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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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Rolling Stone Magazine are very fond of lists, and so am I! So, one of their latest lists is The 100 best songwriters of all time, but when they say “all time”, they don’t mean going back to Schubert or Bach, they mean from the 20th Century onwards. Probably the earliest songwriter featured in this list is the blues singer Robert Johnson, but apart from that most are post rock ‘n’ roll revolution, so from the 1950s onwards. Here is the list from 100 to 31.

 

100 to 91

    100 – Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson
    99 – Tom T. Hall
    98 – Otis Blackwell
    97 – Taylor Swift
    96 – Timbaland and Missy Elliott
    95 – The Bee Gees
    94 – John Prine
    93 – Billie Joe Armstrong
    92 – Paul Westerberg
    91 – Eminem


90 to 81

    90 – Babyface
    89 – Felice and Boudleaux Bryant
    88 – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill
    87 – Kris Kristofferson
    86 – Sam Cooke
    85 – R.E.M.
    84 – Kanye West
    83 – Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
    82 – Marvin Gaye
    81 – Björk


80 to 71

    80 – R. Kelly
    79 – Lucinda Williams
    78 – Curtis Mayfield
    77 – Allen Toussaint
    76 – Loretta Lynn
    75 – Isaac Hayes and David Porter
    74 – Patti Smith
    73 – Radiohead
    72 – Fats Domino and Dave Barthomolew
    71 – Walter Becker and Donald Fagen


70 to 61

    70 – Dan Penn
    69 – James Taylor
    68 – Jay Z
    67 – Morrissey and Marr
    66 – Kenny Gamble and Leon A. Huff
    65 – George Harrison
    64 – Bert Berns
    63 – Chrissie Hynde
    62 – Harry Nilsson
    61 – Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman


60 to 51

    60 – Willie Nelson
    59 – Tom Petty
    58 – George Clinton
    57 – Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
    56 – Madonna
    55 – Tom Waits
    54 – Kurt Cobain
    53 – Stevie Nicks
    52 – The Notorious B.I.G.
    51 – Willie Dixon


50 to 41

    50 – Billy Joel
    49 – Don Henley and Glenn Frey
    48 – Elton John and Bernie Taupin
    47 – Neil Diamond
    46 – Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
    45 – Robbie Robertson
    44 – Jimmy Webb
    43 – Johnny Cash
    42 – Sly Stone
    41 – Max Martin


40 to 31

    40 – John Fogerty
    39 – David Bowie
    38 – Al Green
    37 – Jackson Browne
    36 – Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter
    35 – Bono and The Edge
    34 – Michael Jackson
    33 – Merle Haggard
    32 – Burt Bacharach and Hal David
    31 – Dolly Parton


Here is the top 30 – I will blog about each of these in a countdown from 30 down to 1, over the coming 30-odd weeks. It comes as no surprise to me that Bob Dylan is at number 1, and he would be my number 1 too. Along with Lennon and McCartney, Dylan’s songs revised the way that “popular music” was done. Whereas The Beatles pushed the boundaries in terms of melodies and song structure, Dylan showed that ‘pop music’ can be poetry set to contemporary music.

Do you think Lennon and McCartney should be listed separately, or together? Or as three entries, “Lennon and McCartney” (Beatles era songs), Lennon and McCartney? Should McCartney be above Lennon? Chuck Berry above Paul Simon? Brian Wilson not in the top 10? And, why on earth is Smokey Robinson even doing in the top 10???

Do you agree with any of this list?

 

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