Friday, February 16, 2007

Five Best...Bob Dylan Albums (#3)

3. Blood on the Tracks

So much has been written about this album (possibly more so than the top two albums on my list) that it seems somewhat demeaning to attempt dig deeper into Dylan's psyche and personal life during 1974 and 1975, when Blood was being recorded and eventually released. So, instead of discussing Sara and Ellen Bernstein, it seems more appropriate to focus on the actual music:

"Tangled Up in Blue" is one of Dylan's finest songs and also one of his better known (this could be for another list but I think the songs most people recognize as by Dylan are "Like a Rolling Stone," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," "Lay Lady Lay," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'"). For the casual listener, it's catchy. But for the Dylan fanatic, it's a new style of songwriting for him (Dylan described it as having "no sense of time") and he also changes the lyrics nearly every time its performed. For a remarkable performance of it, check out the otherwise unremarkable Real Live, in which Dylan sings the song in third person. On a personal note, one of my favorite lyrics comes from this song: “We always did feel the same way/ We just same it from a different point of view/ Tangled up in blue.”

“Simple Twist of Fate” is one of Dylan’s more poetic tracks. Take the opening verse:

“They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark,
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones.
'Twas then he felt alone and wished that he'd gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate.”

That verse alone is as visual and beautiful as anything Dylan has ever written. And also a situation where most people can agree that they’ve been in the middle of.

It’s no secret that Dylan isn’t exactly the greatest decision maker when it comes to choosing the final tracks on the finished record (that’s a topic for another day). For instance, “Tangled Up in Blue,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “Idiot Wind,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” all went through drastic changes because Dylan thought the originals recorded in New York to be too personal. There’s a line he told Mary Travers on her radio show that “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying the type of pain, you know?" Feeling that way, he re-recorded the aforementioned tracks in Minnesota and, at least in this writer’s opinion, made “Tangled Up in Blue” better, “You’re a Big Girl Now” worse, too close to call on “Idiot Wind,” made “Lily” better and, outside of one line (“If you see her, kiss her for the kid/ Who always has respected her for doing what she did”), made “If You See Her, Say Hello” better.

The emotional impact of “You’re a Big Girl Now” is almost completely lost on the official version because on the original, Dylan sounds like he’s in complete and total emotional pain. But this pain is nothing compared to his condition on “Idiot Wind.” My father and I have spent much time discussing the merits of both studio versions of “Idiot Wind” and neither of us have come to any conclusions. The NY version is one that leaves you feeling for Dylan and really hating the “idiot” woman, especially with lines like, “I noticed at the ceremony, you left all your bags behind/ The driver came in after you left/ He gave them all to me and then he resigned.” But the Minnesota version has that killer organ and leaves a more vindictive taste in your mouth (although not nearly as much as the poison-tinged performance on Hard Rain which, along with the version of Shelter from the Storm, is the only real reason to enjoy that album.)

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is a lovely little song that, like “Make You Feel My Love” on Time Out of Mind, isn’t totally necessary but it still a welcome addition.

“Meet Me in the Morning” is the weakest song on the album and although its original form, “Call Letter Blues” which appears on The Bootleg Series: Vol. 1-3, is pretty much the same thing, I feel that “Call” just rocks a little bit harder. On an album of so much heartbreak, it’s necessary to have some fun.

Speaking of fun, here’s one of Dylan’s great underappreciated tracks: “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” Actually, it’s not only underappreciated, it’s also one of his wordiest. I remember one time while visiting a friend at her college that another student there asked me, because we were talking about Dylan, “Do you know all the lyrics to ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’?” Why yes, I do. The whole thing is so ridiculously hilarious that it would make a wonderful movie (which Dylan actually thought about doing for roughly 10 minutes) and makes for an even better song.

For reasons unexplained, I tend to group “If You See Her” and “Shelter” into essentially the same song, which isn’t a knock on either. On the contrary, after “Tangled Up in Blue,” they hold the album together. Both songs come as close to the “real” Dylan as we’re ever going to get, whatever that means. I can vividly remember listening to “Shelter from the Storm” at my previous college, SUNY Purchase, when I was feeling a little depressed and, although the lyrics didn’t match what I was feeling, the sound of the song did. Same with “If You See Her,” if not more so.

The finale of the album, “Buckets of Rain” isn’t one of my favorites but it does contain the perfect last line for this and, for that matter, any album:

“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?”

A perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

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