February 8, 2008

Album in my head: Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding





Supplanting Beach House as my “must listen every day” music is Bob Dylan's album John Wesley Harding. I came across this album when I heard the song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” on XM radio, driving across the country with my dad. This song really struck me when I first heard it, because it sounds just like a Fall song – it’s just one simple measure played over and over from beginning to end. This is a song I’ll never skip. If only it were longer!




Bob Dylan - The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest [John Wesley Harding LP, 1967]


This album came after Dylan’s most electric ones (Highway 61, Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde), but it has a comparatively stripped down sound. On most of the songs he’s backed only by a drummer and a bassist. It works really well for me, as this setup places his voice high in the mix. He gets away with a lot of Yoda-like phrasing in the lyrics, and even though this medieval speak is a little affected at times (“I spied the fairest damsel/that ever did walk in chains”) I still find it compelling.



The album ends with “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” a slow jam if Bob Dylan ever knew how to kick one out. “Do not fear/bring that bottle over here,” he sings in his best lecherous voice. Not quite Gainsbourg, but close enough.




Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding LP, 1967



Track listing:

1. John Wesley Harding

2. As I Went Out One Morning

3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine

4. All Along the Watchtower

5. The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

6. Drifter's Escape

7. Dear Landlord

8. I Am a Lonesome Hobo

9. I Pity the Poor Immigrant

10. The Wicked Messenger

11. Down Along the Cove

12. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

3 comments:

Fantômas said...

Bajate toda la discografía de Dylan acá.

Auspicia fantasmavelez.blogspot.com

Peter Robinett said...

Interesting that you first experienced the album with your dad on a road trip. I heard it in similar circumstances, with my dad and I chilling at my uncle's cabin in Montana. Lying in a hammock in the August sun, listing to Bob Dylan LPs and looking out on a mountain meadow is pretty darn idyllic!

And I have to throw out my personal favorites:
2. As I Went Out One Morning
- I just love the tempo in this song. The drumming seems to have such great propulsion. And no, the medieval speak doesn't bother me at all. =) And this song probably has some of the least annoying use of harmonica you can find.
3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
- There's something particularly ethereal and mournful about this song that I find so appealing. At the same time, the waltz tempo (am I correct?) makes me want to dance around the room.
6. Drifter's Escape
- More great propulsive drumming.
7. Dear Landlord
- Great song with a great piano. A dramatic, mournful song about being unable to pay the rent is both silly and totally reasonable.
9. I Pity the Poor Immigrant
- Great lyrics. A telling story of immigrant striving and insignificance. The tune seems like it's the saddest drinking song you've ever heard.
12. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
- A great, boozy slow jam, like you said.

mcvmcv said...

hey peter. yeah, i agree, listening to dylan lps in a hammock (in august) sounds pretty great!

i'm with you about the tempo of 'as i went out one morning' and 'st augustine,' there's something about those two songs that really draw me in. 'dear landlord' might be my favorite song on the album, i should have given it a shoutout, as i've had the end of the song "now each of us has his special gift/and you know this to be true/and if you don't underestimate me/i won't underestimate you.'

i like karaokeing to dylan, since his voice is not pretty to start with so i can imitate it well. i'd love to karaoke to 'dear landlord'!