Blonde On Blonde
Here comes Dylan, announced by a carnivalesque, thumping drum and tambourine intro, with a flash of brass and a few dashes of harmonica - `I`m in the building` - then he starts to sing about the many ways "they`ll stone you" in a surprisingly straight, unruffled manner, until he sees something out of the corner of his eye in the studio which causes him to crack up - this happens twice and they wisely keep it in. It`s the last time he laughs on this record, but it isn`t the last of the wit, joie de vivre or levity.
A steady yet raunchy blues comes next - Bob has always been a fine blues singer - called Pledging My Time (the B-side to his hit Rainy Day Women) and he plays some terrific harmonica on it. He sings with a mellow lyricism, as he does on all the tracks on this surprisingly gentle, almost `after hours` record.
A classic so soon? Yep, it`s time for Visions Of Johanna. This isn`t simply a beautiful song, but a unique vision of what a song can be. Dylan was only 24 when he made Blonde on Blonde but he was already singing with the serene wisdom of a man at least twice his age. The main characters in this song are the narrator and a woman named Louise, but he keeps having visions of a mysterious lady called Johanna. There`s the brilliance of the song, and the sly genius of Dylan. The organ simmers in the background, and we get lines like:
Lights flickler from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there`s nothing, really nothing to turn off
The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
When otherwise sensible people like playwright David Hare complain when Dylan is spoken of in the same breath as, say, Keats, I want to show them lines like that. But you really need to hear him singing them - he`s a songwriter, like Cohen or Van Morrison; it`s what they do best.
One Of Us Must Know was a single, a similar sounding follow-up to Positively 4th St and a marvellous, oft overlooked song in its own right. It`s an excitable number, with a nifty organ riff, building to a cathartic chorus - "Sooner or later, one of us must know...!" Some great piano too.
I Want You is pure unadulterated joy. (There`s a nice slowed-down version on the patchy Live at Budokan too.) Jaunty, catchy, light and lovable. Someone who wasn`t too keen on Dylan - alas, they do exist - might well like it. It`s a pop song! With a lovely harmonica-led fade-out.
Stuck Inside Of Mobile is a seven-minute rollercoaster with Bob singing superbly throughout. Listen to the way he hurls the refrain, "Oh! Mama! Can this really be the end? To be stuck inside of Mobile..." A good rocker.
Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat is a rollicking blues of sorts, with some edgy spidery guitar courtesy of (I`m pretty sure) Jaime (Robbie) Robertson.
Next comes another bona fide classic, the contemplative, keening Just Like A Woman.
Gone - I hope - are the days when one might feel the need to defend a lyric such as this, as Dylan is not stereotyping a woman, but rather singing a song about one, in all her mercurial moods. I think it`s beautiful. Joe Cocker has done a very effective version - old Sheffield Joe is pretty good at Dylan - as did, somewhat differently, Nina Simone. Hear it if you can! A wonderful song with a shuffling tempo, not as slow as I remembered it, with some eloquent drumming.
Most Likely You Go Your Way...is a tumbling, frenetic rock number that always sounded good, has never palled. Possessed of a memorable riff, it`s an unforgettable Dylan`s-gone-electric stomper.
Temporary Like Achilles (what titles!) is slow and insinuating, with a piano to the fore. There`s a great line hidden here too:
I`m helpless like a rich man`s child
I love Absolutely Sweet Marie, a fairly fast song with a killer descending riff just before the brief refrain. Bob reminds us, in one of his typically paradoxical lines:
To live outside the law you must be honest
Oh, here`s 4th Time Around...this track is sheer heaven. An echo of the Beatles` Norwegian Wood (it doesn`t matter who got there first, one is a tribute, no more & no less) it`s in fact a meditative, charming, beguiling verbal joust concerning a relationship. At one point we learn that "She threw me outside, I stood in the dirt, where everyone walked". Dylan`s phrasing on this, as on most everything he ever sang, and certainly on all these songs, is immaculate, witty and unforced.
I`ll never forget the physical and emotional pleasure I got hearing this song for the first time about 45 years ago.
Obviously 5 Believers (a lot of numbers on this album!) is bold and bluesy, one of the simplest songs here, but still a fine one.
Lastly we reach the tour-de-force of BOB - and of Bob too.
I won`t say too much about Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, except to say that if you have yet to hear this 11-minute love song to (we must assume) his then-wife Sara, sit back and listen to one of the many reasons why those of us who love this man love this man. He takes it quite slow, and sings with a mellow wistfulness that may well leave you with tears in your eyes.
BOB is a watershed in Dylan`s life and career. He`d recently given us two increasingly electric albums, and this one might seem to be even more so. But the more you hear it, the more it in fact sounds like a man taking stock, as well as finding a true voice. It has one of the most sympathetic productions of any early Dylan record (even Bob seems to agree) and was of course originally a double LP with fold-out sleeve - and I`m told it made the tea and woke you up in the morning too.
Remastered, it sounds even better.
A very great, virtually flawless, if at times endearingly shambolic, magnificent and timelessly tremendous masterpiece.