Does it really matter – what song that opens an album? Does it have a message?
Does the closing song have some hidden meaning, a hint of what´s coming next?
Always – or sometimes? Maybe just in a phase?
When it comes to Dylan, it´s not so easy to tell. The artist himself will not tell you. In an interview he talked of one song that didn´t really fit with the rest of the songs, so he made it an opener. Other times it´s more obviously a prologue for an album with a theme or a mood. Nevertheless – Bob Dylan has lots of great opening songs. If you look at & listen to the list below, you´ll realize that it contains an incredible amount of poetry of the highest order – not all of them, of course, but many, and they all represent the development of the artist as we know him, it´s not a straight road, it´s made of rocks and gravel, and it turns and bends, it´s going deep and it´s going high. Only one of the many songs are also the title of an album, fittingly one he didn´t write himself – “World Gone Wrong”. A perfect title for an album. A perfect album to listen to these days.
Another great opener, “Gotta Serve Somebody”, gave Dylan his first Grammy for his vocal abilities. Jann Wenner, who reviewed “Slow Train Coming”, said it like this:
“Because he has been so brilliant in the other areas of his craft, Dylan has never been fully recognized as a singer. When he has a song and idea in which he believes, as he does here, the power, richness and the beauty of his voice are far greater than the words he uses. He sings with a sound that needs no words because he has the sound of the soul itself.
Bob Dylan is the greatest singer of our times. No one is better. No one, in objective fact, is even very close. His versatility and vocal skills are unmatched. His resonance and feeling are beyond those of any of his contemporaries. More than his ability with words, and more than his insight, his voice is God’s greatest gift to him.”
One of my favourite reviews of all time. I couldn´t agree more. The sound of the soul itself.
Listen to the openers and you will hear a voice, but also many voices. Mostly the voices fits the song and the feeling the song is supposed to convey, and telling the truth, even if it´s a hard one. The ageing voices as much as the young ones. Sometimes even more.
But why on earth have he never played the most perfect opening song live? He would have torn the house down with “On A Night Like This”.
“On a night like this
So glad you came around
Hold on to me so tight
And heat up some coffee grounds
We got much to talk about
And much to reminisce
It sure is right
On a night like this.”
“Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wond’ring if she’d changed it all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough.”
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ‘neath the falling leaves.”
“Well, I had to move fast
And I couldn’t with you around my neck.”
“Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist,
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing
Freedom just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?”
It´s the same with the endings, the closers, the epilogues – sometimes they are a question mark, other times an exclamation mark. The list of song are a list that some artists surely would have died for, or at least given away their right arm to have written.
“So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give a damn”
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive
But without you it just doesn’t seem right
Oh, where are you tonight?”
“I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand”
“The cat’s in the well, leaves are starting to fall
Goodnight, my love, may the lord have mercy on us all.”
“Well my heart’s in The Highlands at the break of day
Over the hills and far away
There’s a way to get there, and I’ll figure it out somehow
Well I’m already there in my mind and that’s good enough for now.”
“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Up the road, around the bend
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
In the last outback at the world’s end”
“Show me that river, take me across
Wash all my troubles away
Like that lucky old sun, give me nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day.”
And please, do me one favor – listen to the unbelieavable beautiful “Lone Pilgrim”, the last song of “World Gone Wrong”, the last song before the artistic sunrise with the dark “Time Out of Mind”. “Lone Pilgrim” – it´s a shiny pearl of a song – the stuff that Bob always are digging for when he is on his never ending voyage of discovery in the american songbook :
“Go tell my companion and children most dear
To weep not for me now I’m gone.
The same hand that led me through seas most severe
Has kindly assisted me home.”
It´s the song, and it´s the words, but – most of all – it´s the voice. Just listen.