Virgin Mobile Festival Preview: Bob Dylan
In advance of Bobby Z's Virgin Mobile Festival performance on Sunday, Malitz and I asked various Posties (including each other) to put together annotated lists of their Top 5 Dylan songs.
UPDATE (12:43 p.m., 8/8/08):
1. "Ballad of a Thin Man." Because it sounds like gibberish but deconstructs into a seamless exegesis on the emptiness and soullessness of critics, and, by extension, on everyone's intellectual self-doubts. Because in doing this, Dylan has made a plausible case for depth in every other one of his seemingly inscrutable songs, whether justified or not. Dylan is a monster.
2. "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Because it is a great song, and because it contains not one but two of his greatest lines: "Money doesn't talk, it swears." And "He who isn't busy being born is busy dying." It would probably be Number One if it also has "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken," but that's from Tombstone Blues.
3. "Positively 4th Street." Because I think it's the best and most chilling putdown in all of rock.
4. "Like a Rolling Stone." For all the reasons enumerated by people smarter than I am.
5. "She Belongs to Me." This is a quirky choice, I admit. But I cannot hear that line about looking through her keyhole upon your knees without feeling a chill of recognition.
My five favorite Dylan songs? I basically sit around all day waiting for someone to ask me this!
1. "Visions of Johanna." How could Dylan, not yet 25, have created an epic that gazes so piercingly on my life now and the lives of my friends and perhaps the entire human condition? Just guessing, anyway - I still don't have enough life experience to comprehend the last few verses. Maybe when I'm 60. From "Blonde on Blonde," my best friend/therapist when I was 25.
2. "I Don't Believe You." Not the original folkie version; the wild, wailing, electric version he performed in concert with the Band in 1966. Goosebumps every time. Emblematic of both Dylan as rock star and his endless ability to reinterpret his own songs.
3. "Spanish Harlem Incident." Intricate melody, witty lyrics, those great yelping choruses that fill your heart with joy. Also, something about the way he says "babe." (See "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "It Ain't Me, Babe.")
4. "To Be Alone With You." A representative cut from his most repeatedly listenable, fun and, yes, totally sexy album, "Nashville Skyline." (For more sexy Dylan, see "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down." But that's about it.)
5. "Goin' to Acapulco." Wouldn't have made my list a year ago (instead, "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream": Dylan as stoner comedian). But sometimes it takes another artist to call your attention to one of his overlooked gems - in this case, Jim James and Calexico's cover on the "I'm Not There" soundtrack. Haunting.
(More lists after the jump, from Carolyn Hax, Tom Ricks, Chris Cillizza and others.)
Programming Reminder: Post Rock will be blogging LIVE from Virgin Mobile Festival all weekend. Check in often on Saturday and Sunday for updates.
1. "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." To my mind, Dylan's best "reality" song.
2. "Visions of Johanna." "We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it."
3. "Boots of Spanish Leather." I never really knew how good this was until I was listening to it on my iPod while weeding my garden. And it all clicked.
4. "Ballad of a Thin Man." I once read an interview with Bob in which he was asked whether he knew the Counting Crows song "Mr. Jones" was based on "Ballad." His response? "I don't know nothing about that."
5. "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie." It's not exactly a song and not exactly a poem - just like the best of Dylan. Whatever it is, I tear up every time I listen to the end of it: "You can either go to the church of your choice/ Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital/You'll find God in the church of your choice/ You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital/And though it's only my opinion/ I may be right or wrong / You'll find them both/ In the Grand Canyon/ At sundown." AMEN.
* Liz Spayd, editor of washingtonpost.com, owner of the best rock-and-roll 'do on any masthead, anywhere
1. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." This tops my list, because it coaxes tears every time I hear it. He captures the pain of uncontrolled passion, and of saying fairtheewell.
2. "Mr. Tambourine Man." It's a cliche to pick this, but how could I not? The sweet combination of Dylan's raspy voice and lyrical genius at it's best. It deserves its place in the pantheon.
3. "Just Like A Woman." To me, this captures that electric combination of what anyone surely would want in a woman. Flatteringly so? Not exactly. But dead on, nonetheless.
4. "Dark Eyes." I don't know if this counts technically, but I want it on my list because it represents the fusion of two of my favorites, Dylan and punk star Patti Smith, on the road together in Philadelphia.
5. "Rollin' And Tumblin." This one just gets my heart pumping. Plus it would be wrong not to include more recent work of a rocker who stepped into middle age so effortlessly.
* Carolyn Hax, Tell Me About It columnist
1. "Tangled up in Blue." Love it for its own lyrical self, but also because I first heard it on a college roomie's mix tape (date myself much?) and it has been anchored to that emotional time in my life ever since. Dylan is so good for that.
2. "Positively 4th Street." Would that I could dismantle someone like that, just once. I suppose I should include "Like a Rolling Stone" and make it a tie for second, since they're really just a dismantling in two parts. But the last shot in "4th Street" - "what a drag it is to seeeeee youuuu" - puts it over the vicious top.
3. "Lay Lady Lay." Just heard a why-did-you-bother cover of it, and it makes Dylan sound like a vocal genius. So there's that. (Like the love-hate whiplash of this lineup, btw?)
4. "Tambourine Man." Reminds me of mom (see No. 1 about Dylan and emotional anchoring). This was her era of music, and this is one of the songs I vividly remember discovering from exposure to her tastes.
That's all I have time for. Maybe I'll have a no. 5, maybe I won't. [She didn't. Too busy plotting her picks for the World's Simplest Football Pool or something. - Ed.]
As I thought about this I realized that a lot of my favorite Dylan songs are the cover versions by others - and three of them are on a great Red House Records sampler called "A Nod to Bob":
1. "Like a Rolling Stone." Dylan's version still sounds fresh to me, unlike a lot of Dylan from back then, like "Mr. Tambourine Man." But I think Jimi Hendrix's live version from Monterey feels entirely contemporary. "Napoleon in rags, and the sweet talk that he used."
2. "Percy's Song." As covered by Fairport Convention.
3. "Sweetheart Like You." I heard the version by Guy Davis before I heard Dylan's.
4. "All Along the Watchtower." Another great Hendrix cover, with three guitar breaks that are like a lesson in how to play an electric guitar. "And the wind began to howl."
5. "Boots of Spanish Leather." As covered by Martin Simpson. One of my all-time favorite anythings. Don't die without hearing this.
Bonus: "Avec Dieu Sur Nous Cotes (With God on Our Side)" by Hart Rouge Band. This Dylan song sounds ever angrier in French.
1. "I Don't Believe You." I always tell people that it was all downhill after the scorching electric performance of this song at the Royal Albert Hall show in 1966. Not just downhill for Dylan; downhill for everything, ever.
2. "Visions of Johanna." I've got a few dozen versions of this song in my iTunes library and each one is mesmerizing. It doesn't matter if it's solo acoustic, a sped-up shuffle or the standard version on "Blonde on Blonde." Playful, absurd and astounding all at once.
3. "Positively 4th Street." Simply the best kiss-off ever. "I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You'd know what a drag it is/To see you." Ooh, that stings.
4. "Isis." My favorite from his most underrated album, this is his best narrative lyric. The versions from the mid-'70s Rolling Thunder Revue tour are especially fiery, featuring some of his most emotive vocals ever.
5. "Queen Jane Approximately." Sometimes, it's the most minor details that grab me. Besides the obviously stellar lyrics, laidback pop charm and titular reference to one of my favorite historical figures, it's the way the bass holds on the same note during "Won't you ... come see ... Queen Jane" chorus that gets me every time.
* Joe Heim, Three Wise Guys columnist
Like many Dylan fans, I'm a sucker for the sound of his words, the cleverness of his rhymes, the obvious delight he takes in crafting lines. So here are sample grabs from five songs (I could've picked 50 favorites) that I love for their lyrical magic.
1. "To Ramona"
But it grieves my heart, love,
To see you tryin' to be a part of
A world that just don't exist.
It's all just a dream, babe,
A vacuum, a scheme, babe,
That sucks you into feelin' like this.
2. "Oxford Town"
Me and my gal, my gal's son
We got met with a tear gas bomb
I don't even know why we come
Goin' back where we come from
3. "Buckets of Rain"
Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must.
You do what you must do and ya do it well,
I'll do it for you, honey baby,
Can't you tell?
4. "Highway 61 Revisited"
Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
5. "Political World"
We live in a political world,
Love don't have any place.
We're living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don't have a face
Bonus: My five favorite really long Dylan songs/works: "Idiot Wind" (7:47), "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (11:22), "Desolation Row" (11:25), "Joey" (11:06) and "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie" (7:10).
* Yours Truly
I'm going to focus on more modern times - that is: "Modern Times," "Love and Theft" and "Time Out of Mind," Dylan's terrific late-model trilogy. Even into his 60s, he's crafting stone-cold classics.
1. "Cold Irons Bound." Dark and despairing, with Dylan singing of isolation and heartache - of serving a life sentence as a prisoner of love. "I'm beginning to hear voices/There's no one around/I'm all used up/And the fields have turned brown," the craggy old blues poet growls as the band churns out a raw, moody groove. Hazy, pitch-perfect production from Daniel Lanois, but it's the barbed, brooding vocals that make this "Time Out of Mind" song so compelling.
2. "Sugar Baby." Dylan has been pondering love for decades - dismissing it, dissecting it, coveting it, cursing it, etc. No doubt, he'll be philosophizing about it until the bitter end. On the mournful album-ender from "Love and Theft," he observes: "Love is pleasing, love is teasing/Love - not an evil thing." Then again, there is this incisive refrain: "Sugar baby, get on down the road/You ain't got no brains, nohow/You went years without me; might as well keep going now." Bitter!
3. "Not Dark Yet." Years of world-weariness come to a head on this bleak but beautiful "Time Out of Mind" song, a slow death march in which Dylan declares that the end is nigh. "It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there," he sings flatly over eerie echoing instrumentation. A riveting (and chilling) rumination on mortality.
4. "Ain't Talkin'." Dylan is incomparable when he's articulating his observations about the human condition in an artful, meaningful way, as he's been doing lately. Here, he reprises the familiar role of Weary Man in a stark, apocalyptic "Modern Times" track, which finds him on a long and lonesome road, at the world's end, "walkin' with a toothache in my heel."
5. "Rollin' and Tumblin'." "The landscape is glowing, gleaming in the golden light of day"? Like Kanye says: Bow in the presence of greatness.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: SSMD | August 8, 2008 9:07 AM
Posted by: sacklunch | August 8, 2008 9:41 AM
Posted by: shf | August 8, 2008 11:11 AM
Posted by: J. Freedom | August 8, 2008 11:15 AM
Posted by: ann arbor | August 8, 2008 11:24 AM
Posted by: around | August 8, 2008 11:41 AM
Posted by: Rockville | August 8, 2008 1:29 PM
Posted by: bigtum | August 8, 2008 2:20 PM
Posted by: NM Moderate | August 8, 2008 2:22 PM
Posted by: americana | August 8, 2008 2:26 PM
Posted by: fendertweed | August 8, 2008 2:31 PM
Posted by: paulsahib | August 8, 2008 2:57 PM
Posted by: jamie baldwin | August 8, 2008 3:02 PM
Posted by: jstodge | August 8, 2008 3:23 PM
Posted by: Chad | August 8, 2008 3:41 PM
Posted by: Adams Morgan | August 8, 2008 3:44 PM
Posted by: seattle sam | August 8, 2008 3:53 PM
Posted by: louisville | August 8, 2008 4:01 PM
Posted by: J. Freedom | August 8, 2008 4:02 PM
Posted by: Jumper | August 8, 2008 4:19 PM
Posted by: dnfree | August 8, 2008 4:28 PM
Posted by: NYer | August 8, 2008 4:35 PM
Posted by: Common Sense | August 8, 2008 4:39 PM
Posted by: Mr. Interlocutor | August 8, 2008 4:42 PM
Posted by: Jeff | August 8, 2008 4:57 PM
Posted by: Brent | August 8, 2008 5:02 PM
Posted by: joe sabbagh | August 8, 2008 5:08 PM
Posted by: ARK | August 8, 2008 6:04 PM
Posted by: fyreflye | August 8, 2008 6:46 PM
Posted by: William Jones | August 8, 2008 7:13 PM
Posted by: Seamus | August 8, 2008 7:18 PM
Posted by: William Jones | August 8, 2008 7:28 PM
Posted by: Oregon John | August 8, 2008 7:53 PM
Posted by: Steve | August 8, 2008 8:23 PM
Posted by: scott | August 8, 2008 8:35 PM
Posted by: Cosmo | August 8, 2008 10:05 PM
Posted by: gordy from Redding | August 8, 2008 11:07 PM
Posted by: Alias | August 9, 2008 11:42 AM
Posted by: Rick | August 9, 2008 1:18 PM
Posted by: Tom K. | August 9, 2008 5:17 PM
Posted by: monika | August 9, 2008 6:58 PM
Posted by: Gabbriele | August 9, 2008 7:42 PM
Posted by: garreth | August 10, 2008 1:09 AM
Posted by: two cents worth | August 10, 2008 10:55 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.