Monday, January 5, 2015

9. Blonde on Blonde (1966) Bob Dylan

1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2. Pledging My Time
3. Visions of Johanna
4. One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)
5. I Want You
6. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
7. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
8. Just Like a Woman
9. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
10. Temporary Like Achilles
11. Absolutely Sweet Marie
12. 4th Time Around
13. Obviously 5 Believers
14. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

If you twisted my arm, and I mean really twisted my arm to the extent that you locked my wrist in a vice above my head so I was hanging down from the hand and then grabbed my legs and ran around and around in circles until my arm was just a spiralled length of flesh, then I'd be prepared to admit that Blonde on Blonde is my favourite Bob Dylan album of all time. But it would be a more painful admission than the damage you'd just done to one of my extremities.

If you read about Dylan's life in the early sixties, people talk about a guy who wasn't just a songwriter, he was obsessed with songwriting. He was barely ever away from his typewriter and spent his time scribbling notes and generally trying to get the mass of thoughts and ideas in his head into a form he could play for a microphone, an audience or anyone who was passing.

This flurry of activity produced the most prolific run of quality material of any songwriter in history. After including two original compositions on his 1962 debut he released an album of (almost all) original material in 1963, two more in 1964, two more in 1965 and then a double album in 1966. It's no exaggeration to say that in addition to this incredible output he also produced at least a double album's worth of outtakes all of which are worth including on an actual album. We marvel at the amazing output of the Beatles in their short career, and well we should, but the Beatles had three talented songwriters, a lot of covers to bolster their catalogue and put pretty much everything worth hearing onto their albums (ever heard What's the New Mary Jane? Believe me it's proof that their outtakes should have stayed well and truly out).

Coming at the end of such an incredible run of prolific and fruitful songwriting, Blonde on Blonde should be a bit of a dud all things considered. It should have been a scraping of the bottom of a barrel that was already covered in scratch marks. But instead there's an incredible freshness about BOB which makes it sound more like a debut than his seventh album in just over three years.

Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 may not mean much to you as a title and you might swear it's not a song you'd ever heard before but if I told you it was the one that went "Everybody must get stoned" a lot you'd nod and say "Oh yeah that one." Everybody knows it but only Dylan fans seem to know the title which is a pity because it's a great name for a song. Rainy Day Women is a sensational song and the perfect opening to Blonde and Blonde, it's chaotic, all over the place and impenetrably mysterious, exactly like the album it opens.

There are a lot of other highlights on BOB many of which aren't as well known as Rainy Day Women, which at 4 and a half minutes is a nice radio friendly length. Visions of Johanna runs for seven minutes and 33 seconds which means it's far too long for most stations and therefore only usually heard by people who are lucky enough to own a copy of this album. Visions is a beautiful song and features some of Bob's best "stream of consciousness lyrics" which tumble over one another and produce a series of arresting visual images and ideas. It's not just Bob fans who love Visions, those of us who consider ourselves Grateful Dead fans have enjoyed our favourite band performing versions of Johanna for years with Garcia's voice often making the collection of images sound exhausting and tiring. Jerry sings like he's seen all the things Dylan is describing and it's really taken a toll.

Later on in the album Dylan, (and Jerry as well), get Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again and stays there for 7 minutes and by the end of the album he's visiting a Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for over 11 minutes. Johanna, Mobile and Lowlands are all extended songs without a chorus-and-verse structure which rely on a series of images and ideas strung together without an over riding direction or purpose. If anyone else tried them they'd be almost unbearable to listen to but Dylan makes them incredibly captivating and a pleasure to spend time with. He also makes them distinctly different in their own right. All three sound like their own songs and not just different versions of the same writing style. There's no mistaking Visions for Lowlands, they're totally different songs.

Neither of these three magnificent tracks get on the radio much and don't get covered very often (except by jam bands whose audiences consider an 11 minute track to be only medium length at best) but there are other hits on BOB that do. Leopard Skin Pill Box hat is another fantastic piece of Dylan vitriol which you could believe was written about the same woman who inspired Like a Rollin Stone, albeit at a different point in her life journey. It's a vicious verbal assault and I hope whoever he wrote it for remains in total ignorance of the fact and none of her friends have any idea.

Much more friendly is the lovely I want You which is about how Dylan wants someone, he wants them so badly. But at this stage in his life Dylan wasn't writing simple love songs. The chorus might tell us that he wants you (so badly) but the verses include lines like... "Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit, He spoke to me, I took his flute, No, I wasn’t very cute to him, was I?" ...which aren't your typical lovesong lyrics.

Just Like a Woman is one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Dylan has ever written and the fact that he's paired it with one of his most sardonic collections of lyrics make it an extremely arresting song and quite possibly the track that most listeners have going through their head after the album has stopped and they've moved on, it has a habit of finding its way into your head.

While they might not be as famous, there are other radio friendly hits on BOB which deserve to be heard more: Absolutely Sweet Marie, Most likely you'll go your way I'll go mine and One of us must know (Sooner or Later) have all been covered well by other artists and turned into minor hits but they're all great in their original form.

There is only one other double album I can think of (and we'll come to it soon) which is as consistent as Blonde on Blonde. The lesser, filler tracks are all fantastic and there isn't a weak spot on the album. Bob was such an incredible songwriter at the time that he didn't need to resort to experiments, covers or rehashed outtakes to fill the album's running length. He could record a double album of incredible quality with some astonishing lyrics as little as 6 months after his last effort despite being on the road with a heavy schedule. Even if you hate every song on Blonde on Blonde you have to admit, it's an incredible achievement.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is a great album but who has the time to sit through the 75 minutes of the album and listen to it straight through without skipping??"

-Me. That's who. I do. I know I'm not alone.

So is this your favourite Dylan or does another take the title? Let me know below

1 comment:

  1. Wow , just wow. Such quality output in such a short time. Surely only Mozart had such a quality compacted output. Only thing that separates them is the small fact of 200 years.