Greetings, Glancers! Here we are, my first ever Bob Dylan album (note – I originally wrote this at the start of 2020, only getting around to posting it now – after hearing Dylan’s most recent album). He’s made about fifty of them, right? When I was in my early twenties, I recognised Dylan as one of those untouchable sacred artists I had to listen to, but the few songs I’d heard performed by him I didn’t like. That voice, I couldn’t get past it. This frustrated me on a number of levels – songs he had written but which were performed or covered by other artists I did like, and I knew he was a clever and insightful lyricist. I’ve always viewed lyrics as potentially equally important as music within the construction of a song – I can’t enjoy a song without lyrics or with bad lyrics, just like I can enjoy a song with great lyrics but crap music. I know I’m in the minority on this, but it probably goes back to me being a big reader – someone who enjoys the use of semantics, language, fiction, poetry, and as a songwriter myself I put genuine effort into my lyrics. Not like these posts I write which are spur of the moment thoughts, I did try to make my lyrics personal, not cookie-cutter. I can’t say they were good, but I did try.
So with my background, Dylan is an artist I should have heard a lot more from by now. Whatever final push or attraction which draws people of my generation and later to him, I have lacked. Other music fans I’m friendly with came to him in their early twenties and were converted, while I nodded my head, muttered something profound, and got back to downing another shot. I knew I would come to him eventually, but it’s with a certain amount of trepidation given how I feel about his vocals and how my Bowie journey has gone so far, considering I was anticipating I would like Bowie’s more than I have. That’s enough of an intro for now.
What Do I Know About Bob Dylan: I think it’s covered in my intro.
What Do I Know About Blood On The Tracks: It’s one of about four or five Dylan albums which always appears on lists like these. Is this the one where he went Electric? I don’t know. I don’t recognise any of the ten tracks.
Tangled Up In Blue: This starts out pleasantly enough, there’s certainly a touch of folk about it but the music brings a sense of stepping out, moving on. The vocals aren’t good – it’s not just the fact that I don’t like his voice, I also don’t like the faux Blues, faux spoken approach, as well as the hackneyed ‘every word must end on a down note’ – you know, the modulation of his voice decreases with every single line. So on top of me not liking his voice or his vocal approach, he’s simply not a good singer on top of it all. But I think I simply have to acknowledge that and move on. I’m only picking up whispers of the lyrics as I try to listen and type at the same time – there’s certainly a lot of words to wade through so I’ll have to listen again or follow the words along. I quite liked the song though – it has a swift pace even if it is overlong – I know I would like it a lot more with a singer I liked, or you know, a singer who can sing.
A Simple Twist Of Fate: Opens with a gorgeous set of chords, all very promising. The vocals drop and I try my hardest to imagine someone else singing. Those sudden high, loud notes almost work perfectly, like a disjointed emotional outburst. The middle feels more chaotic, I rarely enjoy harmonica but I can tolerate it. I can dig this, but again would prefer another vocalist.
You’re A Big Girl Now: This opens beautifully again, neat and sombre piano to accompany the guitars and it fills me with emotive 80s vibes. It doesn’t sound 80s in the slightest, that’s just my feelings. It also reminds me of Wild Horses. I like his vocals here more, his howls are great when they land but there’s a few times when they don’t. This one is very good.
Idiot Wind: This has no need of an intro and we get straight to it. The organ doesn’t add much, the rest of the music feels stilted and mere background noise for the vocals. The vocals are very shouty, and they’re the most painful example so far of that downwards intonation which pisses me off. Dire Straits do this too and it annoys me, but not as much. He sounds angry at least, and the lyrics mirror the venom. His pronunciation of “idiot” quickly grates. Man, it just keeps going too. Oh God, here comes the harmonica.
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go: We start with harmonica. I think Harmonicas sound uniquely American. This one is short, vocals are bad as we already know, and it feels little more than an off the cuff ramble.
Meet Me In The Morning: Almost a more laidback, summery feeling. His vocals are better here, not so shat out of the nose, not so ‘look at me I’m a Blues guy’. Of course, it still very much follows Blues rhythms and formulae. Repetitive riffs and lyrics. Still, it’s not so bad.
Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts: Oh God, it’s almost 9 minutes long is my first thought. My second is, fuck, not more Harmonica, followed by, ‘what if it’s 9 minutes of Harmonica. It’s certainly bouncy even if the mix is pretty crap. Rhythmically it all reminds me of one of the songs I absolutely can’t stand – that Paul Simon shitmess You Can Call Me Al, man I hate that song. Well, we’re three minutes in and there has been absolutely no variance in the music so far so lets see if we can pick up some of the lyrics. Big Jim. Mexico. It’s all storytelling, not the sort of lyrical approach I usually enjoy. It’s talking about people I will never care about, fictional or otherwise. So we’re not going to even get an instrumental break? Some slight variance? I suppose that’s unique in a way. But there’s a very good reason why songs aren’t written or performed in this way – because it’s stupid. It’s very much an Eastern or Ancient approach to songwriting and storytelling – but when the story and music are about as far from interesting as your balls are from Pamela Anderson, it means the song is aural torment. Well, that was horrific.
If You See Me, Say Hello: I don’t want to say it’s like Zeppelin, but the intro does sort of remind of something like Zep’s Tangerine or That’s The Way. That’s another way of saying it’s a sweet acoustic piece, but not quite top tier. The vocals are better too – he’s mostly singing without accouterments. He does fall back on bad habits when going for the bigger notes. The melodies don’t tug at my heartstrings enough, which is a shame as the lyrics are more straightforwards and universal.
Shelter From The Storm: This opens like a thousand folk songs, which I don’t mind as I generally like some folk every now and then. For me, folk music always succeeds or fails based on the strength and purity of the vocals. You see where I’m going with this. Early folk can very easily fall into the trap of being musically bland, which is exactly what happens this one. It’s the same handful of chords over and over with no variance while Dylan attempts to sing. The YT comments on this song are amusing, the diehards jumping on anyone suggesting Dylan isn’t a good singer. I mean, if so many people are saying he isn’t a great singer…. maybe he isn’t? I don’t buy most of the defensive arguments his fans present here, most which try to subtly move away from the physical act of making sound come from your throat. I’m sure his lyrics are good, if not great, but his vocals and approach aren’t giving me enough reason to care.
Buckets Of Rain: A stronger acoustic intro. Then the awful voice starts once more. Literally any other singer who has experience love and loss in their time could make this better. I don’t doubt the emotion behind it, it simply doesn’t come across in his voice for me and I can’t get past how nasal and lazy it sounds. Again it’s all quite simplistic musically, and melodically it’s ultimately too plain to enjoy. Now I do enjoy simplicity and plain melodies, but for those to work there has to be something else interesting to fall back on – the vocals for example, and the song usually needs to be short to cover up the shortcomings from the lack of complexity. This ticks the short box, and the lyrics are certainly a notch up from mot of the junk you hear – with a good singer I’d be much more keen.
What Did I Learn: Nothing much that I didn’t know before – I don’t like his voice and the style he adopts. Whatever emotion is in his thoughts, and whatever feeling is in the lyrics, gets clouded out by the toxic cloud of his vocals. I didn’t know much about the actual music before, but truth be told this was all fairly bland and uninspiring.
Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000: Honestly, Dylan is an artist that always gives me hope – not because I think he’s amazing, but because he has had so much critical and commercial success while being a crap vocalist that I hope for all the other not so amazing singers out there who have a unique voice or perspective or who are exceptional melody or lyric or songwriters might achieve something. If he can do it, why can’t all of the other ‘okay’ singers? The issue I have with this as an album – it’s just too much Dylan in one sitting. When I already dislike a vocalists style and voice, at least if it’s one song I can relax knowing that it’s only one song, but when there’s another 10 coming down the line then I grow more agitated, pissed off, and eventually disinterested. I don’t know what is so different about this album than his others that it deserves a place on the list above his other work and I can’t see clearly who this would have influenced directly, given that there were already a raft of singer songwriters of the era doing it better (at least to my preferences). Obviously he has influenced hundreds of successful artists – but I don’t get that from this album. So if you love it, that’s wonderful for you, but it’s nowhere near strong enough to make it on to my Top 1000 list.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: If You See Her Say Hello. A Simple Twist Of Fate. You’re A Big Girl Now.
Tell me why I’m wrong in the comments!