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Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone Magazine’

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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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”. This song is the last track on the band’s seminal album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is consistently rated the best album of all time by many different experts and lists. See, for example, my own blogpost about Rolling Stone’s greatest albums of all time, here.

It may come as a surprise to many of you that this is the song Rolling Stone Magazine have chosen to be the greatest Beatles song of them all. In some ways it surprises me. Although I like this song a lot (I would put it in my top 20 Beatles songs), there are others which I would put above it based on the assumed criteria which Rolling Stone Magazine have used to rate Beatles songs, which seem to me to be

  1. impact
  2. inventiveness and/or originality and
  3. just a great song

Based on these assumed three criteria, I would say that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is clearly the song which had the biggest impact on the music world and on The Beatles, because it was their break-through song in the United States. No other song by The Beatles had such a profound effect on the course of popular music, or on the band’s own destiny.

In terms of inventiveness, I would say that, for example, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more inventive songs than “A Day in the Life”. Yes, “A Day in the Life” is an inventive song, but there isn’t really anything in it that The Beatles had not already done in terms of studio techniques.

It is, definitely, a great song. No arguing with that, in my opinion. And it is one, if not the, last example of a collaboration between Lennon and McCartney. In fact, it is two unfinished songs stitched together. Lennon had composed a song based on some newspaper stories, real-life events and his recent experience of acting in the movie “How I Won the War”, but it didn’t have a middle-eight or chorus. McCartney had started on a very different type of song, a whimsical ditty based on his memories of going to school on the top deck of the bus. The band decided to put the two very different songs together, to create a masterpiece.

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”

Here are the lyrics of “A Day in the Life”. There has been much speculation as to who the man was who blew his mind out in a car. Most experts seem to agree that it was socialite Tara Browne, who died at the tender age of 21 when he drove his Lotus Élan into the back of a parked van. The “4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire” comes from a newspaper story which Lennon read about potholes in the roads in Lancashire. The line “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” is just pure genius.

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

He blew his mind out in a car;
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords

I saw a film today, oh boy;
The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book

I’d love to turn you on

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late

Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

Ah I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

I’d love to turn you on

Added to the lyrics which Lennon wrote is the beautifully haunting sound of his voice. With a little bit of echo, it floats in space. No one has a voice like John Lennon, it has a magical quality to it which is there in spades in this song. An ethereal, haunting quality to it. With lyrics like “I’d love to turn you on” and “…had a smoke….and went into a dream”, the song was banned from many radio stations for supposed references to drugs and getting high. Both Lennon and McCartney have denied that their lyrics had anything to do with drugs, and not long after this song they became fairly open about their drug taking, so had no reason to lie.

Thankfully, this hauntingly beautiful song is available on The Beatles’ official Vevo channel, so here is a link to it which will presumably not be removed. Enjoy!!

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At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. People reading this may be wondering why this song is so high in Rolling Stone’s list. The reason is simple, this was the song which saw The Beatles break through in the United States. They went from being unknown there to being the biggest band the country had ever seen in terms of their popularity. Their success in the USA is, more than anything else, what has ensured that they are the biggest selling musical act in history. Ever.

Thus, in terms of impact, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is one of the most important songs that The Beatles ever recorded. Who knows whether they would have been as massive as they became if it were not for this song, we will never know. But, this song catapulted them to superstardom in the USA, and they became the first British band to ever crack the US market.

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At number 2 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

As the text above (taken from Rolling Stone Magazine) says, this song “changed everything”. Previous to this song, The Beatles had singles released in the US, but none had achieved any chart success. Then, in late 1963, they signed to Capitol Records. Maybe due to this switch of record label, maybe the song itself with its upbeat message, maybe the death of John F. Kennedy, maybe some luck, maybe a combination of all or some of these things, but “I Want to Hold Your Hand” captured the youth of America in a way that no song had done since Elvis’ early days.

Based on the chart success of this song, The Beatles arrived in the United States in early February 1964 and appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show to the largest audience that programme has ever seen. As they say, the rest is history…..

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Oh please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand
You let me hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy
Inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Yeah, you’ve got that something
I think you’ll understand
When I feel that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Unfortunately, I cannot find any Beatles versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on YouTube. If you do not know this song, you can listen to it via one of your favourite music streaming services.

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At number 3 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Strawberry Fields Forever”. This John Lennon song was recorded in late 1966, and released as a double-A sided single along with Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane” in February 1967. Remarkably, “Strawberry Fields Forever” failed to get to number 1 in the Disunited Kingdom, kept from the top slot by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”. In my mind, this is one  of the best (worst?) examples  of a timeless song, a song which must be one of the best songs ever written, being kept from the top spot by a forgettable song which very few people would rate in their top 10,000 (rant over!)

“Strawberry Fields Forever” is one of my favourite Beatles songs, bar none; it is simply magnificent. In fact, words fail me to even begin to express how wonderful this song is. It is pure Lennon genius, one of the reasons he is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music.

To say that this song is innovative would be an understatement. Apart from all the backwards tapes, speeded up horn sections, and other amazing psychedelic stuff, George Martin, The Beatles’ producer, had to splice together two versions sung at different tempos. This necessitated his speeding up one section and slowing the other down, to get them to match. Easily done today with computers, but it required hours (days)of work by Martin in the days of 4-track tape. It nearly drove him to despair; Lennon just assumed it would be easy for him. Notice, in the text in the screen capture (from Rolling Stone Magazine), that the song took some 8 days to record! This was unprecedented at the time.

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At number 3 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Strawberry Fields Forever”

“Strawberry Fields” is about a place behind Lennon’s childhood home, where he would go and play, Strawberry Field (no “s”). If you go on The Beatles tour of Liverpool, you can stop outside the gates to this place and see where he would disappear to dream and play, either on his own or with friends. It was his happy place, his place to escape, his Shangri-La. “Living is easy with eyes closed / Misunderstanding all you see / It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out / It doesn’t matter much to me.”

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know I mean a “Yes” but it’s all wrong
That is I think I disagree

Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever

Cranberry sauce

Here is the official Beatles’ video of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. On the plus side, as this is on their official YouTube channel, the link is not going to disappear. But, unfortunately it is only part of the song. The video gives a prelude of some of the psychedelic video techniques they would use in their movie Magical Mystery Tour, which came out in December of the same year. If you want to listen to the full song, you can listen to it on e.g. Spotify by following this link.

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At number 4 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Yesterday”. This Paul McCartney ballad, recorded in 1965, has gone on to become the most recorded song in history, with thousands of versions in existence. “Yesterday” was never released as a single in the Disunited Kingdom during the time that The Beatles were together (it was later released in the mid-1970s). It features on their album Help as the penultimate track on the second side (in the DUK release of the album). In the USA, “Yesterday” was released as a single in September 1965 and got to number 1 in the US singles charts.

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At number 4 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Yesterday”

The story of the composition of “Yesterday” is, by now, well documented. Apparently McCartney woke up one morning with this tune in his head, and when he played it to the other band members he felt sure that they would recognise it, feeling that it was not an original tune but rather a tune which was in his head from hearing it somewhere. It turned out that it was an original tune, which had somehow come to him during his sleep.

For quite a while, McCartney used the words “scrambled eggs” to stand in for the lyrics that he would eventually write, as he doodled, developed and played around with the song. Some of this was during the period that The Beatles were filming Help!, with Dick Lester directing the movie. Apparently, at one point Lester got so annoyed at hearing McCartney doodling on the piano at the back of the sound stage and humming the words “scrambled eggs” that he said to him “If you play that song any bloody longer I’ll have the piano taken off stage. Either finish it or give it up!”

When “Yesterday” was recorded, none of the other Beatles was present in the recording studio, just McCartney and a string quartet. When The Beatles played “Yesterday” in concerts, the other band members would usually leave the stage and leave McCartney to perform it on his own on his acoustic guitar. It was the closest thing to a solo McCartney song that The Beatles ever did.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm

There has been considerable discussion as to whether McCartney is referring to his mother, who died when he was 14, in the line “Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say”, even McCartney himself has said that it may have unconsciously been about her. The song is sufficiently vague that it has universal appeal; there is not one of us who does not long, at some point, to go back to a simpler time for some reason or another.

Here is  video of this most recorded song. I have no idea how long this link will stay active, so if it stops working my apologies. Enjoy!

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At number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “In My Life”. This 1965 John Lennon composed song is one of my favourite Beatles songs of any period. It is the 4th track on the second side of their 1965 album Rubber Soul. It reflects a departure for Lennon, in that the song is more personal and introspective in an obvious and direct way than his previous songs. For me the song is simply perfect, Lennon at his best. In addition to being number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs, “In My Life” is also ranked by them at number 23 in the 500 greatest songs (by anyone) of all time.

“In My Life” was recorded in October 1965 and was never released as a single, so came out with the release of Rubber Soul in December 1965. As I have commented before (but in case there are new readers of this blog), The Beatles rarely released album tracks as singles, and they tended to not include their already released on their albums. None of the tracks on Rubber Soul was released as a single in the Disunited Kingdom, although some were in other countries.

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At number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “In My Life”

One of the beautiful features of “In My Life” is, for me, the exquisite ‘harpsichord’ sounding solo. In fact, it is a piano solo, sped up. George Martin, The Beatles’ producer, wrote a piece  of music for this song with Bach influences, but found that he could not get it to match the tempo of the song. So, he played it on a piano, then sped it up to match the song’s tempo, the resulting sped-up piano sounding more like a harpsichord. It adds to the majestic feel of this wonderful song.

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

In my life I love you more

Here is a video of this beautiful song. Apologies if the link stops working, Beatles songs on YouTube are often removed for copyright reasons, but as of my writing this the link works.

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Tonight I am going to see Paul Simon play at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. I am very excited to see him perform live, he is one of my favourite songwriters and it’ll be the first time that I’ll have seen him in the flesh. I have watched the 1981 concert that he did in New York’s Central Park with Art Garfunkel countless times on DVD, and also his “Graceland – The African Concert”, a DVD of the 1987 concert he performed in Zimbabwe (the closest he could get to performing in South Africa in the days of apartheid).

I have blogged about Paul Simon several times, including here in Rolling Stone Magazine’s  list of the 100 greatest songwriters (Rolling Stone place him at number 8, I would place him higher in my own list).

Paul Simon is playing in Cardiff tonight (Friday 4 November) at the Motorpoint Arena.

In several interviews Paul Simon has said that he considers “Graceland” to be the best song that he has ever written, the title track to his seminal 1986 album of South African music. I have blogged about that album here, but I am surprised to see that I have never blogged about the song itself. So, here it is. Simon has commented on his process for writing this song; that the word “Graceland” was just a placeholder as he composed the words to fit the melody that he had recorded in South Africa.

He felt sure that he would replace the word as the song came together. But, he found that the word would not go away. He decided to take his first ever trip to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, to discover what the word may mean and how it could be relevant in the song. In making that trip, he got the opening lines for the song. He also realised that the word could mean “a state of grace”. Notice that in the last verse he drops the reference “Memphis Tennessee”, the “Graceland” that he is referring to at the end of the song is a more general, universal one than Elvis’ home.

The Mississippi Delta
Was shining like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis,Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never notice
The way she brushed her hair from
Her forehead and she said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, in Graceland, in Graceland
In Graceland,
I’m going to Graceland

And here is a video of this exquisite song. It is one of my favourite Paul Simon songs. Enjoy!

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