Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "E"

1. “Every Grain of Sand” (1981). Unquestionably the fullest verbal flowering of Dylan’s Vineyard Fellowship Bible studies, the lyrics would be perfect if not for the flawed subject-verb agreement in the second line and the penultimate line of the sixth verse, which Dylan himself has been known to tamper with onstage. But I’ve always thought the song as a whole needed something a little more than four chords and the truth--not Steve Douglas’s soothingly ebbing sax, which it already has, but a maybe a faster or at least a more syncopated rhythm, anything to keep Dylan’s meditations from seeming so meditative. Still, it’s always helpful under any circumstances to be reminded that if you gaze into temptation’s angry flame, it gazes also into you.

2. “Everything Is Broken” (1989). Thank heaven for this song and its fellow upbeat rocker “Political World,” without which Oh Mercy’s meditations would’ve seemed too meditative as well. And it made for a rousing set-opener for a time in the early nineties, especially when both Ian Wallace and Winston Watson thwacking away. I’m partial to the line about “broken pipes” just now, as I’m still paying on a plumber bill. But usually I’m partial to the couplet that goes “Every time you leave and go off someplace, / Things fall to pieces in my face,” which swerves the song from the socio-political to the privately emotional almost as deftly as Joni Mitchell’s last-verse admission in “Big Yellow Taxi” that it’s really being left by her man and not DDT or paved parking lots that make her blue.

3. “Emotionally Yours” (1985). When Empire Burlesque was released, some people found this headlong plunge into learn-to-slow-dance romance too much to take. And in some ways it is: the synthesized horns, the Arthur Baker-shellacked production, the piling on of sweetheart clichés, the shortness of breath that forces Dylan to break his last “emotionally” into two words. But coming from a man who’d once written, “Love is all there is / It makes the world go ’round” and who’d once said, “The world is full of non-supporters and backbiters … [b]ut it’s also full of people who love you,” this song or at least one like it shouldn’t have been all that surprising (especially since one like it, “I‘ll Remember You,” occurred overdisc). Not too much to take no matter how you slice it: Mike Campbell’s movingly lovely guitar solo--and the radically transformed version that the O’Jays took to the R&B top ten the year during the last year of Dylan and Carolyn Dennis’s marriage.

4. “Eternal Circle” (1963). Slight but funny, and a rare instance of Dylan practicing the art of self-mockery for self-mockery’s sake. If the performer-smitten girl in the coffee-house crowd couldn’t wait through seven minutes of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” or the other “long” songs Dylan was performing at the time before bolting for greener pastures, imagine how nuts “Highlands” would’ve made her thirty-four years later.

5. “Enough Is Enough” (1984). If Dylan had written and performed more than five songs starting with E, this song would not be among the top five. But he didn’t, so it is. Not that it’s bad--in fact, it sounds a lot like the version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” that Dylan performed with members of the Cruzados on the David Letterman show a few months before debuting this song on the Real Live tour, so much so that for years I thought "Enough Is Enough" was “just” some old blues standard. And given Dylan’s history of love and theft, maybe it is.

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

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