit the nail on the head.

Bob is odd. Bob is a genius. Bob is epherial. Bob is simply in a class by himself.

Although I share your love of Neil Young and his ability to chart his own course and remain true to his spirit, I think Bob probably invented that course.

So good job on your creative outburst theme.

9:54 AM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Keith, I agree that Bob is definitely in a class by himself. He was SO huge, and the level of "betrayal" that his fans felt when he "went electric" blew up into such amazing ugliness, that he must've had b@lls the size of grapefruits to pull it off! (Oh, yeah, and the music is AMAZING; so, f-ck the detractors!)

Rabid T, I would be interested to have you report back your findings on unreleased Dylan songs from this time period. Incidentally, I read where Neil Young talked about the almost "out-of-body" aspect of his own songwriting. He basically said something along the lines of needing to be "open" to receiving the songs, as if they come from some outside source. He also once referred to himself as a "B student" of Bob Dylan! So, there you go.

It is staggering to even imagine how Dylan came up with some of this sh-t! Anyone that listens to "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", or even just reads the lyrics, for the 1st time and isn't floored...I just can't iamgine not being overwhelmed by that song...or "A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall"...or "Masters Of War"...or...

2:30 PM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

Dylan! I guess that does make more sense than a list that went CCR/Hendrix/Neil/Timbaland...

9:08 PM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

On another note, I have often wondered how Bob saw himself. He was a shameless self-promoter who casually stepped on friends and contemporaries alike. Kind of like our friend Neil, who definately was "aloof" with other musicians, Bob kind of ran over everyone that got in his way.

From his frosty reception of the Beatles to his ignoring Joan Baez when she traveled to England to sing with him only to be left to stand on the side of the stage, Bob had his own agenda.

I wonder if his "exile" in Woodstock was a reaction to his self-loathing in what he had watched himself become?

I wonder how he could grasp how he, as an artist, had come to be the voice of a generation?

It's easy for us as observers to imagine what it must have been like to be Bob Dylan. But you've just got to know that it must have been crazy for him to actually be Bob Dylan.

How do you top the creative period you described in your piece?

The redemptive thing about all of this is that Bob had never stopped. He plugs along performing constantly to the march of his own music. He doesn't apologize nor does he pretend to be anything he's not.

He's just Bob - and that's a pretty cool place to be.

Peace.

9:19 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Macky Olé said...

Are you doing ALL of Dylans albums next? That's an undertaking that might on par with say, reviewing all of the Grateful Dead's live albums. You strike me as a Dead hater though.

10:44 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

There's a brilliant book called Positively Fourth Street by David Hadju that is all about the NYC folk scene where Bob Dylan started out. While it doesn't completely illuminate what it's like inside Dylan's head--who could? not even Bob in Chronicles--it does illustrate a lot about the way he positioned himself, self-promoted and discarded people he didn't need anymore. It also shows how he came to bridle at the constraints of "folk," and something of how he revolutionized American music.

Anyway it's a great book, and not just about Dylan...

11:16 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Wow, lot's of comments on good ol' Bobby D.

I'll be the 1st to admit that I've not read as much as I should've about Bob Dylan. Thus, I'm not as familiar with the "self-promoting" aspect. I'll just have to take it as a given for now, as well as the cutthroat stuff with other musicians.

However, I'm not sure Neil Young is so similar in this aspect. He was far from the biggest reason that Buffalo Springfield broke up. He's maintained a close working relationship with a core group of musicians (the Crazy Horse guys, Ben Keith, etc.) for decades! Also, I've seen him quoted as openly admiring Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix, among others. Plus, he's been involved in a ton of celebrity concerts/jams/benefit shows, etc. I'm not sure how that makes him "aloof" with other musicians. Aloof with the media? Absolutely. Aloof with the fans? Sometimes, at least. But aloof with other musicians? I'm not so sure. (Just because he can't get along with Crosby & Stills for very long doesn't prove much to me.)

That said, Neil has definitely cultivated a certain image & mystique. To some degree or another that can easily be construed as "self-promoting", and probably in the Dylan sense of doing things to a certain extent.

Macky, as far as being a "Dead-hater", that's probably not too far off. Mainly, I've just never quite understood all the hype. I have AMERICAN BEAUTY and WORKINGMAN'S DEAD (I think). Bet it's been almost 20 years since I listened to either! Maybe I'll try one out and post on it...As far as reviewing all of Dylan's albums, holy sh-t!!! I can't even IMAGINE taking on that big a task any time soon. Maybe I'll post on why I think BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME is his very best, instead.

And, finally, as far as "being Bob Dylan", none of us could POSSIBLY have a clue what a messianic following like that would have been like!

12:22 PM, March 06, 2006  

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