Archive | January, 2015

Certain Songs #92: Bob Dylan & The Band – “Goin’ To Acapulco”

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Album: The Basement Tapes.

Year: 1967.

One of the standard tropes in popular music is to take upbeat music and wed it to depressing words. Bands like The Smiths pretty much made a living exploring the contradiction of Morrissey’s depressing words with the bouncy guitar hooks that Johnny Marr specialized in. But hell, even Hank Williams did it.

But “Goin’ to Acapulco” does the exact opposite. It takes words about  having a good time and sets them to a mournful, organ-filled deathmarch.

Goin’ to Acapulco–goin’ on the run
Goin’ down to see fat gut–goin’ to have some fun
Yeah–goin’ to have some fun

It’s so doomy and resigned-sounding that by the time the song is ending you want to yell at Dylan “FOR GOD’S SAKE, MAN, DON’T GO THERE! GO ANYWHERE BUT THERE” even as you realize that it’s too late, that he’s doomed to have some some fun whether he likes it or not.

Official video for “Goin’ To Acapulco”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #91: Bob Dylan & The Band – “I’m Not There”

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Album: The Basement Tapes

Year: 1967.

“I’m Not There” was one of those songs that I only read about for years. It was often cited as the prime example of how the compilers of the original Basement Tapes got the whole enterprise wrong. And when it showed up on one of the gigantic Basement bootleg sets I found in the early 2000s, the fidelity wasn’t quite good enough for me to understand what Greil Marcus and Clinton Heylin were on about.

It felt, well, formless. Just Dylan strumming on his guitar with maybe an organ and almost chanting incomprehensible lyrics that probably didn’t make any sense, to boot. It wasn’t until 2007, when it was released as part of the soundtrack of Todd Haynes excellent film of the same name, that we finally got a cleaned-up recording.

So what’s it all about? Well, the official lyric sheet on Bob Dylan’s web site isn’t any help at all.  Which is as it should be, I think.

Out of all of the Basement tape recordings, this just might be weirdest.  In a lot of ways, it’s still incomprehensible,  but it’s also mesmeric, where the individual pieces don’t really matter. Sure, you eventually hear an organ, a piano and a bass, and sure there’s probably more than one guitar. But none of that seems as much as how the whole song expands and expands, as if to fill the hole left by Dylan not being there, but rather being gone.

Official video for “I’m Not There”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #90: Bob Dylan & The Band – “Tiny Montgomery”

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Album: The Basement Tapes.

Year: 1967.

I should surprise absolutely noone that I spent much of the last couple months of 2014 immersed in the definitive 5-disc version of The Basement Tapes, nor should it surprise anyone that I’d been listening to nearly all of it for at least two decades as bootlegs, so I was pretty familiar with it beforehand.

But what might surprise people that despite all of the heavyweight songs recorded during those – well, you can’t really call them “sessions, can you? – months, titans like "This Wheels on Fire,” “I Shall Be Released” or “Tears of Rage” never really do it for me the way an obvious goof like “Tiny Montgomery” does.

As far as I’m concerned, “Tiny Montgomery” encapsulates the entire informal greatness of the Basement Tapes by the vocal call-and-response between Bob and The Band.

Bob:

Well you can tell ev’rybody
Down in ol’ Frisco
Tell ’em Tiny Montgomery says hello

The Band:

Hellooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

I just picture of all of the guys in The Band, sitting in a room playing their instruments, looking at Bob and grinning while shouting “Hellooooooooooooooo!” into the nearest microphone. They’re probably stoned out of their minds, but it doesn’t matter, because the amount of fun they’re having is palpable.

And I think, “this is why music exists.” This is why people love to play music together. This is why I loved to play music: those moments where you look around a room and everybody is enjoying what they’re doing at that exact moment.

That’s what a bunch of the songs on The Basement Tapes capture, and I think that’s part of the reason for their appeal.

Official Video for “Tiny Montgomery” (from original Basement Tapes)

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #89: Alice Cooper – “School’s Out”

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Album: School’s Out.

Year: 1972.

Alice Cooper didn’t fuck around. He became one of the most unlikely artists to continually dent the Top 40 because he didn’t write pop songs, but rather pop anthems. And those anthems were nearly always aimed at teens, and always covered in hard-rock guitars.

And the greatest of them all is the eternal “School’s Out,” which is so awesome, it’s the only song in popular music history to successfully incorporate the dread kiddie choir. Singing a fucking schoolyard chant, of all things. 

It shouldn’t work, but over the big-ass bolero drumbeat and flash guitars that ace producer Bob Ezrin, it seems absolutely natural, and for the rest of time, kids of all ages will sing this:

Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes!

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
My school’s been blown to pieces

As a guy who hated school until I got to college and met college girls, allow me to philosophize a bit about as to why this song still resonates with me. “School’s Out” isn’t just about the end of the school, but rather about the end of just any responsibility that you really don’t want to do.

It’s really about freedom. Or at least the illusion of freedom. Two times in the past decade, I’ve taken a vacation between leaving one job and starting another. And those were the sweetest vacations, because for those couple of weeks or so, I didn’t have to worry about what was going on at work.

I think that “School’s Out” taps into that feeling: school isn’t just out for summer, but it’s out forever; out completely; blown to pieces.

“School’s Out” performed on Top of the Pops in 1972

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #88: Bob Dylan & The Hawks – “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Manchester 1966)”

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Album: The Bootleg Series Vol 4.

Year: 1966.

On Highway 61 Revisited, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was a bit of respite from the supersonic Old Testament testifying of the title track and the epic name-dropping of “Desolation Row.”  Infused with uncharacteristic melancholy, it kinda gets lost in the shuffle.

But not the live version. As far as I’m concerned, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was the peak of every concert on the 1966 tour and this version is  definitely in my top 5 Dylan songs. All of that melancholy has been replaced by anger, as it now sounds like a trip through a harrowing hellscape.

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
And it’s Easter time too
And your gravity’s down
And negativity don’t pull you through

With Garth Hudson’s organ fading in and out of the maelstrom like far-off Christmas lights in the fog, things only get worse as Dylan meets person after person and checks out one bad place after another. But no matter where he goes, no matter what he does, it all just sucks.

If you’re lookin’ to get silly
You better go back to from where you caaaaaaaaaaaame
Because the cops don’t need you
And man they expect the same

Then, just before the final verse, Robbie Robertson uncorks a guitar solo that doubles down on all of the pain and rage in lyrics. I think it’s his finest moment, presaging later solos by Neil Young and Tom Verlaine. Always threatening to come apart at every note but hanging together because it really has no choice. If the guitar solo falls apart, then the song falls apart. And if the song falls apart, then the world falls apart.

But it doesn’t. The solo hangs on, the song hangs on, the world hangs on. But Bob Dylan is sick of the whole fucking thing.

I started out on Burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to bluff
I’m going back to New York City
I do believe I’ve had enough

And while he hitches a ride on Robbie Robertson’s guitar, it’s actually not even clear that he made it back to the safe confines of mid-1960s New York City.

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A pretty great live version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (recorded in Liverpool) was actually put out as the B-side of the “I Want You” 7-inch single. It’s muddier than this version, but still every inch as epic.

For a few years, the jukebox at The Olympic Tavern in Fresno had that single, which at the time was only available on an Australian import album called Masterpieces. So every time one of my bands did a soundcheck at the Oly, the first thing I would do was play it as we were loading in our equipment, just to see if anybody was paying attention. Noone ever was, of course. I wonder whatever became of that single.

2 ½ amazing minutes of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” live in 1966

Official video for “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Manchester 1966)”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever