Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bob Dylan’s Top-Five Songs Beginning with "H"

1. “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965). Even if Dylan had never recorded Slow Train Coming, Saved, or Shot of Love, he’d still be the king of Bible blues on the basis of the first verse of this rip-roaring song alone. When it came out, general biblical knowledge was still fairly common, so as many people probably followed the conversation between Abraham and God about sacrificing Isaac as followed the references to broken phones, the Welfare Department, and World War III. Nowadays, you have to wonder. Kids cottoning to Dylan for the first time might think that God is talking to Abraham Lincoln--you know, the guy who said, “Half of the people can be part right all of the time / Some of the people can be all right part of the time / But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time.”

2. “Highlands” (1997). This song is as close to taking a long, leisurely walk with Dylan as most of us are likely to get--a long, leisurely walk, that is, with a stopover at a diner for some scrambled eggs, which is where things would really get interesting. There you’d be, skimming the menu, casually explaining to Dylan how to tell a real blonde from a fake, when a waitress with long, white legs would walk up and significantly affect the room temperature. After she and Dylan had finished flirting each other up, you’d say to Bob, “You like Erica Jong too? Wow! I thought I was the only one. What’s your favorite book of hers? Fear of Flying? Sappho’s Leap? Fear of Fifty? I mean, I know it’s a hard call to make but--” Then you’d notice that Dylan was just staring at you. Awkward silence would follow. Finally, he’d say, “I was only joking.” You’d try to rebound by saying that maybe he should record “I Was Only Joking” as a thank-you to Rod Stewart for all of the Dylan songs he had recorded over the years, but it would be too late.

3. “Huck’s Tune” (2007). A gentle, sad waltz with Donnie Herron’s steel guitar shedding tears that the world-weary singer has grown even world-wearier trying to hide. You think he’s blue? You would be too if you had to leave a woman whose lips drip honey and who’s fine as wine. Of the forty-two lines, all but the one ending in “sunshine tan” (is there a “moonshine tan”?) evince the precise expression that, if you’re lucky, you can rise to when you want to have to say something only once--and would rather not say it at all.

4. “Heart of Mine” (1981). The following review ran in either Melody Maker or the New Musical Express in September 1981: “BOB DYLAN: ‘Heart Of Mine’ (CBS). What is this trash! The stuff you can get away with when you’re a Name. This sounds like an out-take from ‘Self Portrait’. As expected Bob delivers the tune in his famous ‘I can’t sing but who cares’ nasal drone while the band rambles along in a sort of folky-thingy type vein. ‘Ragged’ would be complimentary--backwards is nearer the mark. Still, it’s all so real, so pure, so agonisingly dull. PS: I didn’t mean it God--don’t strike me down when they’re still repeating ‘Alias Smith And Jones’. The Zim has written some GREAT songs--this ain’t one of ’em.” Pretty funny, you have to admit, and somehow both one hundred percent right and one hundred percent wrong at the same time.

5. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” (2001). In his book Deep Blues, Robert Palmer has this to say about Charley Patton’s original “High Water Everywhere”: “[I]n the recorded version of 'High Water Everywhere,' … Patton found public events meaningful only insofar as they impinged on his private world--his perceptions, his feelings.” (Like post-protest Dylan, one might add.) “This,” Palmer continues, “is one of the fundamental distinctions between blues and the black music that came before it. Those earlier songs … deal in archetypes. The singer-narrator remains relatively cool and uninvolved. In blues, there is no narration as such, and while one finds signs and symbols and proverbial homilies aplenty, there is nothing as abstract as an archetype.” (Signs and symbols in Dylan’s High Water”: coffins afloat in the flood, a lover’s panties thrown onto the dashboard, Charles Darwin stranded on a highway. Homilies: “I’m preachin’ the Word of God,” “Keeping away from the women / givin’ ’em lots of room,” “It’s bad out there”) “The singer is so involved that in many cases his involvement becomes both the subject and the substance of the work. Such unflinching subjectivity may seem callous and self-involved [Callous and self-involved? Dylan?], but in the context of its time and place it was positively heroic. Only a man who understands his worth and believes in his freedom sings as if nothing else matters.” (Nobody sings Dylan as if nothing else matters like Dylan.)

(Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "G":


  1. No Hurricane???
    cheers from Hamburg and thank you for your top 5 lists

  2. Hi, Bert. As you may know, the histotical accuracy of "Hurricane" (like the historical accuracy of most of Dylan's real-life-victim songs) is suspect at best. And when Winston Watson (dylan's '90s drummer) asked Dylan whether he could start playing it live again, Dylan said, "Well, there's really no need to do that song now" (or something to that effect). Cheers from someplace not nearly as interesting as Hamburg.

  3. A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall had to be included under A or H. It may actually be his greatest song.

    Really enjoying this Arsenio, it's much more fun than most Bob commentary. You're making it easy on Visions of Johanna though - and Under That Apple Suckling Tree. The I edition might give you the toughest choices. Well I'll ride a mailtrain...

  4. great choices.

    Its interesting to me that Bob's father was named Abe-
    I've often wondered if there is any truth to the "red wing" rumor- that his father sent him there.

    just a thought.

  5. I am enjoying the hell out of this, too. I have to agree with John on "Hard Rain," though. It's easily in his five best songs total, certainly in any letter.
    But the fun of reading this is seeing a fellow fan's point of view.