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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 11, 2005

A cabbage into town

Simon's mention of misheard lyrics, vis a vis Gary Glitter (see below) put me in mind of my favourite misheard lyric, which is from Bob Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" (on Blood on the Tracks): "Rosemary combed her hair and took a cabbage into town."

Bob Dylan has been in the air lately. I blame The Observer blog, for featuring a link to an "hilarious" flash animation about Robert Kilroy Silk, featuring a full rendition of "Mr Tangerine Man." Which is funny, until you realise that the spoof is as long as the original.

And it made me think about the original and want it really bad so that it hurt not to have it. Why didn't I have it? Long story.

Many months ago, I heard on the radio part of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," and because it's something I think about a lot at the moment, I noticed how clean and clear the recording was. I've previously expressed the opinion that record production has been going steadily downhill since around 1975, and I'm entirely serious about that. Sinatra's Capitol recordings from the 50s, the Beatles in the 60s, and Bob Dylan's output (up to Desire) all sound far better than anything recorded since.

You might think, how could you go wrong recording something as simple as an acoustic guitar? But I can think of any number of records with shitty-sounding acoustics, and the quality of the Dylan stuff is extraordinary; his vocals have a stunning clarity to them as well.

So it was hearing the spoof Mr Tangerine Man that made me remember that, and I was filled with a need to get something. Why didn't I have it?

Well, I did. I had it all, everything by Dylan up to and including World Gone Wrong and something else he put out in the mid-90s. The term Played To Death was invented for me, and the way I play records. I had a whole Dylan collection and I'd played it to death, and I just didn't listen anymore. And I just do not keep things that I don't use/play, so I sold the whole lot at various car boot sales. Didn't even keep Biograph, the first box set they put out, which makes me as dumb as a day-old puppy, because I just went and purchyased it all over again.

I considered the original Greatest Hits (the one that had things up to Blonde on Blonde on it), and The Essential Dylan and others, but then I remembered that Biograph has "Mr Tambourine Man" on it - and, crucially, "Up To Me," which is one of his legendary unreleased songs.

He uses a great line on the Live at Budokan set: "Here is an unrecorded song... See if you can guess which one it is."

If Played To Death was invented for me, then Perverse and Mysterious was invented for Bob. So much is known. If it's hard to get across to the non-Dylan fan why you love his music, it's perhaps easier to explain if you can point out things like "Up To Me."

A perfect recording, this song (featuring just Dylan, his guitar and harpmonica, and a bass) rings out clear and strong from the opening line:
Everything went from bad to worse, money never changed a thing...

It dates from 1974, and the Blood on the Tracks sessions. I don't know whether it's from the first, aborted sessions (see The Bootleg Series for some of those recordings), but it does sound like it belongs on Blood on the Tracks.

Unlike most artists, Dylan had not just one, but two, golden periods. His early rock trilogy from '65 and '66, plus The Basement Tapes would sit in anyone's CV and make them one of the greats; the fact that he went on to do Blood on the Tracks and Desire almost a decade later makes him incredible; for my money you can add Planet Waves and even Street Legal (badly produced as it is) to the fold. In fact, for my money you can add Slow Train Coming too, but that's probably beyond the pale for most.

Blood on the Tracks is superb, but when you hear "Up to Me," you have to ask yourself just how fucking good it would have been with that on it. Because this isn't an out-take, or an aborted attempt. It's fully realised song, with some of the best verses he ever wrote. Like this one, that I bored Andrew with yesterday:
The only decent thing I did when I worked as a postal clerk
Was to haul your picture down off the wall near the cage where I used to work
Was I a fool or not to protect your real identity?
You looked a little burned out, my friend
I thought it might be up to me

But he didn't put it on the record: he left it off, and it was included as a bonus on Biograph. Not an isolated case, either, because Biograph is full of really quite wonderful - but unreleased - tracks from all periods of his career - like "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" (on which his voice sounds incredible) and "I'll Keep it With Mine."

(I can think of a couple of reasons he might have decided not to release it. He writes in Chronicles, his memoirs, about the recording of "Series of Dreams," another excellent song he left off Oh Mercy. Basically, he gets too close to things and if they don't match his original vision, he loses interest and moves on, forgetting all about them. The other thing is that the last verse is a little bit lame; possibly a little too obviously personal, too, and the sort of thing that might grate on you. But Bob: the previous verse would have made a great last verse, so edit it out, man.)

So, anyway, that's what I've been listening to in the car. It feels weird to be enjoying it again after so many years without it, but one of life's unexpected pleasures, I suppose.


  • mo'75 to up to me. phew! what a song! percy's tune on biograph is pretty stunning too.

    By Blogger dog, at 2:24 am  

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