Like many others, well maybe just a few who can remember being back in the late 60’s and not being stoned, I remember the first time I heard Bob Dylan. I could not believe that someone with such an incredibly horrible voice would even attempt to sing, let alone produce and market an entire album. Maybe I was stoned.
Well, we all know how naïve I was. Dylan went on to become one of the major contributors to both our music and culture for many decades to come. I did grow to like him, but mainly as a writer and mainly during his first half dozen albums. After that he seemed to mumble more with each record he produced or my ears seem to clog up more. Regardless, I swear I don’t know what the hell the man was singing about because I couldn’t understand a word.
Now here we are, both Dylan and me, in 2016. In case you have a hard time telling us apart, I am the unknown starving author of a few obscure books and he’s the mega rich rock star who has released a gazillion albums and has had tons of hits.
So now I come to the point of this dissertation: Bob Dylan’s most recent album titled Fallen Angels. It’s a compilation of Dylan singing some older songs. No, not his older songs and, no, not a bunch of cover tunes from the standard classic rock library. Instead, Dylan is singing songs that other contemporary artists have also attempted in the latter years of their careers…classic songs known as the “standards” from the 40’s and 50’s–lots of stuff Sinatra did. These are songs written and composed by the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn among others. They are songs such as All the Way, Polka Dots and Moonbeams and It Had to be You.
To hear Bob Dylan sings these songs is as bad as bad carrie okie can get. Don’t take my word for it, go to iTunes and suffer through some of Fallen Angels to really appreciate how fallen it is. Then, if you want to hear the concept of “pop artist sings the standards” done right, check out the series of albums Linda Ronstadt did with Nelson Riddle in the 1980’s.
Okay, I don’t want to end this on a sour Dylan note, so I have to get back to the comment I made earlier. As a true song writer, he is an exceptional poet who has written one verse that has been a favorite of mine for decades. Whether or not it is drug induced, written about drugs or whatever, it’s just a great verse. It’s about escaping, getting away, or running away or, as is the case with lots of poetry, it’s whatever interpretation you want to make of it. Oddly, it’s a Dylan verse from a song he didn’t have the hit with—The Byrds did and they made it a classic: Hey Mr. Tambourine Man. Oddly even more so, it’s the final verse of the song as Dylan wrote it, but the Byrds didn’t include it in their famous version.
So I’ll forgive him for singing Young at Heart as a passing “oops” and, instead, appreciate the original, pure Bob Dylan:
Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Hey Mister Tambourine Man play a song for me….
© BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO