Tag Archives: The best songs

Bob Dylan’s best songs: Angelina

bob dylan drammen 1981
Drammen, Norway – 1981

Well, it’s always been my nature to take chances
My right hand drawing back while my left hand advances
Where the current is strong and the monkey dances
To the tune of a concertina
~from “Angelina”

…. there were some real songs on this album that we recorded, a couple of really long songs, like there was one I did – do you remember Visions Of Johanna?…. Well, there was one like that. I’d never done anything like it before. It’s got that same kind of thing to it. It seems to be very sensitive and gentle on one level, then on another level the lyrics aren’t sensitive and gentle at all. We left that off the album.
~Bob Dylan (to Neil Spencer – July 1981)

How to comment on this extraordinary piece of writing? Recorded at the ‘Shot of Love’ sessions of April-May 1980, Angelina is unlike anything else Bob Dylan has ever written – part Cocteau film, part Braque painting, totally surreal, it defies logic and heads off for the deepest, darkest parts of poetic mystery. Though Dylan has never commented about the song in public, chances are that he’d confess that it was as much mystery to him as to anyone else.
~John Bauldie (TBS1-3 booklet)

@ number 80 on my list of Dylan’s 200 best songs.

Angelina is credited as being recorded on May 4, 1981 on “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3”. According to “Krogsgaard” & “Olof’s – Still on the Road“, this is not true, as it were mixed on that day, but recorded March 26:

Continue reading Bob Dylan’s best songs: Angelina

Bob Dylan the best songs: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

bob dylan - the jack of hearts

The festival was over, the boys were all plannin’ for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’ in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin’ wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin’ in the doorway lookin’ like the Jack of Hearts
~Bob Dylan (Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts)

The uses of a ballad have changed to such a degree. When they were singing years ago, it would be as entertainment . . . A fellow could sit down and sing a song for a half hour, and everybody could listen, and you could form opinions. You’d be waiting to see how it ended, what happened to this person or that person. It would be like going to a movie … Now we have movies, so why does someone want to sit around for a half hour listening to a ballad? Unless the story was of such a nature that you couldn’t find it in a movie.
-Bob Dylan (to John Cohen, June 1968)

This epic ballad appears to have been wholly inspired by Dylan’s experience of making the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid in a genre which suited both ballad and b-movies: The Western.
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

Continue reading Bob Dylan the best songs: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

The Best Songs: Man of Constant Sorrow


The Best Songs: Man of Constant Sorrow

Oh, six long years I’ve been in trouble,
No pleasure here on earth I found.
While in this world, I’m bound to ramble,
I have no friends to help me out.

Man of Constant Sorrow” (also known as “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow“) is a traditional American folk song first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. The song was originally recorded by Burnett as “Farewell Song” printed in a Richard Burnett songbook, about 1913. An early version was recorded by Emry Arthur in 1928.

Emry Arthur – Man of Constant Sorrow (1928):

Continue reading The Best Songs: Man of Constant Sorrow

The Best Songs: Fixin’ To Die Blues by Bukka White aka Booker T Washington

Drawing by the incredible William Stout
Drawing by the incredible William Stout

The Best Songs: Fixin’ To Die Blues by Bukka White aka Booker T Washington

“Fixin’ to Die” is song by American blues musician Bukka White. It is performed in the Delta blues style with White’s vocal and guitar accompanied by washboard rhythm. White recorded it in Chicago on May 8, 1940, for record producer Lester Melrose. The song was written just days before, along with eleven others, at Melrose’s urging.

White was resuming his recording career, which had been interrupted by his incarceration for two and one-half years at the infamous Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi. While there, White witnessed the death of a friend and “got to wondering how a man feels when he dies”. His lyrics reflect his thoughts about his children and wife:

I’m looking funny in my eyes, an’ I b’lieve I’m fixin’ to die (2×)
I know I was born to die, but I hate to leave my children cryin’ …
So many nights at the fireside, how my children’s mother would cry (2×)
‘Cause I ain’t told their mother I had to say good-bye

Fixin To Die blues by Bukka White (1940 version):

Continue reading The Best Songs: Fixin’ To Die Blues by Bukka White aka Booker T Washington

The best songs: Lake Marie by John Prine


The best songs: Lake Marie by John Prine

“Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about “Sam Stone” the soldier junky daddy and “Donald and Lydia,” where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be “Lake Marie.” I don’t remember what album that’s on.”
– Bob Dylan (Interview with Bill Flanagan 2009)

Lake Marie is from the album, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, the 12th studio album by  John Prine, released in 1995. The song was inspired in part by Prine’s crumbling marriage and a series of grisly murders the singer remembered the Chicago news media having a field day with when he was a kid. It is one of my favourite songs, not just by John Prine, but by any artist.

John Prine:
“It’s an actual place along the Illinois-Wisconsin border. There’s an entire chain of lakes along there, small lakes, and I remember as a teenager growing up in Chicago, a lot of the teenagers would go to these lakes and in the summer time kind of get away from the city. Lake Marie was kind of just one that stuck out in my mind. About ’59, ’60, ’61, I grew up in Maywood – it’s a western suburb of Chicago, and we started hearing about murders that weren’t related to the mob. You know, John Wayne Gacy was like, about two towns away from me and you just hear about it. The suburbs were kind of thought to be a pretty safe place at the time, and then some of these unexplained murders would show up every once in a while, where they’d find people in the woods somewhere. I just kind of took any one of them, not one in particular, and put it as if it was in a TV newscast. It was a sharp left turn to take in a song, but when I got done with it, I kind of felt like it’s what the song needed right then.”

Lake Marie (album version):

Continue reading The best songs: Lake Marie by John Prine