Mare Smythii - Full Moon 116 - 03/15/06
Through the retro-scope
Anniversary Album of the Moonth
Blonde On Blonde
This is a piece in a series of 12 Luna Kafé desserts, presenting a dozen of records celebrating their 40th, 30th, 20th or 10th birthday this year 2006. I've chosen three out of each "class". Classics, milestones, favourites. You name it. Some among the global masses, others maybe in smaller circuits only. Maybe we could group them under the moniker "Pet Records" - to re-name one of the many 40-year-olds of 2006.
I'm no dedicated Bob Dylan disciple. I only own a few of his 1960s albums. Blonde On Blonde (BOB, in
short, of course!) is very special, though. It's one of a small handful of albums that I first recorded on cassette in my youth, then bought the double LP a little later because it was so good and the CD a few years back for the same reason.
Mr. Zimmerman converted to electric guitar and rock'n'roll about 1965. The album Highway 61 Revisited was the turning point, as far as I know. It included one spontaneously recorded classic, "Like A Rolling Stone". All right then, two classics, "Desolation Row", too. The following year he recorded what might be the first double LP in rock - I think Zappa's Freak Out! was released a little later. Anyway, BOB was filled to the rim with classics in the same category as "Like A Rolling Stone". Not one weak song. Accompanied by drums, bass, electric guitar, piano, Al Cooper's smoldering and hissing organ moving in and out and Dylan's inevitable slightly out of tune harmonica. The opening track "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35" has even a honky tonk piano and some trumpets and trombones as stoned as the song itself. The songs are not overrehearsed, not at all. The music is jangling along; no doubt the musicians were enjoying themselves.
And then there are the lyrics. Lots of words. They seem partly thoroughly written, partly spontaneous of the stream of consciousness kind. Mr. Bob was supposed to be a keen dope smoker at the time and some of the lyrics seem groundbreaking psychedelic for the first half of 1966. What about 'The drunken politicians leaps, Upon the street where mothers weep, And the saviours who are fast asleep, They wait for you' (from "I Want You") to give one example. It might not be suficient to earn him a Nobel prize in literature (not yet, anyway), but it certainly is enough for me: 'I couldn't see when it started snowin', Your voice was all that I heard, I couldn't see where we were goin', But you said you knew and I took your word' (from "One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)").
Most important, though, is the blend of melodies, words, arrangements and relaxed atmosphere in the studio.
The ballads, so to speak, like "Visions Of Johanna" and "Just Like A Woman" have never sounded fresher and more sincere. Another in the same direction is "4th Time Around", sort of Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" in Bob Dylan minor. And then there is "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" in a class of its own. It was the longest lasting song in rock at the time, more than 11 minutes. And the saddest and slowest of them all. On the other hand are the more rock'n'roll numbers like "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "I Want You" and "Obviously 5 Believers". Uplifting, really! My only minor reservations have to do with the bluesy "Pledging My Time" and "Temporary Like Achilles". Too traditional or sour, in a way. I prefer the third blues alternative "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat", slow and cool.
If you can stand Bob's hoarse nasal talk-singing and harmonica playing in the same vein and need the essence of rock history in your record collection, there is no excuse to avoid Blonde On Blonde. And if you only need only one album by Bob, BOB is it!
The double LP was released at the time Bob toured Britain and was accused by someone in the audience of being Judas in the electric second half of his set at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May the 17th 1966. By the end of July, he had his infamous motorcycle accident and was away from the public for more than a year. When he returned to the music biz with the John Wesley Harding album at the end of 1967, he had moved into country-terrain. I wonder what might have happened with him and his music during the spring and summer of love (1967) if he had stayed away from his bike that day and followed the BOB trial instead.
Copyright © 2006 JP