058 – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

Episode 58 
“Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
Bringing It All Back Home. 
Blockhouse. 
#1 of Music Video Month 2018.
Recorded June 24, 2018. 

Context (7:30)

First recorded in Studio A in New York City on January 13, 1965 in 1 take (which can be heard on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3 and Vol. 12: Cutting Edge). Dylan would say, “‘It [just] didn’t sound right on guitar. I [also] tried it on piano, harpsichord, harmonica, pipe organ, kazoo. But it fit right in with the band.” The next day, January 14, 1965, he recorded 3 takes (take 3 on Bring It All Back Home).

In May of ’65, Dylan would be asked if there’s a move afoot to turn him into a pop star.

They can’t turn me into anything. I just write my songs and that’s that! Nobody can change me and by the same token, they can’t change my songs. Of course I vary things once in a while, like with the different backing I had on Subterranean Homesick Blues. But that was entirely my own doing. Nobody talked me into it. Just so happened we had a lot of swinging cats on that track, real hip musicians.

Bob Dylan

Those hip musicians: Al Gorgoni, Kenny Rankin and Bruce Langhorne on guitar, Joe Macho, Jr. on bass and Bobby Gregg on drums.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” was Dylan’s first Top 40 song (peaking at #39). It’s Rolling Stone‘s #332 of the 500 greatest songs of all-time. He’s performed this 120 times from June 1988 to September 2002.

Song Itself (16:30)

‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was electric all the way down to its obvious R & B roots. No traditional ballad provided this song with its underlying infrastructure Acoustic or electric, it had been taken at quite a different clip from any folk ballad – or, indeed, the southern boogie Chuck Berry utilized when devising the template on April 16, 1956.

Clinton Heylin

Before getting into the song, Daniel mentions Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans from 1958 and Chuck Berry’s 1956 “Too Much Monkey Business.” As for the song, it may not be his most profound or oblique, although perhaps his most playful, but it’s quotable as hell. As Andy Gill notes: “An entire generation recognized the zeitgeist in the verbal whirlwind” of the track.

And that’s it really. Similar to a song like “Tombstone Blues,” the metaphors and references are still traceable but would have been instantly recognized at the time: the medicine, better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose, the pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handle. Daniel and Kelly break it all down verse-by-verse on the podcast.

As for the legacy, it’s immense. John Lennon was so captivated that he didn’t think he could write a song to compete with it. Bob Dylan is the most cited musician in legal opinions and “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” is the most cited by judge and lawyers. The Weather Underground took their name from that line. To name a few.

If Dylan like Shakespeare is to be someday remembered for having created combinations of language that ‘age cannot wither,’ “Subterranean Homesick Blues” will be a shining example thereof.

Paul Williams

Mixed Up Confusion

In addition to a new episode, we’re in Music Video Month! That means we record a special Mixed Up Confusion where we discuss the music videos of the one and only Bob Dylan. Check out the episode and videos below.

Recommendations (41:00)

Because we slid into summer, we’ve been off for roughly two months. Kelly recommends The Staircase, Dear White People, the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Oceans 8. She also listened to David Bowie’s Low over and over.

Daniel had way too many recommendations but can be boiled down to The Sidekicks Happiness Hours, Gaslight Anthem ’59 Sound Sessions, Zeal & Ardor Stranger Fruit, Iceage Beyondless, Courtney Barnett Tell Me How You Really Feel and Warm Thoughts I Went Swimming Alone.

Endings (50:00)

Music Video Month rolls on: “Jokerman” is our next selection!

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