Friday, July 17, 2009

Ill let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours

21 Bob Dylan, ‘I Shall Be Free'; 22 Jimi Hendrix, ‘All Along The Watchtower’

Bob Dylan is a mountain that must be climbed for anyone wanting to have a serious record collection. Blood On The Tracks was my introduction. Thank the lord for that. It could have been Knocked Out Loaded and I would have stopped right there. Or it could just as easily have been Self Portrait, or Dylan, or New Morning, or Street Legal, or Shot Of Love, or Down In The Groove, or Nashville Skyline, or…there are some clunkers in the oeuvre aren’t there. Luckily though, it was one of the great peaks that launched me off on a trip through his back pages.

The voice, of course, is what delays a lot of young people from getting started on Dylan’s work. After a while (okay – years) eventually the realisation creeps on you that the voice is right for the songs and the delivery becomes a charm unto itself. Again, luckily, I heard songs like Talking World War III Blues and I Shall Be Free soon after Blood On The Tracks and the playful humour, wit, word play and intelligence won me over.

Like Nick Hornby though, I’m a long way from being a devotee. Dylan, you may have noticed, is missing from that completist list a few posts ago. I think because, on the way to getting hooked, luckily number 3, I bought Self Portrait and quickly realised I needed to cherry pick to avoid considerable future heartache.

I do have the biggies though – Bob Dylan, Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Another Side of Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, Highway 61 Revisited, and Bringing It All Back Home are all present and correct. My favourite Dylan period, 1973 to 1976, is well represented by Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, Planet Waves, Blood On The Tracks, Desire, and Hard Rain. I’m interested enough to have also bought The Bootleg Series Vol 4 (the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert) and Vol 5 (the Rolling Thunder Revue from 1975). I’m also partial to the Dylan & The Dead live album too, even though it’s constantly reviled by Dylan-ogists. Those same Dylan devotees will be horrified to learn that I also own nothing after Infidels in 1983. His latest stuff just doesn’t move me.

Dylan songs often sound best when covered by others. I almost don’t care who – Nancy Sinatra or The Hollies or The Byrds or Jimi Hendrix or even Hugh Cornwell (yes the Stranglers man does a passable version of Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again).

Jimi clearly loved Dylan and enthusiastically launched himself at Like A Rolling Stone as soon as he could. He obviously took more time to work out his response to All Along The Watchtower because it becomes a whirling cyclone of a song in Jimi’s hands and is so much better than Dylan’s much more tame original. In many ways it points to Dylan’s problem – dashing off versions of his songs without fully exploring their possibilities. No, that’s unfair – he could have spent twenty years experimenting with Watchtower and NEVER come up with Hendrix’s electric carnival. The combination of Dylan’s words and Hendrix’s musical maelstrom bring real menace to the lines. “Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl, Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl”. It’s one of those rare moments of genius when two rock gods stand on each other’s shoulders and reach another plane altogether.

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