Saturday, January 22, 2011

Top Ten (12) Dylan Songs

As a follow-up to my last post, I thought I'd compile a list of my top ten favorite Dylan songs by the man himself. I actually spent a couple weeks thinking about it, and there were some late additions...bottom line: I couldn't do ten. I tried. But it's just not my fault that he wrote so many damn songs. Here's my top 12, in order:

Running Time: Aprox. 58 min

Let's take this step by step.

12) Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
"But I would not feel so all alone / Everybody must get stoned."
The main force behind this song is humor, so of course I dig it. The lyrics, sarcastic trumpets, and of course background singers lend the entire piece a tongue-in-cheek sensibility that's just perfect. I remember hearing this song one morning before high school on the radio as my brother dropped me off. "It has a double meaning, you see..." he said. :-) 
11) It Ain't Me Babe
"Go lightly from the ledge, babe / Go lightly on the ground. / I'm not the one you want, babe / I will only let you down."
This song speaks to me because of it's raw, easy honesty. We all know that Dylan was/is likely a huge ass (feel free to draw Kanye comparisons here), but at least this song lays out the myriad reasons why one should not pursue his affections. Props for effort. 

10) Mr. Tambourine Man 
"Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind / Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves / The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach / Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow / ...  / Let me forget about today until tomorrow"
This song is a favorite of my father's, and I see why. Hunter Thompson appeared to be a big fan, too. It really appeals to the free spirited-ness of the sixties, but what I admire it most for is it's luscious imagery, immensely impressive rhyme scheme, and funky harmonica jams scattered throughout. Obviously funky mouth harp jams are kind of Dylan's calling card, but I was listening to the live version today from the 1966 concert at Royal Albert Hall, and he just fucking wails on it in the most incredible way. He clearly had a lot of fun to this song, and I'm willing to bet that thousands of others did, too.
09) Visions of Johanna
"Louise, she's all right, she's just near / She's delicate and seems like the mirror / But she just makes it all too concise and too clear / That Johanna's not here / The ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face / Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place"
This is a beautiful tune about missing the one you're not with and searching in vain for a replacement, an unfortunately pale comparison. I used the Royal Albert version of this song because I think the bare bones acoustic sound better captures the loneliness of the words. Of course Dylan has to get his lyrical rocks off...
"See the primitive wallflower freeze / When the jelly-faced women all sneeze / Hear the one with the mustache say, 'Jeeze / I can’t find my knees'"
But oh! the poetry...
"Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial / Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while / But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues / You can tell by the way she smiles"
 08) Maggie's Farm
"Well, I try my best / To be just like I am / But everybody wants you / To be just like them"
This is a great jam that encapsulates Dylan's shift from acoustic to electric. Controversial at the time, but who can argue with results?
07) Boots of Spanish Leather
"Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night / And the diamonds from the deepest ocean / I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss / For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin'"
This is a recent addition to my Dylan favs. It so beautifully and simply describes love and longing, and the pain of watching a loved one sail away without you. After reading a book this summer by Suze Rotolo, Dylan's main squeeze in the early 60's, the song takes on a whole new meaning. It's a reminder that, despite a person's mistakes and hurtful behavior, there can still be love there, somewhere.
06) Subterranean Homesick Blues
"Keep a clean nose / Watch the plain clothes / You don’t need a weatherman / To know which way the wind blows
Another classic 'lectric tune with stellar wordplay. The real music video is awesome (cameo by Allen Ginsberg = clutch). Too bad the closest I can find on YouTube is this.
05) One Too Many Mornings
"You’re right from your side / I’m right from mine / We’re both just one too many mornings / An’ a thousand miles behind"
Yet another recent addition, and high up, too! I only discovered the acoustic version as of late, which brings a whole new level of peaceful resignation to the whole song. It's definitely a good wake-up song, and I often listen to it on my way to work.

04) Like a Rolling Stone
"When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose / You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal"
Everyone knows how classic this song is. There's some guesses that it's written about Edie Segwick of Factory Girl fame, but I've definitely heard the opinion that it was Bob speaking to himself, coming to grips with the loneliness of fame and toying with the idea of his possible downfall. Either way, a completely wonderful jam all around.

03) With God On Our Side
"Oh the history books tell it / They tell it so well / The cavalries charged / The Indians fell / The cavalries charged / The Indians died / Oh the country was young / With God on its side"
This is my favorite "protest" song of Dylan's. At such a young age, he perfectly vocalized the hypocrisies of history in such a simple, moving way. It's the same logical questioning of the status quo that I admire so much in a lot of Ani Difranco's work. Dylan wrote many other wonderful politically-themed tunes before walking away from the "protest" moniker, but this one will always hold a special meaning for me.
02) Talking World War III Blues
"Well, now time passed and now it seems / Everybody’s having them dreams / Everybody sees themselves / Walkin’ around with no one else"
This is truly a stand-out song in so many ways. The story-telling, the imagery, the earnestness, the humor...yet another snap-shot of the post-nuclear mindset. Why have we lost this fear? Born into a world where nuclear weapons are just a reality is in itself surreal, but the fact that we walk around as if the threat has subsided is also utter nonsense. I like that in this song, Dylan describes the isolating power of fear, but also the redemption found in simple human contact, in humanity itself. Long live King Dylan!

"'Half of the people can be part right all of the time / Some of the people can be all right part of the time / But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time' / I think Abraham Lincoln said that / 'I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours' / I said that"

01) Don't Think Twice
"I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind / You could have done better but I don’t mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But don’t think twice, it’s all right"
I must admit that this song comes in at the top mainly because of sentimental reasons. It was the first Dylan song that really struck me, probably around age 16 or so? Yeah, that sounds about right. Anyway, the hauntingly simple, soul-plucking finger picking combined with the utter lack of anger in his voice throughout is just something I've always found beautiful and soothing. Truly a masterpiece, in my humble opinion.

Well there you have it, a list that's been weeks/months/years in the making. And who's to say it won't change? There's plenty of time. 
Sing it, Bob.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blog for Choice Day

"they keep pounding their fists on reality / hoping it will break"

Taking a little break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special announcement. It's the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and NARAL's 6th annual Blog for Choice Day, so I thought I'd make my humble contribution:

This is one of the most honest songs about abortion I've ever heard. It's the hardest choice some woman ever have to make, but it's crucial that every woman from the most to least fortunate is given that choice. Men and women have fought hard for this right, and many have even given their lives. For every Dr. Tiller who is hounded, threatened, and killed, hundreds are scared away from taking his place. And who can blame them? What part of "pro-life" means murder? Which part means violently intimidating the poorest, least fortunate women in our society? What part of "small government" is in charge of monitoring every pregnancy to term? Can't the majority of people agree that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare? We can't let a vocal few bully us out of access to birth control and basic health services. Not in this country. I'll leave with these words from the wise Ani D:

here's a toast to all those nurses and doctors
who daily provide women with a choice
who stand down a threat the size of oklahoma city
just to listen to a young woman's voice 

 Please consider making a donation to NARAL, Emily's List, or Planned Parenthood to ensure that America's girls and women continue to have a choice.

Monday, January 17, 2011

These are Songs Bob Wrote

This mix has been a long time coming. A lot of people I know get all up in arms about Bob Dylan; they either love him or hate him. Regardless of the man's vocal talents or personality flaws, I've gotta say I deeply respect his songwriting skills above all. Prolific, prophetic...probably something else that begins with 'P'. Anyway, in that vein, I thought I'd compile a mix of my favorite Dylan covers. I figured this would be a great test of Bobby D's songwriting his work fares in the hands of others. I have heard a lot of shitty Dylan covers in my lifetime (and in my iTunes), so I had to sift through and pick out my absolute favs.
DISCLAIMER: many of these songs come from the I'm Not There original soundtrack. This is not my fault. Many of those songs  flat out rock, and it's the best collection of Dylan covers ever assembled by human beings. Fact.
Running Time: Aprox. 1 hr. 34 min. (Don't bitch, it used to be longer!)
Track Pick: Ani Difranco - Most of the Time

I have a huge thing for cover songs in general (though I'm not quite as fanatical as the bloke who does Cover Lay Down), but with these songs in particular, I love to hear how different artists interpret the words and tone of Dylan's compositions. The "Highway 61" cover is definitely the most fun, while "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" adds a new mournful layer to that tune. So beautiful! The Ani cover of course stands out for me 1) for it's clutch use of the banjo and 2) for being 100x better than the original song (featured in High Fidelity). Semi-interesting tidbit: The People's Republic of Gefiltestan is the Oberlin band I credit with launching my entire college destiny.

One additional note: the onelinedrawing cover on the playlist is different than the version I have, which is unfortunately from the iTunes store and is a huge pain in the ass to convert. It still gets the point across, though.

Anyway, I'm not sure if this mix will convert any Dylan haters, but perhaps it's a good conversation starter. :-P

Cate Blanchette: Best Dylan cover incarnate.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

1. Blog more
2. Listen to a song from Paleo's Song Diary every day, when possible (scroll down for Song of the Day list).

Now of course, all of these can't be  gems (but most of these are). Yeah, saw this dude on Daytrotter and had to check him out.

Paleo's stuff is acoustic, self-reflective, and sweet. As a diarist for 12ish years now, I must say I respect someone who has the resolve to write a song a day for an entire year. That takes balls, commitment, and dedication...most of which I don't have. So anyway, I find the feat quite impressive and I intend to give all of these songs a listen before the end of 2011.

365 songs