Bob Dylan’s best songs – Visions of Johanna #1

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“The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place”
— from “Visions of Johanna”

In 1982 readers of ‘The Telegraph” voted ‘Visions of Johanna’ their “favourite Dylan Song” by a wide margin (‘Like A Rolling Stone’ & ‘It’s Alrght, Ma’ tied for second). Why? There is a depth in this song, an intimate bond created between the singer and the listener, that defies analysis & explanation
~Paul Williams (BD Performing Artist 1960-73)

bob dylan 1966

@ #1 on my list of Dylan’s 200 best songs.. this really is a song so good it’s hard grasp…  every time I put it on… it feels like a new & old classic.. a true masterpiece.

The master version (Blonde On Blonde version) was recorded @ Columbia Music Row Studios – Nashville, Tennessee –14 February 1966 (47 years ago).

This was the the 6th Blonde On Blonde session, produced by Bob Johnston.. and Dylan also landed “Fourth Time Around” @ this sessions.

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The session list:

  1. Fourth Time Around
  2. Fourth Time Around
  3. Fourth Time Around
  4. Fourth Time Around
  5. Fourth Time Around
  6. Fourth Time Around
  7. Fourth Time Around
  8. Fourth Time Around
  9. Fourth Time Around
  10. Fourth Time Around
  11. Fourth Time Around
  12. Fourth Time Around
  13. Fourth Time Around
  14. Fourth Time Around
  15. Fourth Time Around
  16. Fourth Time Around
  17. Fourth Time Around
  18. Fourth Time Around
  19. Fourth Time Around
  20. Fourth Time Around
    …a minor song on Blonde on Blonde, is more than just a parody of THE BEATLES’ song from a few months earlier, ‘Norwegian Wood’, though there is certainly a strong parallel between that song’s distinctive melody, sung by JOHN LENNON, and the melody Dylan uses.
    ~Michael Gray (BD Encyclopedia)
    Mono version:
  21. Visions Of Johanna
  22. Visions Of Johanna
  23. Visions Of Johanna
  24. Visions Of Johanna
  25. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
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  38. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

Blonde On Blonde version:

Spotify:

Personnel:

  • Bob Dylan (guitar, piano, harmonica, vocal)
  • Charlie McCoy (guitar, bass)
  • Robbie Robertson (guitar)
  • Wayne Moss (guitar)
  • Joe South (guitar, bass)
  • Al Kooper (organ)
  • Kenneth Buttrey (drums).

1-20  

  • Charlie McCoy (bass harmonica).

25-38

  • Jerry Kennedy (guitar)
  • Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano)

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Dylan really had to work at “Visions of Johanna”—which many, myself included, consider Dylan’s finest work/song—in the studio before capturing the sublimity of the Blonde on Blonde recording.
~Clinton Heylin (Revolution In The Air)

Wikipedia:

Released May 16, 1966
Recorded February 14, 1966
Genre Folk rock
Length 7:30
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan

Visions of Johanna” is a song written and performed by Bob Dylan on his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. Dylan first recorded the song in New York City in November 1965, under the working title of “Freeze Out”, but was dissatisfied with the results. When theBlonde on Blonde recording sessions moved to Nashville in February 1966, Dylan attempted the composition again with different musicians, and decided to release this performance. Three alternate versions of the song have been officially released: one of them a November 1965 studio outtake, and two others live performances from his 1966 world tour.

Several critics have acclaimed “Visions of Johanna” as one of Dylan’s highest achievements in writing, praising the allusiveness and subtlety of the language. Rolling Stone included “Visions of Johanna” on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1999, Sir Andrew Motion, poet laureate of the UK, listed it as his candidate for the greatest song lyric ever written. Numerous artists have recorded cover versions of the song, including the Grateful Dead, Marianne Faithfull and Robyn Hitchcock.

bob dylan thin wild mercury music

Dylan first recorded this song, backed by The Hawks, in the CBS New York recording studio, on November 30, 1965, announcing his new composition with the words: “This is called ‘Freeze Out’.” Andy Gill notes that this working title captures the “air of nocturnal suspension in which the verse tableaux are sketched…full of whispering and muttering.” According to Marcus, Dylan introduced the song in live performances in 1966 with the words, “Seems like a freeze-out.”

Lyrics:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
How can I explain?
Oh, it’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
But like Louise always says
“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”
As she, herself, prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

 

Different versions….

1. 30 November 1965 – versions 1 (Freeze out):

2. 30 November 1965 – versions 2 (Freeze out):

And we need a live 1966 version…

3. Gaumont Theatre – Sheffield, England – 16 May 1966:

On the 26th of July, 1999, in a club in Manhattan, Bob Dylan delivered one of his greatest performances ever of his well-loved 1966 epic “Visions Og Johanna”
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan Performing Artist 1986-1990)

4. Tramps – New York City, New York – 26 July 1999:

5. Guildhall – Portsmouth, England – 24 September 2000:

From Spotfy:

London – Royal Albert Hall – May 26, 1966:

Manchester, UK – 17 May 1966:

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Check out -> Video of the day “Visions Of Johanna” live 2000

Check out:  Bob Dylan’s 200 best songs

Check Out: Bob Dylan recording sessions

References:

-Egil

9 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs – Visions of Johanna #1”

  1. Yes, of course. (something with my keys–on the keyboard.) I just meant that I would place a comma after harmonicas play…as a use of parataxis and other odd syntax that contribute to making the song so compelling!!

    (I used to enjoy listening to Robbie’s guitar playing in isolation on one channel–the right, i think. My favorite guitar part of all-time.)

  2. Nice writeup, and thanks for all the versions. I especially remember him playing this song two nights in a row in Berkeley in May, 1992. I think this still may be the only time since 1979 (?) where he played the same setlist in successive concerts.

    Your first quote of the lyrics has the line “The harmonicas play like skeleton keys and the rain.” Of course that “like” doesn’t belong there as your full lyric shows: “The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain.”

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