What can a humble blogger in 2012 say about this record which has been pored over and pondered by infinitely greater minds than mine for the last 49 years? Umm, I like it a lot, but its got some duff tracks on it? Game over, another ticked off, Next!
49 years, which means I assume that next year we will get a 9CD box set, including even more outtakes, a 28 page booklet including an essay by someone even more articulate than what I am, 2 exclusive discs of remixes by the likes of N-Dubz and Trent Reznor, a T-shirt and a replica acoustic guitar. I’m not in favour of such things. The pictures are always nice to have but, there’s usually a reason why ‘previously unheard outtakes’ are previously unheard – let’s face it, musicians and producers PUT THE BEST SONGS ON THE LP*, they have no reason not to – either that or they stick them on the next one (okay, okay, Bob’s excellent Bootleg CD notwithstanding). All for £220. Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the classic LP as a fixed document, I don’t want extras, I just want the classic which has endured this long in the format enjoyed by millions prior to me. When I play it I want exactly the same experience as grizzled bohemians had when they first spun this platter in 1963 (except with added indoor computing and less hassle from the man).
My parents (them again) were Dylan nuts but funnily enough we never had this LP at home – I assume a lost/stolen/bartered/lent story there. So I bought my copy in Leeds in 1992, walking along romantically through the streets with my GF, now Mrs 1537, just like the wonderful picture of Dylan and Suze Rotolo on the cover. Except Mrs 1537 loathes Dylan to this day and playing any of it remains a handy way for me to get some instant ‘me time’ in my house. Like the joys of spaghetti, onions, rice and parmesan, Bob Dylan was something I had to leave home to appreciate for myself; I met people who were really excited about this fabulous stuff which I had always just taken totally for granted at home – can I just clarify I’m talking about Dylan here, not rice (although that can be petty darn groovy too).
I’m not trying to be deliberately perverse but I really don’t rate either of the most famous tracks here, ‘Blowin in the wind’ and ‘A Hard rain’s-a-gonna fall’, whereas I just love ‘Corrina Corrina’ immoderately (trainspottery fact – the UK 7″ version is better though; sorry it doesn’t make me like myself). And when this LP hits, it hits really hard. What young man could fail to like ‘Masters of War’? when my car stereo broke the other year I found myself singing it note for note to work every morning. (Incidentally, I have a big idea below). ‘Oxford Town’ again, just perfect protest music. I’ve liked some of Dylan’s guises over the years Lovelorn Troubador, Mercurial curmudgeon, Cynical Hipster and Wiggy Amphetamine Countryphile (not to be confused with the UK TV programme presented by John Craven) and even Disco Diva Dylan but you simply can’t beat Protest Dylan. There’s a reason it is always what is most strongly associated with him, other than simple demographics and the changin’ times.
Wonderful though all the second side of the LP is, it is ‘Don’t think twice, it’s all right’ which is the real gem here, not a vastly celebrated track all-in-all but quite simply one of my Top 4 Dylan songs ever. People who wheel out the old chestnut that Dylan can’t sing should be forced to sit and listen to this on endless repeat for a week until they grasp how perfectly he emotes and phrases this song ‘I gave her my heart / but she wanted my soul / but don’t think twice it’s all right’. I hadn’t sat down and listened to this LP all the way through for ages before today and I just kept playing this track. I also love the way Freewheelin’ ends with the gonzo ‘Honey, just allow me one more chance’ and the playful ‘I shall be free’. The light and shade here is masterful and a bit scary when you think its all from a man of 21; there are lifetimes in here, particularly when you consider ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ and its fond, weary tale of misplaced friendships.
I would also add that I am just a drooling sucker for LP’s with liner notes on the back cover. If I were ever to make an LP, an increasingly distant prospect, I would make sure it had liner notes on, proper descriptive ones like Nat Hentoff’s ones here, rather than smart-ass ironic gibberish.
I really enjoyed listening to this one again.
BIG IDEA – Some songs are just so perfectly done and meaningful to so many it should be a capital crime to cover them, e.g ‘Masters of war’ – look nervous Mark Arm ! An appeal may be lodged before a committee of excitingly hip blog-writing members of the intelligentsia, who’s opinion will be final. BIG IDEA out.