Hayseed Brown

Like a Complete Unknown: Some Thoughts on Rediscovering Dylan

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As a nod to my favorite all-time musician, Bob Dylan, I thought I’d compile a list of five of my favorite lesser-known/acclaimed Dylan songs. These may differ from the stalwarts of your everyday Dylan lineup, but in no way are they bench players. The beauty of being a fan, whether it’s going to live shows, listening to rare bootlegs, or even listening to entire albums, is uncovering those all-star tracks, special simply because they rock. As it’s difficult to navigate the myriad of Dylan songs out there, this list has no choice but to be inconclusive, surely how the septuagenarian would’ve liked it. Feel free to add your own Dylan gems in the comments section, IWL readers. Now, the list, in no particular order other than in which I found them in my iTunes:

Series of Dreams

The first appearance of this song is in Dylan’s 1997 Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, but was originally recorded in March of 1989 for his album, Oh Mercy, though it was dropped before the album was released in September of the same year. This was an unfortunate decision, because “Series of Dreams” is stronger than what the average Oh Mercy track has to offer. “Series of Dreams” has an upbeat quality to it, like Dylan’s building-up to this grand explosion. The stream-of-consciousness way in which Dylan sings and in which it’s arranged go with the dreamlike theme you’d expect from its title.

Long Time Gone

When I was an undergraduate freshman, there were certain mandatory core liberal arts classes. They all had similar themes, social injustice and political discord-type stuff, and in one of them we had to take a trip down to Manhattan for something or another. The city wasn’t a novelty to me, as I’d grown up nearby. I wandered around the Village with my ginger friend, sipping beers, watching preseason baseball, and darting in-and-out of Village record shops in pursuit of vintage Dylan or Grateful Dead. I bought a Dylan CD, and “Long Time Gone” was a track that I fell in love with, of which I had never before heard. If songs had temperatures this one would be ice. The song ends chillingly with Dylan insisting, in one of my favorite lyrics ever:

So, you can have your beauty, it’s skin-deep and it only lies. And you can have your youth, it’ll rot before your eyes. Just give to me my gravestone with it clearly carved upon, I’s a long time coming, and I’ll be a long time gone.

As what mostly happens with CDs, this one was scratched and unlistenable after a short amount of time. This was in 2000. I searched high and low for another copy of that song to no avail. In 2010, Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volume 9- The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 was released and “Long Time Gone” was included. I was ecstatic. After ten years the song was just as stellar, and sees a lot of play-time.

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

From Dylan’s acclaimed 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde, this eleven minute-plus ballad is as relaxing and sleepingly rhythmic as Dylan gets. The poetic lyrics and interesting images keep one’s interest and allow Dylan to hypnotize unsuspecting listeners. I sometimes look at the absurdly high “Plays” this song has gotten in my iTunes, and wonder how I could have logged over six hundred minutes on my laptop alone without giving it a rest. With lyrics like, “The kings of Tyrus with their convict list are waiting in line for their geranium kiss,” I guess I do understand it; this song is infinitely more interesting than anything on pop radio today. I’ll probably listen to it tonight. But don’t hold your breath if you go see Dylan in concert, as there’s no record of him ever playing “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” live.

Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)

This is the antithesis of the previously listed song, as every time I hear it while driving I almost fly off the road. It appears on Dylan’s 1978 album, Street-Legal. Sporting a gospel tone with keyboards, saxophones, and female background vocalists, this song is more uplifting than a soulful Sunday church service. For a long while I was mistaken about some of the lyrics, which I find rather amusing because Dylan always improvises and changes his own lyrics on-the-go. What I thought to be, “If you don’t believe in a Christ, or a sweet paradise, just remind me to show you the stars,” was, in fact, “If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise, just remind me to show you the scars.” Maybe the gospel stuff got in my head. Personally, I like Dylan’s version, but I guess either works. So turn the volume up and put the windows down. Just stay on the road.

When the Deal Goes Down

Can you like a song that is creepily haunting? Absolutely, and that’s part of the appeal of “When the Deal Goes Down,” the most recently recorded song on this list, appearing in Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times. An ode to better days gone by, the song is romantic and sad at the same time. Dylan released a video for this song which can be found on his website, featuring Scarlett Johansson as a retro-style housewife reminiscing of the good and the weird. The video ends with swaying clown-faced transvestite housewives and waltzing neighbors wearing giant animal masks. Make what you want of that. I used to work in a club that played mostly rap and pop, but, as security, I arrived hours before the DJ and assumed all music responsibilities until I was booted at around eight. For some reason, and to the club’s chagrin, this video was on file. I’d play it early in the night, as well as when we wanted people to vacate so we could close. Those hammered clubgoers trying to score a-little-something at three in the morning just don’t appreciate eerie Dylan videos. What a shame!

Updated Feb 1, 2015 at 04:44 AM by Hayseed Brown

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  1. RayMac's Avatar
    One I feel that doesn't get its due is "One Too Many Mornings." I particularly like the live cover by the Kingston Trio done in 1967. John, Bob and Nick each handle a verse of the tune.

  2. Hayseed Brown's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by RayMac
    One I feel that doesn't get its due is "One Too Many Mornings." I particularly like the live cover by the Kingston Trio done in 1967. John, Bob and Nick each handle a verse of the tune.
    The Kingston Trio is classic. Dylan songs make great covers for two reasons: his lyrics are brilliant, and it's impossible to sound anything like Dylan, so all of his covered songs sound different enough from the original tunes.

    Here are two of my favorite covers:

    "If You See Her, Say Hello" -Jeff Buckley


    "Just Like a Woman" -Richie Havens

  3. tribe125's Avatar
    Watching The River Flow.

    I think it was only ever a single, apart from being on a Greatest Hits compilation. It's a 'lesser' song, but it seems like it's been in my head all my life.

  4. ljb187's Avatar
    Not sure if it entirely qualifies, but I'll throw out Dark Eyes. First cover:

    Marc Carroll - Gates of Eden

  5. ljb187's Avatar
    Perhaps the same for this one, but When He Returns among many others. Second cover:

    Beck - Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat

    Sometimes - right place / right time - you can think that potential might have led you to much bigger and better things. Beck puts those thoughts to rest.
  6. Hayseed Brown's Avatar
    Nice. Thanks for posting. I've heard the Beck cover before, but not the Marc Carroll one.
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