Monday, June 12, 2006

"How Many Roads Must A Man Walk Down..."

THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN (1963) is a masterpiece. Of that, I think there can be little doubt. Now, we can quibble over which tunes were "derived" from which previously written songs (mainly folk or blues standards). But, what's the point? The musical accompaniment he chose for his lyrics fits perfectly, not to mention Dylan's guitar playing is vastly underrated in my opinion. Then there's the fact that he was singing with a voice and attitude never before witnessed in popular music. Oh, and back to those lyrics...

Well, let's just say those lyrics changed the course of popular music forever. And, to anyone who thinks that's an overstatement, blow me. I'm really not in the mood for dissent, call it a Rumsfeld moment.

Side One
Blowin' in the Wind - 2:48
Girl From The North Country - 3:22
Masters of War - 4:34
Down the Highway - 3:27
Bob Dylan's Blues - 2:23
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - 6:55
Side Two
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - 3:40
Bob Dylan's Dream - 5:03
Oxford Town - 1:50
Talking World War III Blues - 6:28
Corrina, Corrina (Traditional) - 2:44
Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance (Dylan/Thomas) - 2:01
I Shall Be Free - 4:49

First of all, there's "Blowin' in the Wind", which Dylan had been performing for some time before recording it for this, his 2nd album. In fact, Peter, Paul & Mary had already released their version of this Dylan composition earlier in 1963. A series of nine questions, the answers to which are "blowin' in the wind", this song raised awareness and opened the door to socio-political consciousness in popular music. Of course, Dylan himself was less impressed, saying in 1966, "I was never satisfied with 'Blowin' in the Wind.' I wrote that in ten minutes."

OK, I'm a bit confused on the second song. My album says "Girl From The North Country", but the lyrics on say it's "Girl of the North Country". Minor discrepancy, I suppose.

"Masters of War"...Again with the attitude! This Bob Dylan kid was a bit "big for his britches" as my grandmother might've said. Read the lyrics here. Amazingly vitriolic. I love it. "Down the Highway" is an interesting piece of guitar work by Bob. Unusual to say the least. I certainly enjoy it. "Bob Dylan's Blues" provides some comic relief, showing Dylan's sly sense of humor ("Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto/They are ridin' down the line/Fixin' ev'rybody's troubles/Ev'rybody's 'cept mine/Somebody musta tol' 'em/That I was doin' fine"). This song has a nice 'softening-up-for-the-kill' effect, as it leads into the next song.

"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is among the very best pieces of poetry ever set to music, in this blogger's humble opinion. I have previously posted the lyrics in their entirety on this blog, and they can be read here as well. This song is so overwhelmingly excellent that it leaves me marvelling at the fact that it's just the end of Side One. I always get that "holy shit, there's a whole other side of music left" feeling. Then, I struggle with "how many more times do I listen to this song before I flip the record over?"

"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is yet another of Dylan's all-time classics. Bob has described it as something you'd say to yourself as a relationship ended. But, you can't always trust Bob to give you a straight-on interpretation of his own songs. To me, it sounds (and reads) like a pretty coyly written kiss-off. The beauty is that it's done in such a quiet, calm manner. Great song any way you cut it.

To quote NPR's Tim Riley, "'Bob Dylan's Dream' rings ominously prophetic of what will become of sixties ideals - with its flush of unrealized looks back before its time and draws a lot of tension from the awareness that youth's immediacy can't last." OK. It's a good song. I said that.

"Oxford Town" is a young Bob Dylan taking on racism in the South head-on. "Oxford Town around the bend/He come in to the door, he couldn't get in/All because of the color of his skin/What do you think about that, my friend?"

"Talking World War III Blues" is a nice, early eaxample of Dylan's gift for surrealism. Read the lyrics here. I love that line about a Cadillac being a good car to drive after a war. And, the "Abraham Lincoln said that...I said that" ending is pure genius.

"Corrina, Corrina" is a nice arrangement of a traditional song. "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" is noted in the track listing above as "(Dylan/Thomas)", which might be somewhat confusing. It wasn't written by Dylan Thomas! Don't look by that "/", whatever you do! This song title was taken from a song by Henry Thomas from 1928. Otherwise, it's basically Bob's. The vocal performance is most certainly Bob's, and Bob's only. The desperation in his pleading is something to behold.

"I Shall Be Free" ends the album with another humorous note, and more of that Dylan surrealism ("I chased me a woman up the hill/Right in the middle of an air raid drill./It was Little Bo Peep!"). I know the title looks like it might be one of Dylan's great protest songs. He was a deceptive bugger. Also, this title is not to be confused with the Dylan composition "I Shall Be Released" from The Band's Music From Big Pink.

So, summing up...if you don't have it, BUY IT NOW! Even the fools at Rolling Stone recognize it, although I'd say #97 is too low. It could easily be Top 50, but no one asked me. Oh, and I almost forgot, note the total running time of 50 minutes...almost unheard of in its day.


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