Mp3 Blog #22: “…on the back of the fish truck that loads…”

Bob Dylan:
Queen Jane Approximately
Available on Highway 61 Revisited

Visions of Johanna
Available on Blonde on Blonde

Hills of Mexico (unfinished)
From the unreleased Basement Tapes

Going to Alcapoco
Available on The Basement Tapes

Nothing was Delivered
Available on The Basement Tapes

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Available on John Wesley Harding

Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts
From the original version of Blood on the Tracks

* * * * *

I often argue that I listen to popular music mostly for the lyrics. I support this with my fondness for Bob Dylan and folk music and how I can easily be turned off from a band or song if they have no redeemable lyrics. When I’m in a particularly theoretical mindset I try to quantify the percentages that lyrics and music matter to me in a song or composition. Obviously, on one extreme, in instrumental music the music matters 100%. However, I find it much more difficult to quantify the side of the spectra where the lyrics matter more. For example, at times I can say that I listen to Bob Dylan more for the lyrics than the music but I cannot pinpoint the percentage that lyrics matter.

I drew all but two songs for my second Bob Dylan compilation from the four Bob Dylan albums that I listen to the most. In regards to the point above, I think that people really underestimate the musical significance and quality in Bob Dylan’s recordings. Ever since he went electric, Bob Dylan has consistently hired, recorded, and toured with some of the best working musicians in rock and roll. For example, I think that I often listen to Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and The Basement Tapes as much for the music, if not more so, as for the lyrics.

For a number of years I considered Queen Jane Approximately my favorite Bob Dylan song. I’ve always loved its almost surreal description of everything falling apart and the chorus and music ambience that both offer some sort of bittersweet reconciliation and hope.

Visions of Johanna as well as the entire Blonde on Blonde album offers some of the best mergers of lyrics and music in Bob Dylan’s catalogue. For me this song describes what a mixed blessing it is to realize that memories, longing, dreams, and visions can sometimes last long beyond their initial fleeting appearance.

Hills of Mexico is an old traditional song (I mostly know the Woody Guthrie version) that, after taking a while to get started, starts to cook like some of the best stuff on Time Out of Mind. It’s a shame Dylan forgot the lyrics. Going to Alcapoco and Nothing Was Delivered are two of my favorite down-and-out songs of Bob Dylan and The Band. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine is one of the last songs I used to perform regularly in my folky days.

I consider Blood on Tracks to Bob Dylan’s lyrical masterpiece. The album took many years to unfold and grow on me. It wasn’t until I knew many of the lyrics by heart that they started to come back to me suddenly making sense at the most opportune moments. (This includes the Dylan line I quote the most “Been shooting in the dark too long/when something’s not right it’s wrong…”)

For years I had neglected Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts because of the organ part on the released recording. In fact, it wasn’t until I found a copy of the original unreleased version of Blood on the Tracks that I began to appreciate this song as well as the rest of the album. In the album’s original version, there is a certain simple unified directness that I think the released version lacks; it’s this a certain sloppy honesty that makes a story like Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts so much more personal and approachable. Personally, I almost think it’s dishonest to play this song with a band because, although it may be told in the third person, it demonstrates that the workings of imagination and the outside world can sometimes ring far truer than anything we attempt to describe about ourselves.

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