Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Absolutely Sweet Marie





Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it
Sometimes it gets so hard, you see
I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all these promises you left for me
But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Quotes
  3. Lyrics
  4. Live versions
  5. Cover versions

Right now @#36 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

Known studio recordings:

Columbia Music Row Studios
Nashville, Tennessee
March 7, 1966

The 10th Blonde On Blonde session, produced by Bob Johnston.

1. Absolutely Sweet Marie rehearsal
2. Absolutely Sweet Marie take 1: complete

3. Absolutely Sweet Marie take 2: false start
4. Absolutely Sweet Marie take 3: complete -> Released on “Blonde On Blonde”
5. Absolutely Sweet Marie insert

Musicians:
  • Bob Dylan (guitar, harmonica, vocal)
  • Charlie McCoy (guitar)
  • Robbie Robertson (guitar)
  • Wayne Moss (guitar)
  • Joe South (guitar, bass)
  • Al Kooper (organ)
  • Hargus ”Pig” Robbins (piano)
  • Henry Strzelecki (bass)
  • Kenneth Buttrey (drums)

Live:

  • First known:Concord Pavilion, Concord, California – June 7, 1988
  • It has been performed 181 times live – last performance: Théâtre Antique de Fourvière, Lyon, France – July 18, 2012
  • Top year 1997 – 40 performances.
BOB DYLAN, LIVE, 1988, JOE PEDUTO

Quotes

The recording at the fourth Nashville date began well after midnight, with a pair of run-through takes by what sounds like an ensemble of piano, two guitars (one played by Robbie Robertson), bass, organ, and drums. Dylan, rich-voiced, practically croons at times. The lyrics to what was then called “Where Are You Tonight, Sweet Marie?” are not quite done, and Dylan sings some dummy lines (“And the eagle’s teeth/Down above the train line”). The band even changes key between takes; but the song seems basically set—though, on these preliminary takes, Kenny Buttrey shifts his snare beat half a minute or so into the song, and then steadily increases the layered patterns of his drumming. On the last take, the one we know from the album, Buttrey builds the complexities to the point where he is defying gravity or maybe the second law of thermodynamics. By the time Dylan sings of the six white horses and of the Persian drunkard, Buttrey and the song are soaring—and then Dylan launches a harmonica break. The band stays in overdrive, but Dylan and Buttrey, pushing each other forward, nearly pop the clutch. For just under a minute, the song becomes an overpowering rock & roll concerto for harmonica and drums. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is esteemed chiefly for lines like, “But to live outside the law you must be honest,” and “Well, anybody can be just like me, obviously/But then, now again, not too many can be like you, fortunately”—the second phrase one of many that Dylan has freely mutated in concert over the last forty years. With the sound of “Sweet Marie,” Blonde on Blonde entered fully and sublimely into what is now considered classic rock & roll.
Sean Wilentz (Mystic Nights – The Making of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville)

Despite its obvious pop sensibility and compulsive melody (so com- pulsive it served Steve Harley for his own number-one single, “Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)”), Dylan duly left the song behind in Nashville, refraining from playing it live for some twenty-two years. In that time it acquired garage-punk status thanks to two memorable cover versions. The Flamin’ Groovies put it on 1979’s Jumpin’ in the Night, and five years later Jason and the Scorchers kicked off their debut mini- album Fervor with their compulsive cow-punk rendition. The Scorch- ers’ radio-friendly revival probably reminded Dylan just what he had discarded, because on the opening night of the Never Ending Tour, at Concord Pavilion on June 7, 1988, he finally took his own Marie out of the garage.
Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973)

“To live outside the law you must be honest,” Dylan sang, dropping one of his most quoted lines on Blonde on Blonde‘s spriest pop tune. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is a cryptic love letter that rides a bubblegum electric keyboard and sparkling blues-rock guitar. Dylan waited more than 20 years to play it live, but the song stands high among Dylan covers; garage-punk progenitors the Flamin’ Groovies and alt-country forebears Jason and the Scorchers have both testified to its rock & roll soul. Looking back at it on its 25th anniversary in 1991, Dylan patted himself on the back: “It’s matured well,” he said. “It’s like old wine.”
rollingstone.com (100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs)

This song combines two characteristic elements of Dylan’s art: a series of sexual metaphors and surreal poetry. The unfortunate narrator’s frustration is quite clear in the first verse: “Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it / Sometimes it gets so hard, you see / I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet / With all these promises you left for me / But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?” Surrealist poetry, meanwhile, manifests itself in characters typical of Dylan’s singular theater, in this case a riverboat captain or a Persian drunkard. Like many of Dylan’s other songs from the mid-sixties, such as “Queen Jane Approximately” on Highway 61 Revisited, “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” “Temporary Like Achilles,” and “Obviously 5 Believers,” the adverb in the title of “Absolutely Sweet Marie” ends with the letter y.
Margotin, Philippe; Guesdon, Jean-Michel (Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track)




Lyrics

Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it
Sometimes it gets so hard, you see
I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all these promises you left for me
But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, I waited for you when I was half sick
Yes, I waited for you when you hated me
Well, I waited for you inside of the frozen traffic
When you knew I had some other place to be
Now, where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, anybody can be just like me, obviously
But then, now again, not too many can be like you, fortunately

Well, six white horses that you did promise
Were fin’lly delivered down to the penitentiary
But to live outside the law, you must be honest
I know you always say that you agree
But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, I don’t know how it happened
But the riverboat captain, he knows my fate
But ev’rybody else, even yourself
They’re just gonna have to wait

Well, I got the fever down in my pockets
The Persian drunkard, he follows me
Yes, I can take him to your house but I can’t unlock it
You see, you forgot to leave me with the key
Oh, where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Now, I been in jail when all my mail showed
That a man can’t give his address out to bad company
And now I stand here lookin’ at your yellow railroad
In the ruins of your balcony
Wond’ring where you are tonight, sweet Marie

Live versions

Poplar Creek Music Theater
Hoffman Estates
Chicago, Illinois
14 July 1988

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • G. E. Smith (guitar)
  • Kenny Aaronson (bass)
  • Christopher Parker (drums)

The Beacon Theatre
New York City, New York

17 October 1990

The Supper Club
New York City, New York
16 November 1993
Early show

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar & harmonica)
  • Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • John Jackson (guitar, banjo)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Winston Watson (drums & percussion)

Five Flags Center Arena
Dubuque, Iowa
12 November 1996

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • John Jackson (guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • David Kemper (drums & percussion)

Bournemouth International Centre
Bournemouth, England
5 May 2002

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Charlie Sexton (guitar)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar, mandolin, pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Jim Keltner (drums & percussion)

Théâtre Antique de Fourvière
Lyon, France
18 July 2012

Cover Versions

Jason and the Scorchers

Studio version:

Roskilde Festival 1985:

George Harrison (The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration)

Old Crow Medicine Show – Bristol (GB) 27/6/2017

The Deep Dark Woods (Live on KEXP)

Sources

-Egil

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