Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Songs for Bobby

I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked the Beatles

I asked Timothy Leary

But he couldn't help me either

The Who, The Seeker (1971)

According to there are now over 31,000 individual covers of Bob Dylan songs. But how many songs are there actually about Dylan? Quite a few actually, though most seem to be parodies, along with a couple of open love songs about him (maybe it's easier to mock than to love).

Joan Baez (in perhaps her best original song; she's long said it's not about Dylan but we all know it is) on Diamonds and Rust (1975) refers to Dylan as 'the unwashed phenomenon / The original vagabond'. Joan, usually when covering his songs in the 1970s, would do a pretty good impression of Dylan's voice.

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, has never hidden the fact she adores Dylan. She's even on record as saying she wants to have his baby. In Song for Bobby (2007), the best song by far on her Jukebox album, she pleads, 'Can I finally tell you to be my man?'

Dylan was a key early influence on David Bowie, and on Song for Bob Dylan (1971), Bowie sings that Dylan has a voice 'like sand and glue'. Andy Warhol was apparently upset that Bowie put his song about Warhol next to Song for Bob Dylan on his album Hunky Dory. The relationship between Dylan and Warhol was somewhat tempestuous. Perhaps they were two sides of the same coin. Paranoid Warhol famously gave Dylan one of his Elvis prints in the 1960s and wondered what happened to it; according to rumour, Dylan either: used it as a dartboard; gave it away, or swapped it for a sofa. There's an amusing comic strip about the pair called Bob Hates Andy.

Last Man Standing (2005) by Bon Jovi was inspired by the death of another legend: 'When Johnny Cash died, I picked up my guitar and got the idea that Bob Dylan was the last man standing, the last of the real gods,' Jon Bon Jovi says. 'It was for Dylan, Cash, Lennon, Elvis – that's what I was thinking.'

'See those real live calloused fingers / Wrapped around those guitar strings / Kiss the lips where hurt has lingered / It breaks the heart to hear him sing'

Dylan is mentioned in two songs by T-Rex. On Telegraph Sam, 'Bobby's all right / Bobby's all right / He's a natural born poet / He's just outta sight'. And on Ballrooms of Mars, 'Bob Dylan knows / And I bet Alan Freed did: / There are things in night that are better not be behold.'

I'm So Restless, from Roger McGuinn's first solo album (1973) is partly about Dylan, who plays harmonica on the song:

'Hey, Mr. D do you want me to be / A farmer a cowhand an old country boy / To get up in the a.m. and tend to the chores / And leave all my troubles behind a locked door / Layin' with my lady and strumming' on my toy / Oh, I know what you mean and it sounds good to me / But oh, Mr. D. I'm so restless'

McGuinn co-wrote many of the songs from his first album with Jacques Levy, who would collaborate with Dylan a few years later on his album Desire. Of course, with The Byrds McGuinn recorded many Dylan songs, popularising such classics as Mr Tambourine Man and All I Really Want To Do. McGuinn co-wrote with Dylan the theme tune to the film Easy Rider, Ballad of Easy Rider, and in 1975/76 he played with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.

Dylan is mentioned (often in passing and/or for a convenient rhyme) in lots of songs. The Beastie Boys are 'just chillin' like Bob Dylan' on 3 Minute Rule; 'Til Tueday 'sat in the car and listened to a Dylan tape' on Coming up Close; The Beatles sing on Yer Blues 'I feel so suicidal / Just like Dylan's Mr. Jones'; Wyclef Jean's Gone Till November has 'So I'm Knockin' on Heaven's Door like Bob Dylan' and a cameo from Dylan in the video; on Garden Party by Rick Nelson, 'Mr Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise'; John Lennon in his song God, 'I don't believe in Zimmerman' and The Plastic Ono Band's Give Peace a Chance: ' Everybody's talkin' 'bout / John and Yoko... Bobby Dylan'; Kris Kristofferson's If You Don't Like Hank Williams starts off with 'I dig Bobby Dylan and I dig Johnny Cash...'; Don't Look Back by Belle and Sebastian, 'If they follow you / Don't look back / Like Dylan in the movies', obviously referring to Dylan's Dont Look Back documentary; Hootie and the Blowfish's I Only Wanna Be With You has 'Put on a little Dylan... Ain't Bobby so cool...'; 'And things got weird / And I started growing / Bob Dylan's beard' from Bob Dylan's 49th Beard by Wilco; there's The Lonesome Ballad of Robert Zimmerman by Hogan's Fountain; Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, David Blue & Me by John Wesley Harding, a dream where 'Bob plays harmonica but he plays it all wrong' and Kevin Kinney's MacDougal Blues 'Thought I'd see a million Dylans, maybe a Joni Mitchell or two...'

Dylan himself is no stranger to name-checking (usually dead) others in his songs, from Arthur Rimbaud to Napoleon. More recently though he's been 'Thinking about Alicia Keys' (Thunder on the Mountain) and 'listening to Neil Young' (on Highlands). Neil Young, perhaps returning the complement, sings 'You're invisible / you've got too many secrets / Bob Dylan said that or something like that' on his song Bandit some years later.

With Dylan's distinctive nasal whining, he seems an easy target to mock. There's a Bob Dylan Blues by Syd Barrett; Bob by Weird Al Yankovic; Blues in Bob Minor, a Subterranean Homesick Blues parody by Robert Wyatt; Paul Simon's A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission); John Lennon's Serve Yourself; Richard Belzer's The Ballad of Bob Dylan ('He was a skinny Jew, one of the few from Minnesota, they had a quota'); Protest Song by Neil Innes; Suburban Drone by The Capital Steps... and not forgetting Minutemen's Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs (though I'm not sure what category it falls into).

Best of all, a few years back, Kevin Ryan put online Dylan Hears A Who (now unfortunately taken down by Dr. Seuss Enterprises), a mash-up album of mid-sixties sounding Dylan singing Dr. Seuss poems. Ryan's nasal twang sounds exactly like Dylan circa. 1965 and apparently Ryan even played all the instruments too. It came complete with 60-style cover artwork. It's very funny and you should be able to find it somewhere on the web quite easily.

On an album of mainly cover versions (Acoustic), Everything but the Girl's Me & Bobby D comes across as a bit mean, though interesting, coming from one who presumably doesn't hero worship the man:

'Me and Bobby D don't get along that easily / You told the world, "Be free, love life" / Tell me, is it true you beat your wife? / You see, me and Bobby D don't get along that easily / You told the world, "Skip rules have fun" / Knocked her from here to kingdom come? / How many girls have you had today? / And how many bottles have you downed today? / And while you're on the skids, who's minding the kids? / Go to sleep Bobby D, here's a kiss / Don't worry your pretty head about this.'


Matt said...

Jenny Lewis and the Watson twins makes a nice reference in the song Charging Sky from Rabbit Fur Coat...she sings “so my Mum she brushes her hair, and my Dad’s starts growin’ Bob Dylan’s beard and I share with my friends a couple of beers...”

Barnaby said...

That is a nice one, thanks.