Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Nettie Moore





Lost John’s sittin’ on a railroad track
Something’s out of whack
Blues this mornin’ fallin’ down like hail
Gonna leave a greasy trail

..the song is pure Dylan invention, on the face of it an absurdist assortment of images that take the listener in all sorts of directions, incorporating fragments of other songs and texts, for instance quoting from Delta bluesman Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”: “Blues this morning falling down like hail.” Dylan can juxtapose a reference to his own band (“I’m in a cowboy band”), to the excesses of Dylanology (“The world of research has gone berserk / Too much paperwork”)—and then throw in a reference to the traditional folk song “Frankie and Albert,” which he had covered on the 1992 anthology Good As I Been To You: “Albert’s in the graveyard, Frankie’s raising hell.” And yet it works as a song whose sorrow reflects that of the 1859 slave song whose title it takes, but is intensified by the melody, the images, and above all by Dylan’s voice in all its aged richness.
-Why Bob Dylan Matters, by Richard F. Thomas

Vimeo:

I love those old piano ballads. In my hometown walking down dark streets on quiet summer nights you would sometimes hear parlor tunes coming out of doorways and open windows. Somebody’s mother or sister playing A Bird in a Guilded Cage’ off of sheet music.
– Bob Dylan (to Bill Flanagan in 2009)

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Lyrics
  3. Live versions

@#146 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

From “Modern Times” released on August 29, 2006 by Columbia Records.

Wikipedia:

“Nettie Moore” takes its title, and some of its chorus, from an 1857 composition “Gentle Nettie Moore” by Marshall Pike and James Lord Pierpont, the composer of “Jingle Bells”, though Dylan’s melody and lyrics are otherwise unrecognizable, although the song shares a rhyme with “Moonshiner“, a traditional folk song that Dylan recorded in 1963: “They say whiskey will kill ya, but I don’t think it will” vs. “If whiskey don’t kill me, I don’t know what will.”

Known studio recordings:

  • Sony Recording Studios, NYC, February 2006

    Musicians: Bob Dylan: vocals, piano; Stu Kimball: guitar; Denny Freeman: guitar; Donnie Herron: violin; Tony Garnier: bass, cello; George G. Receli: drums, percussion

    Producer: Jack Frost (Bob Dylan)
    Sound Engineer: Chris Shaw

Each note Dylan reaches for and each word he sings is done calmly and sweetly, accompanied by a very creative arrangement, including a highly streamlined rhythm section (bass drum, tambourine, cymbals) and cello playing pizzicato as well as with the bow. “Nettie Moore” is one of the best songs on Modern Times.
-Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon – Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track

Live:

  • First known live performance: ARCO Arena, Sacramento CA, October 18, 2006
  • It has been performed only 142 times live – last performance:Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada – 9 October 2012.
  • Top year was 2007 – 52 performances

‘Nettie Moore’ equally implies that our man is paying for a life of sin – he may even be the ‘Lost John sittin’ on a railroad track’ in line one (another one from the lexicon, ‘Lost John’ was both the title and opening line of a well-known traditional song). From the very first verse, where Dylan also introduces a line from Robert Johnson’s ‘Hellhound On My Trail’ (‘Blues fallin’ down like hail’), judgement and damnation straddle the land. The singer duly admits he ‘got a pile of sins to pay for’, even namechecking Frankie and Albert, characters from an infamous murder immortalized in a traditional ballad Dylan recently covered on Good As I Been To You. He suggests Frankie may still be ‘raising hell’, but the narrator himself is ‘beginning to believe what the scriptures tell’. Elsewhere he references W.C. Handy’s ‘Yellow Dog Blues’ (‘I’ve gone where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog’)..
-Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

Lyrics

Lost John sitting on a railroad track
Something’s out of wack
Blues this morning falling down like hail
Gonna leave a greasy trail

Gonna travel the world is what I’m gonna do
Then come back and see you
All I ever do is struggle and strive
If I don’t do anybody any harm, I might make it back home alive

I’m the oldest son of a crazy man
I’m in a cowboy band
Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain’t got time to hide
I’d walk through a blazing fire, baby, if I knew you was on the other side

Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore
And my happiness is o’er
Winter’s gone, the river’s on the rise
I loved you then and ever shall
But there’s no one here that’s left to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes

The world of research has gone berserk
Too much paperwork
Albert’s in the graveyard, Frankie’s raising hell
I’m beginning to believe what the scriptures tell

I’m going where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog
Get away from these demagogues
And these bad luck women stick like glue
It’s either one or the other or neither of the two

She says, “look out daddy, don’t want you to tear your pants.
You can get wrecked in this dance.”
They say whiskey will kill ya, but I don’t think it will
I’m riding with you to the top of the hill

Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore
And my happiness is o’er
Winter’s gone, the river’s on the rise
I loved you then and ever shall
But there’s no one here that’s left to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes

Don’t know why my baby never looked so good before
I don’t have to wonder no more
She been cooking all day and it’s gonna take me all night
I can’t eat all that stuff in a single bite

The Judge is coming in, everybody rise
Lift up your eyes
You can do what you please, you don’t need my advice
Before you call me any dirty names you better think twice

Getting light outside, the temperature dropped
I think the rain has stopped
I’m going to make you come to grips with fate
When I’m through with you, you’ll learn to keep your business straight

Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore
And my happiness is o’er
Winter’s gone, the river’s on the rise
I loved you then and ever shall
But there’s no one here that’s left to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes

The bright spark of the steady lights
Has dimmed my sights
When you’re around all my grief gives ‘way
A lifetime with you is like some heavenly day

Everything I’ve ever known to be right has proven wrong
I’ll be drifting along
The woman I’m lovin’, she rules my heart
No knife could ever cut our love apart

Today I’ll stand in faith and raise
The voice of praise
The sun is strong, I’m standing in the light
I wish to God that it were night

Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore
And my happiness is o’er
Winter’s gone, the river’s on the rise
I loved you then and ever shall
But there’s no one here that’s left to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes




Live versions

New York City Center
New York City, New York
20 November 2006

Globe Arena
Stockholm, Sweden
28 March 2007

Max Schmeling Halle
Berlin, Germany
3 May 2007

The Odeum Stage
Double JJ Ranch
Rothbury, Michigan
5 July 2009
Rothbury Music Festival

O2 World
Berlin, Germany
29 October 2011

Rexall Place
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
9 October 2012

Sources

-Egil

2 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Nettie Moore”

  1. BigFrank given the obvious accolades you mentioned about Bob’s “Nettie Moore” and his huge fan base , I ‘d have to say you’re icy cold because that’s your persona ☹️.

  2. My question is:

    “So why, given its provenance, its technical virtuosity and its intellectual sophistication does this song leave me cold?

    Icy cold !”

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