Welcome to the least exciting live blog in the history of the internet. Also note the audacity of calling this a ‘live blog’ for a song that’s over 50 years old… but I thought it would be nice to re-visit Desolation Row and record the thoughts of a full listen through.
Here are the facts:
* I’m listening on Sennheiser bydernamic headphones
* It’s a Flac file (supposedly HD sound) from my work’s impressive song library
* I’m drinking coffee
* I’m eating a round of peanut butter and honey toast
* This is not an analysis, just thoughts that occur when listening - feel free to share yours
HERE WE GO… PLAY.
0:04 - The guitars sound so crisp, this is really one of the best Highway 61 recordings, especially that guitar panned to the right ear…
0:10 - Bob’s vocal is FULL of cold, I always feel the need to sniff after those opening lines.
0:12 - Also what a killer opening line ‘they’re selling postcards of the hanging’ is. What a way to hook you in.
0:48 - Always loved that bit about the riot squad being restless, sounds terrifying.
1:02 - That right panned guitar still banging away, it really is the not-so-secret weapon in this song. Charlie McCoy almost matches Dylan’s vocals to take centre stage.
1:29 - We’re starting to hear from all the classic fairytale/literary characters now… Romeo and Cinderella are first up; I always imagine a packed stage with all these characters on by the end of the song. I love that Einstein is disguised by Robin Hood later, in what other song do you get that?
1:44 - Bloody hell, we’re under 2 mins in and so much has happened already… you kind of forget how ridiculous this song is!
2:31 - Hunchback of Notre Dame enters stage right.
2:34 - ‘Everybody is making love or else expecting rain’ I always felt that was a really simple line that’s been over analysed, as in either you’re in love or you’re full of dread… of course I may be miles out, but I think it’s that simple.
2:44 - I’ve finished my coffee and am half a slice of toast down, just so you know.
2:58 - You’ve got to love Dylan’s simple rhymes….so far row has been rhymed with go twice and now show.
3:05 - Shakespeare character klaxon!
3:12 - Like a lot of Dylan’s records the playing has mistakes (most of the time it’s a live recording with little over dubbing), but it’s great to hear the guitar notes not land every time, it makes for more rewarding continued listening.
4:07 - That bass in the left ear is actually really complex, it’s a shame it gets buried in the mix.
4:17 - That ‘monk’ really highlighting Bob’s cold… and by cold I mean hangover.
4:34 - Absolute classic Dylan delivery of the sliding note on ‘alphabet’.
4:51 - Not gonna lie, Desolation Row is pretty packed right now - there’s a riot squad, ambulances, characters from the Bible and fairy tales and now… Einstein playing an electric violin.
4:53 - Actually just on that, wouldn’t it be amazing if someone painted Desolation Row?
**SONG PAUSED AS I GOOGLE DESOLATION ROW PICTURE**
I’ve found a YouTube video with some cool art, here’s a link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sczxGZ4owA4
5:01 - Dr. Filth, great character name, could be a Bond villain.
5:03 - That’s just reminded me, someone put Licence To Kill over the credits for the Bond film once, didn’t look bad. Bob could have done a decent different bond theme…
5:31 - I think this is the best thing about this classic period, the words create such a scene in your mind’s eye:
‘Now his nurse, some local loser, she's in charge of the cyanide hole and she also keeps the cards that read, "Have Mercy on His Soul”. They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow,
if you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row’
It’s a mad scene, the only world I can describe it as is a whirlwind. It feels like Highway 61 and Bringing It All Back Home… were built around this lyric idea, something I like about a load of other songs too like Hocus Pocus from British singer Jamie T and the new Arctic Monkeys record.
6:01 - This is quite exhausting in the best possible way isn’t it? I bet the takes for this song were tiring too say the least.
6:40 - Bloody hell, those lines of:
‘They are spoon feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls, "Get outta here if you don't know"
Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row’
They are amazing. I think this is the idea of setting someone up for a fall, something we do very well with famous people here in England. That might be my favourite passage from the song.
7:09 - That line of ‘At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew. Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do’. Is actually still relevant today… sadly.
7:14 - Urban chaos is my new favourite way to describe the lyrics.
8:06 - TS Eliot klaxon!
I’ve always liked Bob’s shout-outs in songs, especially Neil Young on Highlands.
8:41 - This harmonica solo is underrated!
8::45 - I love the guitar in the right ear on this bit, it goes almost manic-country.
I’ve had to pause the song because a delivery man has turned up. It is some new aftershave, not that you needed to know. But it has reminded me this is a catchy song, it’s still going round my head when it’s not on.
9:29 - I think we all forget how long this harmonica solo is.
9:46 - The line of ‘When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?’ is an absolute killer, I feel like that sums up this period. Bob was a star, but a bit of a mess, a cocktail of fame, drugs, women and verse makes this period so manic. It’s got a beautiful insanity to it, captured on that line.
10:20 - I think that’s confirmed in the final lines of
‘Right now, I can't read too good, don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row’.
It’s like he’s stuck in this bubble away from the real world.
10:29 - If you’re gonna have a harmonica solo, why not have two?
11:06 - That guitar in the right ear is once again going hyper.
11:21 - And we’re out… well I can confirm it’s still an incredible song. It’s amazing that it’s such a long epic that is essentially the same basic formula repeated through out, but it never gets boring. It’s propelled by sheer energy and the vivid nature of the lyrics meaning they never lose our interest.
I keep thinking one of these days I’ll get bored of it, but it never seems to happen.
Here ends the live blog, thanks for reading, the latest episode of the podcast is here if you missed it.
Until next time….goodbye!