Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

(1963, Columbia Records)


Okay, I know what you're thinking...Same plate, same looking sandwich bread? This guy's a sham. He only eats bullshit. Well keep your horses in the stable and let me elaborate for a hot second. Today, I have prepared for myself another classic sandwich. You see, it's a hashbrown, topped with two kinds of cheese (muenster and provolone), tucked inside a baguette. I'm contemplating adding some ketchup for that all-American feel, for I'm an all-American boy with an all-encompassing appetite. Also, it's quickly becoming evident that I am horrible at photographing food. 

Speaking of classic and all-American, have I got an album for you. It's the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan of course. This is like the apple pie of American records, or at the very least, a sliver of browned crust in a larger pie for in which we are all invited to indulge. Everything about this album is iconic; from its album cover, to its opening track, to its descent into Dylan singing more like a goat before he REALLY started singing like a full-on goat. It's got it all!

(For reference only: Here's a picture of Tom Cruise on his way to Science church with Penèlope Cruz, Bob Dylan style)

While the self-titled debut is a rough, ragged, speed-blues trek jammed full of covers, the follow-up has a 10 to 3 ratio of originals to covers. It also finds our troubadour finally shedding away his Minnesotan past, embracing his time as King of  the New York Coffee House. By this time, Dylan was number 1 with a piping side of espresso in the hearts of many. This is evident by that ICONIC album photo where he is literally walking the streets of New York. Who's that woman with him, you may be asking? That would be his then girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, a source of endless inspiration for years to come. Don't get too cushy you hopeless romantics. The couple are no longer together, some short 53 years later. In fact, they'd break up shortly after because Dylan was becoming the hotter than a habanero in Hell. Rumor has it, Suze Rotolo's trip to England during the recording sessions for this LP caused Dylan to spiral into a writing frenzy, arguably turning him into one of the most prolific songwriters of a generation seemingly overnight. Which reminds me. One day, I would like to go to England too, just like Suze Rotolo.

Also, I'd like to point out today is Bob Dylan's (born Robert Zimmerman), 75th birthday. I did not prepare a cake, for which we are all saddened. 

Well, without any further hoopla, here's the album that eventually molded a brood of beatniks into hyper pretentious beatniks, and got people protesting the war before they new which war they should be protesting (not historically accurate). 


Blowin' In the Wind- 5 This is one of those songs I probably never have to hear again in my life, up there with "You Shook Me All Night Long" and, say, "The Electric Slide." It's lost all meaning to me, having witnessed endless terrible covers, parodies, and having it shoved down my throat about how this is a song that defines the '60s... Blah de fuckin' blah... Well, you know what. This IS an amazing song. So there. Dare I say, beatufiul? I just said it... Out loud to myself. You should have been here to see it. Now, to the skeletal pluck of Robert Zimmerman nickel wound strings,  I take the first bite of my delicious hash brown sandwich dinner. Also, fun fact: For years, people thought Bob Dylan stole this from a high school kid in NJ, when in fact the kid read the sheet music Dylan published in a magazine a year earlier. That twerp then performed it at a school talent show or something, causing early haters to accuse Dylan of stealing it from this pimply gloating dork. Anyway, as cool as that story is, it's not as cool as this sad, sappy tune for the ages.

(Most kids born in the late '80s first heard this song performed by the "luscious Bobbie Dylan" in the '90s)

Girl From the North Country- 5  This song is goddamn beautiful. Chilling too! Burr.... Dylan sounds confident in his subtle approach. I'm so captivated that I'm forgetting to eat my dinner through this whole song. I spent most of if with my chin on my fist, like some sort of thinking man. This melody is fantastic too! Apparently, ol' (young) Zimmy boy stole the melody from a version of the traditonal tune "Scarbourough Fair." Oh well, all's (scarborough) fair in love and theft (see 1999's Dylan LP Love and Theft in about 29 weeks or so). Just beautiful!

(When others get on you for using the word "beautiful" just raise a fist, remind them of this, and tell 'em Roberto Benigni sent 'ya)

Masters of War- This song just sounds like a bunch of kids sitting around painting picket signs and getting ready to organize out in the streets. Snarling, nasally, dire doomsday folk. Dylan sings about 50 of the best lines every written, and it's captivating, and punk as funck. This Dylan's gonna be trouble, I tell 'ya! If I were J. Edgar Hoover I would  a.) not be such a dick AND b.) still keep a file on this traveling Zimmerman kid.

(this song is precursor to video games such as Call of Duty)

Down the Highway- Okay, because "Masters of War" is such a long song, I've finished half of my sandwich. Honestly, I could have finished all of it, but I must pace myself. This isn't "See How Much I Can Eat During Bob Dylan's Never Ending Songs Blog," because that's a terrible title for anything. Also, after 3 masterpieces, this song is a letdown. I'm sorry Dylan fans, but I've never been able to champion this during his early brilliance. Pretty much only notable for Dylan strumming his guitar really fast and trying to play some pretty cool riffs. Kick up your feet and eat a sandwich of your own. This one's a snoozer.

Bob Dylan's Blues- What a selfish prickly little thing this guy was. Talking about himself in the 3rd person. Well, Bob Dylan would go on to do much stranger things than this. Also, this LP was originally titled Bob Dylan's Blues. I don't know which choice was worse! Dylan gets all "playful" on this one, and you can practically hear the crowds cracking up about what a charmer this Dylan kid is in between his songs of dying and pain. What a jovial mensch, for sure. Dylan even laughs at himself a couple times in this song. You know what Zimmy, you are a cute S.O.B.

A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall-  Speaking of food, I've finished my sandwich just in time for this marathon tune. One of his undisputed classics at 7 minutes long! Who knew all of Bob Dylan's songs would one day be 7 minutes or more!?!? With this one, a lot of people insisted Dylan wrote with the Cuban Missile Crisis in mind, and then Dylan was like, "Yup, yes I did," even though he recorded it a month before said historical event. Eventually, in like 1965, Zimmy went electric and was like "I don't write 'bout nothin' maaaaannnn," (sounding like a goat, and looking like a goat with black sunglasses). So is the man a liar? You better bet the farm, baby...Maggie's Farm, that is. Anyway, this is like a novel of a song, where he seems to "see, hear, and meet" all this crazy metaphorical shit along the way. I say metaphorical because if anyone saw, heard, or met any of these things or people they'd be in a psych ward. Honestly, there's live versions of this that blow this recording out of the water, but hell, got to respect the source.

(raining frogs is an example of a hard rain that could one day fall)
(another example of a hard rain, but spelled "reign" as in "to rule")

Don't Think Twice, It's Alright- In case you wondered, I never ended up adding ketchup to my hasbhrown and cheese diner sandwich because this album is New York Americana to me all the way. And in New York, they don't slather ketchup all over everything. SO, Dylan picks away like a maniac and weaves a beautifully simple melody that just hits hard and deep, like one of those emotional knives they sell at the feelings' store. The perfect song to kickstart your morning, if you wanna feel hopeful and shitty at the same time.

Bob Dlan's Dream- There goes that Zimmy again, talkin' 'bout himself in the 3rd person. Selfish bastard. This one's better than "Bob Dylan's Blues" at least, but nowhere near as good as "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" off 1965's Bringing It All Back Home. But what can you do? Win 'em all? Someone's gotta lose. But you know who wasn't losing in 1963? Bob Dylan. He'd be a loser somewhere around 1979 or so. WOOF! Talk about trying to repair Satan's refrigerator, in the creative sense. But now's not the time. Also, this song would be great if it weren't so........ummm.......never ending! Still, a killer vocal performance and great lyrics of longing and self-reflection make this a worthy selection for any long car ride full of Dylan fanatics; an annoying bunch indeed.

(a short example of a dream someone could possibly have.)

Oxford Town- This song was celebrated as being about the first black student, James Meredith, to be accepted into the University of Mississippi. Dylan received much praise for this, and then years later said something like "I don't know, maybe this song ain't about that" (not an actual quote). Good God, Bobby, make up your mind. In fact, it really could be about any sort of racial prejuidce of the time. Social message is thumbs up here, but the song is kind of a novelty, bouncy folk piece.

Talkin' World War III Blues- 3 Before the Minutemen wrote "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," Bob Dylan wrote this song. Dylan was paranoid, and if the '60s taught us anything, every smart person was a bit paranoid. Duck and cover, motherfucker. That'd been a cool tattoo for Dylan to get at the time, but as a betting man, I'm guessing he didn't. Real bouncy blues folk with quick, clever, nervy stanzas all slathered in harmonica condiments.
 (this is what Bob Dylan was talking about, I believe)

Corrina, Corrina- A traditional blues/folk song that Dylan puts his own spin on. I like this better than the '90s Whoopi Goldberg movie of same name (the one I've never seen). An infectious little shuffle here, that's both saddening and tranquil. Wait, a minute? Are those drums and bass in this song? Dylan jams with a band, but not THE BAND, yet. That's coming though. Stay tuned.

(It's possible, some critics believe this movie was a prequel to Ghost, Field of Dreams, AND Goodfellas)

Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance- I've grabbed myself a little after dinner snack. A Sara Lee cinamon bun that tastes just terrible. Why did I think this would satisfy my after dinner cravings? It doesn't, but this song is way better than this cinnamon bun. Dylan shakes and fluctuates his vocals all over the place, playing a panicky folk song, hootin' and hollerin', and pumping a ton of priceless spit into that harmonica of his. Short and sweet.

I Shall Be Free- What a record. A bunch of solid standard sounding stuff mixed with some real groundbreaking, era defining classics. This one's along the lines of standard folk fair, talkin' 'bout paintin' the woodshed as a bucket of paint falls on his head. Name drops President Kennedy and Brigitte Bardot in regards to making the country grow (I think this is metaphor for an erection...). This one's in the "funny" category of the early Dylan folk catalog. Dylan's got his tongue firmly stuffed in cheek here as he talks about making love to Elizabeth Taylor and pissing off Richard Burton. I also have tongue firmly in my cheek, as I try to get some of this cinnamon bun out of my molars. Delightful.

Well now, you are free... until the next review when I eat some carbs and listen to some more harmonica. THAT, my friend, is the American dream.  Take care.

Help yourself to a mint. You earned it, Champ.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bob Dylan (1962)

(1962, Columbia Records)


Deeeeelicious.... I know what you're thinking. A sandwich like that, are you on some sort of a luxury cruise ship? Sorry, for I am not. As I sit down to review the first ever Bob Dylan LP EVER released, I take part in a delicious sandwich put together by my loving girlfriend!It is a modest little vegetarian delight. Yup, to start off my first dinner with Dylan, she's prepared some mock turkey out of a bag. Purchased from a freezer at the local Target, grilled up, with an added miso sauce packet, and put on this semi-fresh baguette, also purchased from Target. A little lettuce (hi Target), and a plate to hold it all together. Voila!

Speaking of Target, I'm pretty sure Bob Dylan would be against it back in 1962 because "damn the man." However, Target was founded in the great state of Minnesota. Hmmm, what else was founded in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? How 'bout a little boy named Robert Zimmerman who would grow up to be a moppy-haired man known as Bob Dylan? Yes, this is all true. Minnesota is responsible for bringing the world a timeless, inimitable goat-voiced hero to millions, AND a 1991 World Series Championship. Minnesota is number 1 in the (cold) hearts of many.

Bob Dylan was against many things, particularly war. One thing he wasn't against (on this album); covering other people's songs. However, that was the practice of the day for just about EVERY "popular" recording. Major labels wanted proven hits, not gambles on originality. While Dylan would soon shatter that notion with his 2nd album, the debut was not to be his lone soapbox for self-expression.

Released in 1962, Bob Dylan is a 13 song, acoustic folk romp through the coffee houses of the Lower East Side of NYC. Out of Dylan's folk-centered first four albums, this is the rawest sounding of them all. This is Dylan being a punk snot before toning it down; gravelly, pissed and hungry.

Speaking of hungry, I'm about to take the first bite of this sandwich.... So let's get going.

Also, Bob Dylan looks like John Cusack on the front of this album cover. Not sure what it all means, but I smell a conspiracy.

(Dylan or Cusack? The world may never know)

Got a napkin tucked in my shirt, one on my lap, one in my nose... Here we go.


You're No Good- Well, the first song from the first Dylan record is a cover song. Go figure. Nice job, 1960's popular music for being all about the covers. This is written by Jesse Fuller, a folk singer that everyone under the sun has covered. Also, full disclosure, I'm largely a folk music idiot. Apologies to the Fuller estate and fans. Bob Dylan sounds raw as hell on this one. This song is faster than a good deal of punk songs from the "golden age" of punk (y'know, spring of '77-autumn of '77), and has some raucous harmonica shit on it. Good God! What a statement. Short and oh so sweet.

Talkin' New York- 4 I'm on the second bite of this delicious sandwich during the 2nd song on the album and already we hit a Dylan original. Don't get too used to it. This thing is stuffed with the standards. In fact, I'm surprised "America the Beautiful" isn't on side-B. Anyway, this song is quintessential early Dylan. It's another faster cut, but nowhere near as high-octane as "You're No Good." Dylan cracks himself up a couple times on this, trying to be cute I guess, talkin' 'bout cold New York winters, riding those subways, all while being unable to pronounce "Greenwich" Village correctly. Dylan had been playing in NY for like six days or something but this song makes Dylan sound like a slave to coffee house jam sessions. Oh well. Good stuff.

(Entitled A NYC Without Bubba Gump, this is a classic New York City photograph from the early 20th century. Ewww. Who would think Bob Dylan would make sense of this mess, all with zero wi-fi hotspots)

In My Time of Dyin'-5 A real Dylan classic here (if I'm to believe what I read, and a believer I am!). A traditional folk song picked up by Dylan and taken to a new level. It's like the equivalent of John Lennon doing Beowulf or something. No one knows who owns it, but we're forced to consume it because it's important. On that note, Dylan picks the twangy shit out of his guitar and gets real bluesy from the gut. Oh yeah, feel that burn.

Man of Constant Sorrow- Another  blues standard given the old (young) Bob Dylan Greenwich folkhouse spin. Pretty standard stuff here. I'm almost done with my sandwich, and this bouncy harmonica on this laid back tune is helping the digestion along just fine. Dylan speaks of traveling the land, a man of constant sorrow. At one point, he threatens to rob the railroad, and yet he remains a free man. Looks like he never did rob that train. Eventually, he found Jesus in the late '70s, so all was forgiven I assume (but we'll get to that in 20 more album entries).

(perhaps this song prophecies the impenetrable success of Joel Osteen. A man who clings to a wide  array of society's down-and-outs, he has forced himself to become Time Magazine's "21st Century Man of Constant Sorrow")

Fixin' to Die- Dylan covers blues legend Bukka White on this track. Because of this, the internet tells me, Bukka was dug out of obscurity and given a second chance during the great '60s folk revival. Nice job Bob Dylan being a obscure record weirdo, and resurrecting people's careers who would never have it as good as you on your worst day. Dylan sounds downright ferocious on this one. Actually, it doesn't really sound like his voice on most of this song, his ravaged vocal stylings spill over as he furiously picks away. This one's got a hot and humid feel to it. This album gets grittier by the track.

Pretty Peggy-O- This one's the most boring track so far. This is some bomping hillbilly type stuff, complete with "yooo-hooo's" and "yeee-hawws." This probably made some uptight NYU students crack up in the quad back in the early '60s but I'm feeling lukewarm as I pour myself some diet Pepsi. Also, does NYU have a quad? I don't know, but as that 'ol saying goes "If you can't find it in New York, it doesn't exist."

(other famous Peggy's in history include Peggy Hill from FOX's hospital drama King of the Hill and Kathleen Turner from Francis Ford Coppola's epic film about the Vietnam war)

Highway 51- 3 Just three short years from this ragtag solo acoustic collection, Dylan would up this Highway by 10 digits and get all French poetic on our asses. Here though, Dylan bellows that "Highway '51 runs by his baby's door." Apparently, he don't get the girl, well he ain't driving on that highway NO MORE! I've never lived on a highway, but I know some people do. The unspeakable things you must see, you know? This one's kind of a snooze, but still dig those guttural melodies from Dylan. Enjoy them while you can because he was about to contract some apparent nasal conditions over the next six albums.

Gospel Plow- What a great name for a punk band. Also, this is another folk punk type song. Is Dylan all hoped up on Greenies here? Those who got the front table at the Bitter End coffeehouse might have to watch out, as Zimmy could kick the fucking table out from under you, cappuccino and all. Short and sweet.

("Due to their staunch anti-religous lyrical overtones, and penchant for wearing ill-fitting clothes, The Ramones originally went by the name Gospel Plow until the release of End of the Century"- Legs McNeil)

Baby, Let Me Follow You Down- 5  I've paced myself, but I'll be taking the last bite of my sandwich now. Anyways, this is a true Dylan classic because it appears on several Bootleg collections and you know that's a good sign. Many people think this was written by folk contemporary Erik Von Schmidt because Dylan says so at the beginning. Well, Dylan's a natural born liar, and Schmidt actually adapted this from Blind Bobby Fuller, a '30s bluesmith who really was blind (so take that). Anyway, this one's got that sing-song quality to it with some infectiously pluckable moments of acoustic bliss. The lyrics are a little cornballish, but the melody is killer. Better versions exist, but I do love this one.

House of the Rising Sun- Written by Dave Von Ronk, who the Coen Brother's loosely formed the movie Inside Llweyn Davis around. Later, Eric Burdon and the Animals made this a song that people wanted to drop acid to while waiting for their draft number to be called. Horrible '60s paranoia, man. Ask your Dad, Uncles, and/or read a book. Times were screwy. This version is kind of a yawn, a real downer trip I ain't that exited to take. Maybe it's the lack of having any sandwich left, but I'm pretty sure I've always been a life long shrugger when it comes to Dylan's version.

(The Animals later made this song mega-famous while Dylan's version continued to make him a weird guy from Minnesota hanging out in the East Village, that is until his NEXT RECORD!)

Freight Train Blues- Bob Dylan probably never rode on a freight train (I'm gonna take a leap here), but based on that acoustic guitar and that pout on the front cover, I'd have figured this guy road the rails working for chicken feed and chitterlings since birth. Urgent strumming and nervy harmonica playing as Dylan hoots and howls. At one point, Zimmerman holds out the word "blues" so long it becomes mildly disturbing, and then hilarious, then obnoxious. Eventually, you realize Dylan's been holding the note out for three days and you're late for work.

Song For Woody- This is a true Dylan classic, in reference to the folk Jesus, Woody Guthrie. A pensive song that name drops some of the great folk/bluesmen of the 20th century. The whole affair is rather beautiful, and quite saddening. This seems appropriate as it is a song for his dying hero. One day, I'm gonna write a song for Bob Dylan about a man who eats dinner while reviewing his records, and the world will cry.

(Woody Guthrie is best remembered for the following accomplishments, in no particular order: Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restraunt", and the band Wilco)

See That My Grave is Kept Clean- 4 A cover song, originally written by Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was also actually blind, and bares no similarities to the '90s MTV darlings, Blind Melon (who, according to Wikipedia, got their name from Mr. Blind Lemon, which doesn't make their hippy dippy ragga any less offensive to my ears). Huh, I really wish I had some lemon meringue pie for desert, or some sort of melon to go with my din din, but I don't. Anyway, Dylan screams about how he's got "two white horses" following him and "coffin sounds." A real scrappy, dust covered blues affair. A savage way to close out this promising, criminally forgotten debut.

(Pictured above, a rather clean grave, arguably. for reference only)

I think this Dylan kid's going places!  Stay tuned for more....