Monday, August 2, 2010

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

1. “From a Buick 6” (1965). The only problem with this uproarious example of praising a woman with faint damnation is that it has to compete with its betters both fore (“I Shall Be Free No. 10”) and aft (“Ugliest Girl in the World”) for uproariousness. For example, in “From a Buick 6” Dylan’s “graveyard woman” (a.k.a. “junkyard angel,” “soulful mama,” “shovel mama,” “dump-truck mama”) “keeps this four-ten all loaded with lead”; but in “I Shall Be Free No. 10” she keeps a rifle loaded with buckshot and sticks him with it when he’s nude” and “puts bubblegum in my food.” In “Buick,” she “don’t make me nervous, she don’t talk too much / She walks like Bo Diddley and she don’t need no crutch”; but in “Ugliest Girl in the World” she not only talks but also “speaks with a stutter” saying, “b-b-b-b-b-baby I l-l-love you.” And while the Ugliest Girl probably don’t “need” no crutch either, it certainly wouldn’t hurt: She has flat feet, knocking knees, and a hitch in her giddy-up. (The night I saw Bo Diddley in 1985, he didn’t walk nearly as badly as that.) “Buick” does, however, contain one of Dylan’s more prophetic moments. “I got this graveyard woman,” he sings. “You know she keeps my kid / But my soulful mama, you know she keeps me hid.” By 1986, Dylan did have a soulful mama who kept his kid; only it was Dylan who kept them hid them instead of vice versa.

2. “4th Time Around” (1966). Hilarious, really, whether you think it’s a parody or a tribute to “Norwegian Wood” or not. The way the slyly delivered double entendres belie the pseudo-Elizabethan if not the pseudo-Victorian elegance of the waltz-timed melody comprises one of the most unpredictably multi-leveled uses to which Dylan ever put his tarantula-colored-glasses’ view of the world. And, like all great comedy, the lyrics illuminate the serious as well. The second verse, for instance, conflates one of those universal scenarios in which one finds himself playing poker with fate and not knowing what his own hand is let alone his opponent’s. And Dylan’s saying “filled up my shoe” instead of “put on my shoe,” especially in light of the threat he’d make to fill up Mrs. Henry’s shoe one year later, suggests he might be filling these shoes with something other than his foot. If imagining whatever you think that something is doesn’t crack you up, you’re imagining too hard.

3. “Forever Young” (1974). When this paternally affectionate song first came out, you could’ve imprinted many of its lines on a Hallmark® card. Nowadays, the biblical nature of nearly every line would probably raise the hackles of the ever-growing number of irreligious people who take everything they don’t like as a personal insult. Normally, I prefer the faster versions of the Dylan songs that have more than one, but of the two “Forever Young”s on Planet Waves, I like the slow one better, the better to hear Garth Hudson’s massaging of the keys and the better to hear the level of emotion that Dylan felt for his offspring. And it really was sweet of him to sing it to Pope John Paul II in 1997.

4. “Floater (Too Much to Ask)” (2001). By tacking “(Too Much to Ask)” onto the title, Dylan achieved two goals. First, he let listeners know that the song wasn’t a cover of the Henry Mancini composition of the same name. (You never know with Bob.) Second, he focused the spotlight on the song’s last verse, at the end of which the phrase “too much to ask” occurs for the only time in the song. The too much that Dylan’s narrator is being asked to do, apparently, is “kick out” his second cousin (from his house? from his life? both?), with whom he’s “in love.” Because he’s in love with her (which, obviously, is not the same thing as simply “loving” her), he can’t bring himself to tell her to go away from his window and leave at her own chosen speed. Besides, he knows there’ll be a scene, probably with tears--maybe even from the second cousin. By putting this verse at the end and tagging it as important in the title, Dylan makes all of the other fifteen (!) verses part of the very procrastination process he admits to in the end. He tells himself that he “could be happy forever with her.” And, of course, if you have to tell yourself that, you don’t really believe it. None of which makes it any easier to let go….

5. “Farewell Angelina” (1965). Funny, Dylan also wrote songs titled “Farewell” and “Angelina,” but it was only by putting the two words together that he got something worth keeping. Well, almost worth keeping--like “Farewell” and “Angelina,” “Farewell Angelina” ended up on the cutting-room floor of the album for which it was intended. But if it would’ve sounded all wrong on Bringing It All Back Home, it would’ve sounded more than all right on Another Side of Bob Dylan, especially if it had replaced the interminable “Ballad in Plain D,” the only song of his that Dylan has publicly regretted recording.

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


  1. “keeps this four-ten all loaded with lead”
    This is not a reference to a gun. It is part of the extended metaphor revolving around the Buick, 6 cylinder auto of the title. The Buick has a large engine (410 cc) which runs on high octane, leaded gasoline. It's a hot car! It might be a mid 60s update of Johnson's Terraplane Blues.

  2. Thanks, Ronnie. As someone who often hunts deer with his vehicles, I sometimes get those references mixed up. Fixing it now....