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Posts Tagged ‘2016 Nobel Prize for literature’

Continuing my countdown of the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am covering the songs from numbers 10 to 6. These are

  • 10 – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  • 9 – Ballad Of A Thin Man
  • 8 – Hurricane
  • 7 – Visions Of Johanna
  • 6 – Like A Rolling Stone
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Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

10. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1973)

This song has become very well known through cover versions, in particular the versions by Bob Marley and Guns ‘n’ Roses. As with most cover versions of Dylan songs, I have to say that I prefer the original (but I also know that I’m biased!). There is a simplicity and starkness to Dylan’s original, which is lost in the two more famous cover versions.  After saying that, I do think both cover versions are great, and the Guns ‘n’ Roses version is one of the few songs done by them that I like.

From the soundtrack of a violent Sam Peckinpah western, in which Dylan once again demonstrated that acting is not one of his many talents, comes this elegiac classic. It rides on a simple, repetitive chord progression and has a ridiculously swift fade out but conveys such a spirit of bittersweet farewell to life it has become one of rock’s most universal anthems.

9. Ballad Of A Thin Man (1965)

This song is believed to be a cutting criticism of an out-of-touch newspaper reporter, and was written during a period when Dylan was showing a different side to his song writing. A side in which he was laying bare his frustrations with the people who didn’t understand him, or the societal changes which he was spearheading. When he sang this song in concert during his infamous world tour of 1965-66, the anger in his voice was clear to all who listened (rather than those who were booing him for “going electric”).

It is comical to consider that Sixties Dylan is so associated with the peace and love ethos of the hippies. Over an ungainly, almost lumpen piano motif, Ballad Of A Thin Man heaps surreal scorn on some self-regarding representative of the straight world baffled by the inscrutable counter-culture. Dylan’s vocal drips contempt. “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?” He sounds like the original punk.

8. Hurricane (1976)

Is there a songwriter who can weave a story as masterfully as Dylan? The story in this song, however, is shockingly true. It tells of the incorrect conviction and imprisonment of Ruben Carter, a boxer who was also known as the Hurricane. The song is the opening track on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire, which is one of my favourite Dylan albums. A movie was later made of Carter’s life, with this as the opening song.

“Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night…” Hurricane marked a thrilling late flourish from Dylan the protest singer, moved to write by the flagrant framing of champion black boxer Ruben Carter (finally exonerated in 1985). The dramatic temperature of this forensically bitter narrative (composed with Jaques Levy) is matched by wild violin flourishes from beautiful novice Scarlet Rivera, who Dylan picked up walking in the street on the way to the recording session.

7. Visions of Johanna (1966)

This song is simply mesmerising. The opening lines “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks / When you’re trying to be so quiet” are masterful. Although I like the studio version which appears on Blonde on Blonde a lot; when I heard the acoustic version that he did in concert in May 1966 in Manchester (the famous “Royal Albert Hall” concert, with the Judas heckle), I was simply blown away by the haunting power of that live version. Bear in mind that, when he performed this in May 1966, the audience didn’t know the song at all as Blonde on Blonde had not yet been released.

“Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial.” Dylan at his most expressive and elusive, slipping in and out of the cracks of his own lyrics as he holds contrasting romantic muses in the balance. “I do know what my songs are about,” he insisted to an interviewer from Playboy magazine. “Some are about four minutes, some are about five minutes, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve.

6. Like A Rolling Stone (1965)

In Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Dylan’s greatest songs, as well as their list of the greatest songs of all time, “Like A Rolling Stone” is at number 1. The Telegraph puts it at number 6, so you will have to wait and see which songs they put above it. When released in 1965, this song was the longest song ever released as a single. It was also Dylan’s biggest chart success. He finished the set of each concert in his 1965-66 world tour with it. Sometimes, the incessant booing which accompanied the second half of the show (the “electric” half) would cease during this song, as it was such a big hit in the USA and Europe.

“That snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind” is how Bruce Springsteen recalled first hearing this at 15 years old. This thunderous six-minute rock epic marks the moment when the young protest singer emerged as something popular music had never witnessed before. The vocal is as fierce and relentless as the flowing, spitting lyric, a tale of a fallen society princess adjusting to a disorientating new reality. “How does it feeeel?” Dylan demands. Many of us are still wondering about that.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The song which I have chosen to share today is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, as it is the only one which is on Dylan’s official Vevo channel. This version is from his MTV Unplugged concert, which he did in the mid-1990s. Enjoy!

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Continuing my countdown of the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am blogging about numbers 20 to 16 in their list.

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Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

From 20 to 16 The Daily Telegraph list is

  • 20 – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  • 19 – Cold Irons Bound
  • 18 – I Shall Be Released
  • 17 – Shelter From The Storm
  • 16 – Lay, Lady, Lay

20. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)

This is, in my opinion, one of the most incredible ‘true-life’ songs written by anyone, let alone by a man who was only 22 when he wrote it. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” tell the true story of the killing of a maid, Hattie Carroll, by a rich young man by the name of William Zanzinger, in the state of Maryland. The song lays out, in four incredible verses, the whole sorry story of  how this rich, privileged man killed a poor black housemaid, and got a suspended sentence!

Such powerful writing announced Dylan to the world as a major songwriting force, a young man who was capable of putting to verse the most moving and important civil and human rights issues of the day.

William Zanzinger was a wealthy tobacco farmer who drunkenly beat black maid Hattie Carroll to death in 1963, for which he received a suspended six month jail sentence and $500 fine. The young protest singer’s stark demolition of American injustice is driven by righteous anger. The unrepentant Zanzinger was unimpressed, describing Dylan in 2001 as “a no-account son of a bitch, a scum of a scum bag of the earth.”

19. Cold Irons Bound (1997)

This song is from Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out of Mind, the same album which contains “Not Dark Yet” and “Make You Feel My Love”.

A corrosive electric blues number, rattling down the tracks like a prison train, with convict Bob chained to the memory of a love gone wrong. In a gnarly voice, Dylan spits out nuggets of hard earned wisdom: “Reality has always had too many heads.”

18. I Shall Be Released (1971)

I first heard this song when I bought the album Bob Dylan’s Greates Hits, Volume II, one of the first Dylan albums that I owned. On Dylan’s version of his own song he duets with Happy Traum, an American folk singer. I like this song a lot, the lyrics are great and the duetng in the chorus with Traum adds a wonderful tone to the song.

Originally recorded by The Band in 1968, Dylan’s own version didn’t emerge until it was included on his Greatest Hits in 1971. A simple song of a prisoner yearning for liberty, it has become a universal anthem for freedom, performed by U2, Johnny Cash, The Byrds, Sting, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Paul Weller and The Who amongst, many, many more.

17. Shelter From The Storm (1975)

The last track on Blood On the Tracks, this song is simply stunning. One of the most beautiful and moving songs Dylan has written, I would put it in my own personal top 20 of favourite Dylan songs. The song’s opening verse again illustrates why Dylan is fully deserving of his Nobel Prize – “’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood / When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud / I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form / “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm””

The song is an aching lament to his estranged wife Sarah Lownes, and is the last heart-wrenching emotional outpouring from a man who has spent the whole album singing about his pain at losing his wife. If you haven’t heard this song you must, it deserves to be listened to over and over again.

“I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form…” Amid the emotional battering of Blood On The Tracks, this long, loping tale of sanctuary offers a moment of peace, even if it too is underpinned by loss and regret. Dylan has said he can’t understand how anyone can listen to his most deeply personal album because “it’s hard for me to relate to people enjoying that type of pain”.

16. Lay, Lady, Lay (1969)

Dylan croons in this catchy song, one of the best to play to anyone who wants to be converted to being a Dylan fan. No one can say that Dylan can’t sing, as he shows in this song; it’s just that often he chooses to deliver songs in a less conventional, more dramatic manner. “Lay, Lady Lay” is full of wonderful sexual innuendo, and is the first track on the second side of his country album Nashville Skyline. This is an album which has grown on me over the years, I love the version of “Girl From The North Country” which he does with Johnny Cash, I blogged about it here. “Lay, Lady Lay” is one of the other highlights on this album.

Delicately backed by a band of country session players, Dylan sings in a rich voice about the object of his desires. This little gem manages the rare trick of being both lusty and deeply romantic, a real working man’s love song. “His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean / And you are the best thing that he’s ever seen.”

Cold Irons Bound (number 19)

The song that I’m going to share in this blogpost is numer 19, “Cold Irons Bound”.

I’m beginning to hear voices and there’s no one around
Well, I’m all used up and the fields have turned brown
I went to church on Sunday and she passed by
My love for her is taking such a long time to die

I’m waist deep, waist deep in the mist
It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist
I’m twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound

The walls of pride are high and wide
Can’t see over to the other side
It’s such a sad thing to see beauty decay
It’s sadder still to feel your heart torn away

One look at you and I’m out of control
Like the universe has swallowed me whole
I’m twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound

There’s too many people, too many to recall
I thought some of ’m were friends of mine, I was wrong about ’m all
Well, the road is rocky and the hillside’s mud
Up over my head nothing but clouds of blood

I found my world, found my world in you
But your love just hasn’t proved true
I’m twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound
Twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound

Oh, the winds in Chicago have torn me to shreds
Reality has always had too many heads
Some things last longer than you think they will
There are some kind of things you can never kill

It’s you and you only I been thinking about
But you can’t see in and it’s hard lookin’ out
I’m twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound

Well the fat’s in the fire and the water’s in the tank
The whiskey’s in the jar and the money’s in the bank
I tried to love and protect you because I cared
I’m gonna remember forever the joy that we shared

Looking at you and I’m on my bended knee
You have no idea what you do to me
I’m twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound
Twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound

One of the reasons for choosing this song is because it is the only song of these five which is on Dylan’s official VEVO channel, and therefore won’t get removed. Enjoy!

Which song of these five is your favourite?

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Continuing my blogposts about the Daily Telegraph’s list of the 30 best Bob Dylan songs, here are 25 to 21 in their list. Once again, I have put the text which appeared in the Daily Telegraph in block quotes, the other stuff written about each song is by me.

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Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

  • 25 – Every Grain Of Sand
  • 24 – Just Like A Woman
  • 23 – Make You Feel My Love
  • 22 – Isis
  • 21 – Ain’t Talkin’

25. Every Grain Of Sand (1981)

For me, “Every Grain Of Sand” is far and away the best song of Dylan’s ‘Christian period’ (1979-1981). It is the last track on his 1981 album Shot Of Love, and is less bombastic and preachy than most of his Christian songs. The lyrics are sublime, the harmonica playing is majestic. It is one of my favourite Dylan songs, and I would place it higher than 25 in my personal list of the greatest Dylan songs.

The outstanding song of Dylan’s early-Eighties born again Christian phase achieves a stark, hymnal rapture. Riding on a gentle guitar arpeggio, Dylan detects the hand of God in everything, with a lyric worthy of William Blake at his most mystical.

24. Just Like A Woman (1966)

One of the most beautiful Dylan love songs, “Just Like A Woman” sets hauntingly beautiful lyrics against a wonderful waltz rhythm. If you want to convert people to Dylan, this is a good song to play them. It shows Dylan’s ability as not just a lyricist, but also as someone who can write a haunting melody too. It was recorded in March 1966, and released as a single in August of the same year. It is also the last track on the 2nd side of his seminal double album Blonde On Blonde.

Said to have been inspired by a brief encounter with tragic Andy Warhol starlet Edie Sedgwick, Dylan’s delicate waltz concocts a lyrical spider’s web equal parts cynical put down and heart-rendering desire. It even features a rare and perfect middle eight, a songwriting device Dylan once claimed he had no use for.

23. Make You Feel My Love (1997)

The song made famous by Adele, but for me Dylan’s original version is better. Don’t get me wrong, I like Adele’s version, it is wonderful. But, Dylan’s version has, for me, so much more depth and authenticity to it. Such lyrics seem to mean far more coming from an older person in their 50s than from a young lady of just 19. The lyrics to this song are beautiful, a wonderful example of why Dylan is completely worthy of a Nobel prize in literature.

An artist celebrated for his depth and complexity, Dylan also has a gift for beautiful simplicity. This ballad of loving devotion became a 21st-century karaoke favourite via Adele’s soulful 2008 cover. The corny sentiment is brought into focus by elemental imagery dovetailing perfectly with an elegant melody in a gorgeous falling cadence. It features another rare Dylan bridge.

22. Isis (1976)

“Isis” is the second track on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire. I love this album, I think if it hadn’t come out after Blood On The Tracks, it would be more highly thought of, but it lives in the shadow of that 1975 masterpiece. “Isis”, co-written with Jaques Levy, is a wonderful song full of fantastic imagery. To my mind, there aren’t any weak songs on Desire, but this song is one  of the highlights of a great album.

Co-written with theatre director Jaques Levy, Isis is a rattling narrative epic of myth and marriage, composed with the melodramatic flourish of Rudyard Kipling and delivered by Dylan over a pounding piano with grandstanding relish: “The wind it was howling and the snow was outrageous!”

21. Ain’t Talkin’ (2006)

“Aint Talkin'” appears on Dylan’s 2006 album Modern Times. It is the last track on the album, and opens with a haunting fiddle and piano. The song was recorded in April 2006, and is the  longest track on the album, at nearly 9 minutes. The opening lines grab the attention straight away – “As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden / The wounded flowers were dangling from the vines / I was passing by yon cool and crystal fountain / Someone hit me from behind.”. Where is this song going? It unfolds over the next 9 minutes, it is a beautiful song and one of my favourites on Modern Times.

During almost 9-minutes of restless yearning over a silky weave of fiddle, piano, picked guitars and percussion, the ageing bard cast himself as eternal pilgrim on an endless and bloody journey of spiritual hunger. “I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned / Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road.”

Just Like a Woman (number 24)

Of the songs from 25 to 21, today I am going to share this very interesting version of “Just Like a Woman”. Interesting in that it is the first take of the song; Dylan even tells the recording engineer the name of the song before he starts playing, and its name at this early stage is “Like a Woman”, not the title he finally gave it. For anyone familiar with the version on his seminal 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, you will notice quite a few differences in the lyrics in this first take of the song.

“Just Like a Woman” was recorded in March 1966 and released as a single in August of the same year. It is also on his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. It peaked at number 33 in the US singles charts. In the Disunited Kingdom a version was released by Manfred Mann in late July 1966 (before the US release of Dylan’s original version!) which got to number 10 in the singles charts. The lyrics that I have included below are the lyrics of the version on Blonde on Blonde, so see if you can spot where this first take differs from those lyrics.

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev’rybody knows
That Baby’s got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

Queen Mary, she’s my friend
Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can’t be blessed
Till she sees finally that she’s like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what’s worse
Is this pain in here
I can’t stay in here
Ain’t it clear that—

I just can’t fit
Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world
Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes, you do
You make love just like a woman, yes, you do
Then you ache just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl

According to his website, Dylan first performed “Just Like a Woman” in April 1966, before it had been released. In fact, if you listen to the radio programme about the Judas heckle, you will hear C.P. Lee saying that Dylan performed this song at that famous concert in Manchester in May 1966 (you can also hear it on the recording of that concert, which was released in 1997 as the CD Bob Dylan Live 1966 (subtitled the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ concert, even though it was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall).

Dylan’s most recent performance of the song was in November 2010, and he has performed it a remarkable 871 times at the time of my writing this blogpost.

Here is a video of this fabulous song. If the video will not play on your device (a message I kept getting when I tried to play it in the preview to this blogpost), then here is the link to the video. Because it is on Dylan’s official VEVO site, it should not disappear like most of his videos put on YouTube.

Enjoy!

Of the songs from 25 to 21, which is your favourite?

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