Album: The Devil You Know
. . .
The young folks won’t remember this — and, honestly, neither do I, being 3 at the time — but there was some controversy when folksinger Bob Dylan sold out and “went electric” by putting rock & roll songs on his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Now was it as controversial as, say, Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines or Andre 3000’s flute instrumental album? Possibly. Possibly not.
One thing for sure, though: a lot of Dylan’s folkie friends were scandalized to the point where their monocles popped off whenever they heard his new music, though, as always, whether Pete Seeger pulled the plug at Newport because he hated Mike Bloomfield’s searing leads or because he was concerned for the audience is a point of contention. Not a point of contention, however, is some Mancunian dude yelling “Judas” at Dylan and the Hawks just before they launched into a FUCKING LOUD version of “Like a Rolling Stone” (bad idea) or the fact that Dylan wrote “Positively Fourth Street” in response to the response.
Said response and response to the response is documented, or “documented” in Todd Snider’s 2006 song, “Thin Wild Mercury,” which is named after Dylan’s description of the sound he was after in 1966. Apparently Phil didn’t like either “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” or “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” — hilariously enough, the Genius annotation of this song has entries claiming each song is the one Ochs didn’t like, causing Dylan to toss him out of the limo they were sharing.
It was all over some new Dylan song
That Phil had the nerve to say sounded wrong
Dylan stopped the car, words shook like a fist
“Phil, you ain’t a writer, you’re a journalist”
Death of a rebel, twist of fate
If he ever thought better, he thought too late
Poor Phil Ochs, he slipped through the cracks
Judas went electric and he never looked back on….
At this point, it doesn’t really matter which song it was, or what Dylan actually said, or what the song was Phil Ochs didn’t like, or even if Phil Ochs didn’t actually dislike Dylan’s electric music. At this point it’s all about the mythos, which, of course, is what Todd Snider has focused upon. That, and the fun of writing a song (or a post, to be honest) about mid-1960s Bob Dylan.
Thin wild mercury
And gold lamé
Where things will go your way
Or they won’t
Thin wild mercury
And gold lamé
You know what they say
Or you don’t
Ironically, for a song named after a specific sound, “Thin Wild Mercury” sounds nothing like “that thin, that wild mercury sound, metallic and bright gold,” that permeated Blonde on Blonde, but rather more of country-folk stomp dominated by Snider’s electric guitar and (especially) the fiddle of Molly Thomas and steel guitar of Lloyd Green, both of which provide commentary and counterpoint throughout the song, each one getting a solo to boot.
But, of course, that just makes it better: had he tried to make it sound like mid-1960s Dylan, it would have taken much of the fun out of the song, at least for me.
Also, having absolutely nothing to do with “Thin Wild Mercury,” The Devil You Know was the first of Snider’s albums to make the main Billboard albums chart, peaking at #173.
“Thin Wild Mercury”
“Thin Wild Mercury” Live in San Francisco, 2007
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