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....


  1. Van Ronk didn't write that, it's a traditional with uncertain authorship. He learned it from Van Rank though, Animals learned it from Dylan afaik

    1. Thanks for reading and clearing that up.
      Stay tuned!

  2. "House of the Rising Sun" ain't the only song on this album the Animals adapted!

  3. Van Ronk didn't write it, but he did come up with the iconic arrangement that dylan and tge animals made famous. Also, I beleive NY blues is a partial cover, a reworking of an old standard with some original lyrics.

    It bears noting as well that Dylan wasn't much of a songwriter at the time. While an LP with many covers was the convention, it's not like those songs were being chosen over riskier originals.

    In fact, apocryphal or not, the story I've heard is that the oroginals on this record represent some of his absolute earliest experiments with songwriting.

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  5. This lovely: "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." That performance always made me laugh out loud.
    As I recall, Woody's reaction to hearing Bob was "Dunno if he can write but he sure can sing." (Words to that effect) I still think that first album is his best covers album (OK not quite), and when you think about it he's done a few, and why not.

  6. What a revelation this album was for me! I had always assumed that "the protest singer" was the original Dylan.... but this album reveals Dylan as he actually was when he first came out of the Great White North. Lots of great, morbid old blues songs and death ballads, a few cowboy-type songs, etc. The 20-year old Dylan was rough as a cob, and his first album is an under-appreciated treasure.