Tag Archive: Bob Dylan


Andy Warhol

Ah, Andy Warhol; his presence is felt in rock and roll history yet again. The mad times of the 60s were over, and the differently mad 70s were off and running. Andy had lost only a little of his relevancy, being viewed as an elder statesman of pop culture rather than an active participant. He still created art, and he still inspired art, as well. And being the astute and cutting observer of culture that he was, David Bowie’s attention was of course turned to Andy for a bit.

The song “Andy Warhol” from Hunky Dory is probably the most accurate poetic statement of how Andy and the Factory actually were. Mind you, how they actually were is bound to be a little different from the prevailing public opinion; I wasn’t born yet and if you’re reading this, chances are you weren’t either. Bowie provides a razor-sharp glimpse here, clean as a surgeon’s scalpel. “Dress my friends up just for show / see them as they really are.” What more need be said?

I know how Andy must feel here, being talked about as if he’s not even in the room. Celebrities enjoy that kind of thing; Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” But the ultimate awkward silence moment came when Bowie invited Andy to the studio to hear the finished product before he released it. He played it for him, and Andy didn’t say anything. Bowie waited a few moments, and Andy still didn’t say anything. They were just staring at each other, Bowie waiting expectantly to hear an opinion on his art. Andy must have felt like a person does when they have that dream in which they’re naked in a public place.

When Andy finally spoke, he commented on Bowie’s shoes. The two of them then proceeded to have a 10 minute conversation about shoes.

Months later, Andy said in an interview that he thought the entire song was a heartless comment on his complexion. “Andy Warhol, silver screen / can’t tell them apart at all.” Even if this isn’t a purposeful reference to Andy’s paleness, I can’t hear it without instantly thinking of Andy’s lily-white, emaciated face. And I chuckle a little.

The vinyl flip is the super-campy burst of glam silliness “Fill Your Heart,” and the album turns to more traditional and guitar-oriented material after that, starting with “Andy Warhol.” Mick Ronson is one of the great guitar heroes of the 70s in this humble writer’s opinion, but he wears a different hat for half-plus of the record. His string arrangements, while not worthy of a Broadway play, fit in perfectly with the ironic song-and-dance timbre of Hunky Dory, most especially on “Fill Your Heart.” It’s almost a vaudeville routine.

Bob Dylan

But things change to a more rock tone, though the sarcasm and cutting wit aren’t reduced at all. “Song for Bob Dylan” and “Queen Bitch” are much the same as “Andy Warhol,” blurring the line between homage and devastating criticism. The subject of “Song For Bob Dylan” is rather obvious; Bowie addresses the dual nature of Dylan, commiserating with his desire to be somebody else while criticizing his efforts to hide his true nature. “Song For Bob Dylan” comes right after “Andy Warhol,” which is a little ironic considering Andy and Bob’s simultaneous affections for the same girl (pop superstar/media trainwreck Edie Sedgwick).

“Queen Bitch” is harder to penetrate, though. I’ve read from more than one source that it’s a tribute to the Velvet Underground, but I just don’t see it. It makes intellectual sense, since Bowie was very buddy-buddy with head Velvet Lou Reed, but I don’t hear “Queen Bitch” and get a Velvets picture. The word-scheme and meter are a little similar to “I’m Waiting For the Man,” but “Queen Bitch” has so much more energy and drive than anything the Velvets did. Regardless, it’s a great song, and one of the best on Hunky Dory.

The American press always makes more out of something than is actually there, and Bowie is no exception. “The Bewley Brothers” is his little joke on them. With this song, he invites those silly Americans to speculate at its possible meaning, and gives them plenty of fodder. In reality, though, the song isn’t really about anything. Like a college student majoring in literature, we dissect and dissect ‘til our dissectors are sore, and all the while Bowie is giggling that we’re wasting our time.

Hunky Dory can be most fully enjoyed in hindsight, knowing that the next album, Ziggy Stardust, builds upon the foundation it created. But even in the mere moment of the end of 1971, in a here-and-now context, Hunky Dory challenges us and takes us for a wild ride. How could Bowie get better?

Amazingly, he does; just wait.

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Honorable Mentions: 1960s

Now that I’ve covered the 60s, I should take a moment to acknowledge important artists from the era whose albums didn’t make the cut.

The Who

The Who, while a great band, have made relatively few songs that really reach out and grab me. They’re somewhat less accessible than fellow 60s heavies despite their super-famous status. Alas, that status probably comes less from their actual musical merits and more from their sheer volume, instrument-smashing antics and wild, crazy behavior, especially of drummer Keith Moon. For his part, Moon was one of the most brilliant and innovative rock drummers to ever to bless this earth, but it seemed his flame just burned too brightly; it quickly burned out.

Pete Townshend, on the other hand (and I may get in trouble for this) is severely overrated. Sure, he’s written some great tunes; “Baba O’Reilly” is a great little slice of adolescent recklessness. But point me to even one Who song that displays guitar prowess that couldn’t be precisely duplicated by a 7th-grader

Tommy

The Who’s boldest, most notable statement is Tommy, a two-disc rock opera which would work just as well as a Broadway musical as an album. Obviously I’m not the first to think so, since the musical theater version of it premiered in San Diego in 1992. It’s the story of a young boy who, after witnessing the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, becomes deaf, blind and mute. He suffers abuse from various family members, including his sadistic cousin, moronically religious parents and pedophilic uncle. It’s eventually discovered that he has an affinity for pinball, and this (for some reason…) leads people to think he’s some sort of messiah. Honestly, that’s where the story loses me; that idea is too ridiculous for me to reconcile. The plot after this point becomes messy, undirected, and pretty stupid. Some of the music is pretty awesome, but for the most part, it’s pulled down by Tommy’s harebrained story.

I know the Who is one of the most touted rock bands ever, holds the record for loudest concert, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility; I know all that. But I listen to most of their music and just shrug. Most of it seems too dramatic, too forced, or too operatic.

Cream

Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton

I was 15 when I first started playing guitar, and that was when I was in the throes of Smashing Pumpkins fandom, among other modern rock interests. My dad cringed a little at my musical tastes, but his response was one of the most positive things possible: he pointed me towards “real” guitarists, and hoped that they would shape my guitar style rather than my more modern heroes. In part, it worked. I got a Cream greatest hits CD the same Christmas I got my first electric guitar. On the first spin of that album and the first time I heard “Sunshine of Your Love,” my ears pricked up in interest, which is what my dad thought would happen.

Cream’s biggest personality was Eric Clapton, though saying it was Clapton’s band is doing a grave disservice to the 2 other astounding musicians in that group. Jack Bruce pioneered the idea of bass guitar being used as the main rhythm method (no rhythm guitar). Then there’s Ginger Baker. He and Keith Moon serve as inspiration for Animal from The Muppet Show When I listen to the Wheels of Fire version of “Toad,” I can just see him going crazy on his kit. He must be using his head to crash the cymbals.

But the greatness and godhood of Clapton can’t be denied. He was the first guitar deity I ever prayed to, the first leader to win my allegiance. Though the height of his powers was the magical and heart-wrenching Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos, the genesis of his fame lies with Cream.

Even so, Cream had too short a history to make an album that was worth being on this list. If they hadn’t broken up when they did, the rock renaissance of the 70s would have lifted them up to the golden heights, and they may have brought a new definition to what rock music could be, could say, and could stand for. But as it stands, they’re an interesting footnote at best, with sadness at unfulfilled potential as their hallmark.

The Doors

My entrance into college life was achingly stereotypical. I packed up all my stuff in my family’s SUV, and my dad drove with me and my mom the two hours east to Quincy, MA. They moved me in, they dropped me off, they gave me hugs, and they left. But during move-in, I met my first college roommate, named Colin. He had sideburns, a smile that said he was up to something, and wore a Blues Brothers style hat and sunglasses; he looked like John Belushi, only not as fat. We only lived together for about a week before I moved out due to irreconcilable differences, but he remains one of my friends.

Colin was a Doors fan, and before then, I hadn’t really been exposed. He insisted that the Doors were a blues band, pointing to “Roadhouse Blues” as a principle example. Blues they’re not, but what they are is one of the most psychedelic bands ever to walk/talk/tour. When you hear a Doors song, you know it, mostly because of Jim Morrison’s mix of southern drawl and screaming howl, or Ray Manzerek’s distinctive organ-playing.

Jim is one of the major members of the 27 Club, a group of musicians who died at the age of 27. He’s the only member of the club whose death still remains a bit of a mystery. He was found by his longtime girlfriend in the bathtub, and no autopsy was performed. Alcohol or drugs or both are popularly thought to be a contributing factor, Jim’s history being what it was, but no one actually know save his girlfriend and the coroner who handled his body. Some even doubt he’s really dead….

Bob Dylan

I know, I know; Bob Dylan’s a legend. He’s a pioneer, he’s foundational, and about 90% of today’s musicians simply wouldn’t exist were it not for him. I know all that. But with the exception of 2 or 3 songs, I don’t like him. His voice sounds like a geriatric duck squawking while a pickup truck repeatedly runs it over. I fully recognize that he’s written some of the greatest songs that have ever existed. I wish by all that is holy that he would NOT try to sing them. Mr. Zimmerman, I’m not trying to malign you as a person, but for God’s sake take a vow of silence. Thank you.

The Mothers of Invention

Frank Zappa must have been an alien. That’s the only way to explain his totally original thinking, his utter lack of conformity, and his daring, nothing-is-sacred attitude about musical norms and styles. When my friend Mike played me to “Call Any Vegetable,” there are many words to describe my emotions: shocked, confused, irritated, intrigued, dismayed, amused, and weirded out start to cover it. The only thing I can say is that The Mothers of Invention (Frank’s band), are among the most – scratch that – THE most original band of the 60s – scratch that – of the 60s and 70s – scratch that – EVER. (Footnote: “original” doesn’t always equal “good”)

The Beach Boys

According to my parents and sister, I got would regularly get up on the coffee table when I was 3 and dance my heart out to the Beach Boys, sometimes pretending it was a surfboard. I question the veracity of these claims, but that is neither here nor there. The fact remains that the Beach Boys more than an early musical influence to me; they very well may have been the first music I ever heard.

However, they don’t make the cut. Their early output is just beach-oriented airwave filler, and I’m frustrated that, like early Beatles and Stones records, it takes them awhile to get the concept of a unified album. But more than those things, they simple aren’t people I look back on through the annuls of history and say, “I love those guys.” That, and I can’t stand “Kokomo;” every time I hear it I want to bludgeon someone to death.

Canned Heat

Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Bob “The Bear” Hite

A lot of people know the “Goin’ Up the Country” song, but have no idea who sang it. I’ll set the record straight; it was Canned Heat, a simple and no-frills blues and boogie outfit that saw its best days in the late 60s. It’s kind of a shame that “Goin’ Up the Country” is their most famous tune, since it’s most certainly not their best. It also doesn’t feature Bob “The Bear” Hite on vocals, their main singer, a dynamic and charismatic frontman. The lead is instead sung by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, the lead guitarist and sometime singer.

Where the Bear was rotund and a husky tenor, Blind Owl was pale and pretty, with a reedy alto voice. What could have made Canned Heat great was if they used the interplay between the two singers. I think it could have been very interesting had the Bear and Blind Owl taken duets or back and forth, but as it was, they just traded off songs; sad.

Alan Wilson is yet another member of the 27 Club, though far less well known. He died of a drug overdose in 1970. The reason he doesn’t get the play other Club members get is that he was an unobtrusive member of a semi-famous band; also sad.

Once again, Canned Heat could have been awesome had circumstance allowed them to continue unhindered, but God obviously had other plans for Blind Owl. For the Bear, as well; he died in 1981.

On Monday: A visit from the red guy with horns; he’s bringing his pitchfork.

Let It Bleed follows the same general musical pattern as Beggars Banquet, having been released only 13 months later. The best song is first, and it’s powerful and in a minor key. Then comes two acoustic-based, country-style numbers, followed by an up-tempo song with a dirty groove. True to the pattern, the fourth song on Let It Bleed is the stomping “Live With Me.” Jagger uses irony here to display the lifestyle of English country folk who are on the edge of civilization. His tone is dismissive and more than a little insulting, as if he’s completely comfortable with only knowing this lifestyle as a cliché. Musically, this style would be explored to greater effect on Sticky Fingers a few years later.

Just as “Live With Me” fills the place of and has a similar emotional color as the Beggars Banquet track “Parachute Woman,” “Midnight Rambler” does a similar thing for “Jigsaw Puzzle.” They share a similiar length, and both have an aimless and meandering quality, but “Rambler” is much bluesier than “Puzzle,” and is more Bo Diddley that Bob Dylan. While the Stones do a very convincing black-American-blues-guitarist impression with “Rambler,” it goes on a little too long for my taste.

Don’t get me wrong; length is not a problem for me. One of my favorite songs is “Octavarium” by Dream Theater, which is almost 24 minutes long. But if you make a really long song, it goes over much better with the listener if it’s really leading somewhere; “Midnight Rambler” isn’t. Heck, the Stones almost stop in the middle of the song.

(Paranthetical: a long song needing to lead somewhere doesn’t apply if you’re the Velvet Underground; just sayin’.)

“Midnight Rambler” is almost 7 minutes long, but it’s followed by the shortest song on the record, “You Got the Silver.” Keith Richards’ previous vocal contributions have been pretty dismal affairs; his lead vocal in “Salt of the Earth” was so bad that Mick took the microphone from him after four lines, and “Something Happened to Me Yesterday” ranks among the Stones absolute worst songs (though I’m not sure that’s really Keith’s fault). Regardless, when Keith started singing “You Got the Silver,” I was ready to just write it off; I was pleasantly surprised. Keith sounds like a different person here, especially considering how bloody awful his voice sounded on “Salt of the Earth” a mere 13 months earlier. He may be no Plácido Domingo, but he’s impassioned and honest, both of which go a long way.

Finally comes the cap, which is the choir boy extravaganza “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” From the London Bach Choir intro to the French horn solo right down to the soaring fade out, everything about this song is gloriously epic and ridiculously over-the-top. It started as a simple idea that Mick had in a hotel room one night with nothing but an acoustic guitar and his voice. Layer upon layer is added by producer Jimmy Miller until it’s bloated almost beyond recognition. I simply can’t explain why “Get What You Want” works; it really shouldn’t. By all rights, the song should topple over with all the extra weight added to it by over-production. But quite astoundingly, it’s one of the Stones’ most enduring songs, and ranks just behind “Gimme Shelter” as Let It Bleed’s best offering.

What follows is almost certainly untrue and apocryphal, but it made me laugh out loud. Mick Jagger was in a drug store in Excelsior, Minnesota to fill a prescription. In line right in front of him was a man named Jimmy Hutmaker, a locally known figure with unspecified developmental disabilities but an outgoing personality. He was affectionately called Mister Jimmy by Excelsior residents. He was telling Mick about how much he loved Cherry Coke, but that they served him a different flavor at the home that morning. Apparently, he said, “y’know, Mr. Jagger, you can’t always get what you want…”

Even to this day, whenever someone says “you can’t always get what you want,” I respond with “well, you know what the Rolling Stones have to say about the matter.” That elicits either a smile or a confused expression.

A Downward Spiral

The Rolling Stones, beyond all else, are a personality-based band. A lot of the best bands and artists are – The Beatles, David Bowie, U2, the Smashing Pumpkins in their heyday – and it’s something marketing executives and image creators know all too well. It’s not just the music that people hear – it’s who’s making the music, too. People connect so much more with a song if they know the name and see the face of person singing it.

Brian Jones

Left without a connecting face, the Rolling Stones would still have been successful, but I think that over half of their fame came from Mick Jagger and his mind-blowing stage presence. The Stones were one of the innovators of image and personality in rock music. Not only Mick, but Keith and the others had distinctiveness as well, including Brian Jones.

Brian was unique within the Stones for his blonde hair compared to the sandy to dark brown of the others. His teardrop-shaped guitar stuck in listeners’ minds, too. But the capstone of his fame was in the form of his tragic death. He died at age 27, but at that time, he was only the 2nd super-famous musician to die at that age. The real notability of his demise came from the manner of his death: drowning in a swimming pool.

Let’s back up a bit. The story arguably starts with the arrival in the Stones’ lives of Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager. He recognized early on that Jagger had stage presence coming out his ears, and also that the most successful bands (meaning the Beatles and the Beach Boys) wrote their own songs. Thus, he directed the career of the band in those directions.

Brian Jones started the band (and came up with the name) only a few years earlier, and was the de facto leader. His original idea for the Rolling Stones was to cover the blues and boogie numbers by black American musicians he so loved. The novelty of white British guys playing soulful American classics was enough to get them a name. Brian was the top dog until Andrew started shaking things up by having Mick take the lead in their shows, and by encouraging Mick and Keith to start writing songs together. Brian, unfortunately, was slowly being left out in the cold.

By 1968, Brian Jones was only in the band because he hadn’t been kicked out yet. He contributed almost nothing to the music; the other band members even turned off his guitar sometimes. When he interacted with them, he was distant at best, hostile and sniping at worst. Even so, his friendships were increasing outside the band with people like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Burdon. He was the unofficial emcee at the famous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, along with his then-girlfriend, Velvet Underground collaborator Nico.

Jones’s last significant contribution to the Stones was playing slide guitar on “No Expectations,” though he also played little parts on the Let It Bleed tracks “Midnight Rambler” and “You Got the Silver.” Preceding the production of Let It Bleed, he had numerous troubles with the law over drugs. A judge had mercy on him after a jury found him guilty of possession, and gave him a fine instead of jail time, and there were also rumors of a conspiracy against Jones and the rest of the Rolling Stones. The unsubstantiated theory goes that the police wanted to make an example of all the Stones in order to deter the British public from drugs.

The final straw came when the Stones were going to tour America again in support of Let It Bleed (slated for a July 1969 release) and Brian was denied a work visa. At that point, Jagger and company had had enough; they hired Mick Taylor to replace Jones on guitar, and Jones moved into a mansion in East Sussex where he descended in a wild downward spiral of drugs, sex, and misadventure that was his eventual undoing.

“Elvis didn’t expectorate on his fans!”

Let that be a lesson to you, kids: don’t do drugs. But don’t take my word for it; ask Brian Jones. Oh, that’s right, you can’t. ‘Cause he’s dead.

Hey, do you like my impression of the dad on Freaks and Geeks?

Monday: The death of the 1960s.