Tag Archives: Highway 61 Revisited

Songs of Summers Past (Part 1)

(Me, summer 2004.  Back when I had short hair.  It’s very strange looking at that now.)

For whatever reason, the advent of summer has bought back a lot memories.  And most of these memories somehow revolve a specific song, and are tied to a specific moment in time, which will be forever etched in my mind.  Every time I listen to The New Pornographers’ “Use It”, I’m immediately transported back to the summer of 2007.  The Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” takes me back to my teenage self when I used to listen to that dubbed cassette version of Sand in the Vaseline on my Walkman during road trips with my parents.  And some of these songs, well, I probably wouldn’t write about them otherwise.   (And for those I mention here, you know who are, though for the public domain, you shall remain nameless.)

Offspring – “Come out and Play” (Summer 1994)

The summer of 1994 was the first summer I really remember.  Not surprisingly it’s also the first summer where I could identify songs which were popular and the older kids were listening to.  That summer I was on a Swim Team with two my childhood friends (who are also still my best-friends). Even at this early age, getting up at 8 o’clock during the summer was not something I wanted to do.  As we swam laps, the lifeguards would blast music on their stereo.  I’m sure there were other songs, but the only two songs I seem to remember playing were Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”.  I really hated “Daughter” – it would be years before I actually liked the song and Pearl Jam themselves.  Even then I could sense that Eddie Vedder meant everything that he said.  “Come Out and Play” though, as much as I tried to pretend I hated it, I secretly liked its chunky rhythms and aggressiveness.  And even if you disliked the song it was hard to get away from, “you gotta keep’em separated!”.   Being 12, I was impressionable and if the 16 year old lifeguards thought it was cool, obviously it must be cool.  They knew every single word.

Years later, when I first discovered the Itunes Store in the summer of 2004 – “Come Out and Play” was one of the first songs I bought.  I’m not ashamed to admit.

Beck – “Where’s It’s At” (1996)

“Where It’s At” still remains a great song, however it remains stuck in 1996 – a song where time doesn’t apply.  It hasn’t aged, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a broader context.  Part of it probably has to do with its mesh of sounds and hook – “I got two turn tables and a microphone!” – which was inescapable in the summer of 1996.  My older brother who was 21 at the time, suggested that Beck’s Odelay was the Highway 61 Revisited of his generation.  Quite a bit of hyperbole on his part, I think.  This was the first summer when I was allowed to actually hang out with him, and we used to blast this song constantly. Its odd keyboards, bleeps, robotic voices, and stream of consciousness lyrics were unlike I ever heard.  I had previously been under the impression that songs had to have a certain sound and structure to be good – and “Where It’s At” demolished my previous ideas of what a song could actually sound like.  Oddly enough, the very things that make me critical of it now, were very appealing to my teenage self in 1996.  The windows of the car were down, the music was very loud.  Those who stared at us at we drove around, just didn’t seem to get it (whatever I thought it was at the time).

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue” (Summer of 1999)

“Scar Tissue” is a song that captures the sound of a hot summer evening.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a lot of good song, but this is the one that comes close to perfection.  Its melody is infectious, and John Frusciante’s guitar breaks are tasteful and full of beauty.  This song was everywhere in the summer of 1999 – the year that I was about to enter my senior year of high school.  The summer before I had gotten my driver’s license, but it was this summer that I was really able to drive around by myself and get out of the house, even if it was just driving to Borders. To me, the song represented wide open spaces and possibilities.  By being able to drive, I had achieved a sense of freedom that was previously unavailable.  “Scar Tissue” was a radio staple that summer, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

U2 – “Bad”

2001 was the summer of U2.  The previous fall they had released the fantastic All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reaffirmed their status after the abysmal Pop a few years earlier.  When they toured the US that summer, it would be the first time I would see them after years of trying. As a live band, U2 have few rivals and “Bad” has always been the centerpiece of their show whenever they play it.  It’s also one of the few U2 songs that is different every single time they play it.   Sometimes it could be 12 or 13 minutes long with several extended endings or 7 minutes long.  Bono would often sing lines from other songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil”, “People Have the Power”, “Norwegian Wood” and U2’s own “40” before the band kicked it back into high gear.   I’ve read that the song is about heroin addiction, but it’s also much more than that – it’s about letting go and not taking life for granted.   When Bono shouts “not fade away!” as the band kicks in and The Edge repeats his delayed chords, it really is transcendent, to use a cliche term.  I spent the summer of 2001, downloading as many U2 bootlegs from that tour, simply trying to find as many variations of “Bad” as I could.  And each version is magical in its own way.

 

More to come.

 

 

 

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The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 5. Time Out Of Mind

Song for song, Time Out of Mind should probably be higher on this list.  But it’s one of the few Dylan albums where the songs really come to live better in the live arrangements, mostly due to Daniel Lanois’ production.  For some reason, Lanois decided that a swamp was a great place for a studio – hiding Dylan’s lyrics in a foggy murk.

I’ve always thought of Time Out of Mind as a sort of sonic version of The Grapes of Wrath, in its set-up.  Steinbeck’s masterpiece contains several chapters revolving around turtle in the middle of the Joad’s plight.  When I first read this, I wondered what the hell a turtle has to do with the plot.  It seems like a throwaway, not pertaining to the plot, but contains many symbols directly related to the story arc. Similarly in Time Out of Mind, the blues ditties  of “Million Miles”, and “Dirt Road Blues” and even “Cold Irons Bound” seem out of place with the weighty themes of the rest of the album, but upon further listenings these songs do in fact fit within the theme of the album, and ultimately make it a more rewarding experience.

It’s easy to assume that Time Out of Mind is Dylan’s view on mortality especially since not long after the album’s release he had a near fatal heart condition.  Many of these songs do contain references to death and mortality, but visions of end times (whether it be his or the world’s) have always been a part of Dylan’s music.

Time Out of Mind was an important album for Dylan in many ways – it was his most critically acclaimed album in years, but more than that it also found him looking back to the pre rock and roll blues that inspired him, sounds he would explore for his next few albums.  In a way, Time Out of Mind is a much freer and looser album than Dylan had produced in years – and the closing track harkens back to his Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde days with “Highlands” – a sprawling 16 minute song.  It seems like the band is trying to keep up with Dylan.

Still, Time Out of Mind remains one of the few Dylan albums that I really wish was remastered or cleaned-up.

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“Highway 61 Revisited” Turns 45

Cover of "Highway 61 Revisited"

Cover of Highway 61 Revisited

(Weekly song selection will continue tomorrow.)

Today (August 30th) marks the 45th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Being only 28, it’s impossible for me to imagine the impact that it had on music and popular culture at the time of its release.  But Highway 61 seems to exist on its own time-line.  It is at once the product of its times, and also timeless.  “Like a Rolling Stone” is the tipping point where rock came into its own existence. Almost every single artist at the time became influenced by the 6 minute single.  But no one could better it, because “Like a Rolling Stone” changes every time you listen to it.  Each time the put downs get far worse, and Dylan’s sneer gets more demonic.  “How does it feel? is both sympathetic and damning.

And even if that was all that Dylan recorded for “Highway 61” he would have left a mark on popular music.  If were left wondering about “Napoleon in rags and the language that he used” at the end of “Like a Rolling Stone”, Dylan had an entire albums worth of Biblical, historical, and literary figures doing all sorts of bizarre things.  Every single song on Highway 61 is a masterpiece because every single song contained multiple layers – “Highway 61 Revisited” could either be the most hilarious song Dylan ever recorded with lyrics about Louis the King having “too many red white and blues shoe strings and a thousand telephones that don’t ring” or the most perverse depending on how you read into the lyrics about the second mother being with the 7th son.

And of course, Dylan was always quick to dismiss his critics before they even could even take a shot at them.  “Ballad of a Thin” goes beyond a fuck off.  Dylan embarrasses his victim (a would-be journalist according to legend) by having him ridiculed by freaks – the lowest form of society.  And freaks are also the center-piece of “Desolation Row”, the 11 minute track that closes the album.  Everyone from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, to Robin Hood, and even Ophelia are stuck on Desolation Row – a place where all of these “lame” people are damned to, and cannot escape.  Dylan himself is there at the end of the song – it’s unsure whether he was put there or not – but it’s as if he was saying that he aligned himself with these literary characters.

I’ve often said that I am blown away by both Highway 61 and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. While The White Album or Abbey Road might be better albums – though not by much – Astral Weeks and Highway 61 Revisited were created by one man.



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Spin Names “Achtung Baby” Best Album of the Past 25 Years

Spin recently named U2’s Achtung Baby as the number one album of the past 25 years.  As a big fan of U2, a few years ago, I probably would have listed Achtung Baby as such.  (But I have to say, Rain Dogs, Rum Sodomy & The Lash, and The Queen is Dead – among a few that come to mind – have more meaning to me than Achtung Baby currently does.)

Most casual listeners refer to The Joshua Tree as U2’s masterpiece, but Achtung Baby truly does belong in the pantheon of great albums.  Stripping away the worldview of their 80’s albums, Bono turned his lyrics inward creating U2’s most personal album.  At the same time, the music was turned up inspired by the industrial movement and also David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”.  The Edge already known for his excessive use of guitar pedals, ditched his trademark echo for a wall of distortion. Achtung Baby is the 90’s version of “Sergeant Pepper” and “Highway 61 Revisited” – the sound of a band taking a giant risk musically while at the same time challenging its fans to fantastic results.  (Unlike Radiohead, with Achtung Baby U2  created an experimental record that is actually listenable.  Kid A I’m referring to you.)

Unlike a lot of other great albums, Achtung Baby’s emotional core is actually at the end of the album.  The last three songs might be among the most emotional and sad songs U2 ever recorded.  (And that’s saying something considering this U2 we’re talking about.)  “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” shows a man at the end of his rope clinging on for dear life.  (When singing this song on last year’s 360 tour, Bono would try to personify this by singing and swinging from a suspended microphone.)  “Acrobat” deals with the conflicts of being a rock star, being spiritual but not religious.  “Yeah I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in,” Bono sings.  “Love is Blindness” ends the album on a slow note with the Edge producing perhaps the best guitar-solo he’s ever recorded.  Depending on your point of view, the song is either about an IRA bomb, or leaving his home behind and sleeping with a prostitute.  (I’m going with the prostitute theory.)

I don’t listen to Achtung Baby as much as I used to.  But it still remains one of my favorite albums.  And it’s also an album that U2 knows is among their best – they regularly play songs from it while on tour.  And 19 years later, they’re still trying to recreate the magic of the album with last year’s disappointing No Line on the Horizon.

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