Saturday, March 31, 2007

Twelve Best...Dylan Albums of the 70s (#5)

#5. Planet Waves

An album of easy going, lazy day, summertime songs. That’s what Bob Dylan and The Band recorded in 1974 with what would become Ceremonies of the Horsemen or, as it was later changed to, Planet Waves.

For me, the album succeeds around its love songs, “Tough Mama,” “Hazel,” “Something There is About You,” “Forever Young,” “You Angel You,” “Never Say Goodbye” and “Wedding Song.”

The first of those, “Tough Mama,” is the least lovely of the love songs and contains the unfortunate lyric, “Today, on the countryside/It was a-hotter than a crotch.” Mentioning his junk aside, Dylan and The Band sound more in-sync with another than they do on the first two songs of the album, “On a Night Like This” and “Going, Going Gone.”

(Random Tangent: With the Mets playing the Cardinals in St. Louis on Sunday night, it’s a great feeling that baseball is almost back. And, Let’s Go Mets!)

A song performed at The Last Waltz, “Hazel,” is very much in the same theme of “Forever Young” but more its more directed at a woman instead of a child. It’s not the greatest love song Dylan ever recorded but the song does manage to escape its somewhat swampy beginning.

“Something There Is About You” is a mischievous, semi-biographical song that contains some of my favorite Dylan love lines: “Something there is about you/that brings back a long forgotten truth” and “My hand's on the sabre and you've picked up the baton/Somethin' there is about you that I can't quite put my finger on.” Most people have felt an attraction or even fallen in love with someone but can’t quite figure out why they love them so. Dylan does a remarkable job of bringing this conundrum into the limelight (and even gets a reference to “ol’ Duluth.) by at song’s end, he stops looking for an answer because there is no answer. When you’ve got “the soul of all things,” why bother explaining the unexplained? Also, do we know Ruth is?

First version of “Forever Young”: Good
Second version of “Forever Young”: Bad

I think enough has been written about that song for the present.

My two favorite songs on the album are “You Angel You” and “Never Say Goodbye,” and they basically mirror one another in sound and message. “Angel” is more well known (its featured on Biograph) and if I had to choose, I’d pick that one as the better song of the two. But luckily, I don’t have to. The beginning is fun and jaunty with Robbie’s guitar being backed by Garth’s organ and the opening verse matches the feel:

“You angel you
You got me under your wing.
The way you walk and the way you talk
I feel I could almost sing.”

Although song isn’t deep, it doesn’t have to be. Lines like “You angel you/you’re as fine as can be/The way you walk and the walk you talk/is the way it oughta be” speak perfectly well for themselves. Even easier and flowing is “Never Say Goodbye,” which picks up right where this song ends, but possibly takes the theme that much further. For instance:

“You're beautiful beyond words
You're beautiful to me
You can make me cry
Never say goodbye.”

It’s full of schmaltz but its rather genuine schmaltz, which escapes it from the boundaries of other songs like “The Ugliest Girl in the World” from Down in the Groove. This trend continues onto the last track, “Wedding Song.” Quite frankly, it’s exactly what it sounds like and is the only song on the album that features simply Dylan and his acoustic guitar.

Recap: Not the greatest thing either Dylan or The Band recorded, but its passionate embraces more than make up for it.

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