“Went To See The Gypsy” (1970)

The rhyming in “Went To See The Gypsy” is varied, but there is a consistent pattern of abcb to begin each of the four verses.  It’s a mysterious, surreal, dreamlike song.  A man meets with a gypsy apparently to have his fortune told.  A meeting is had, but only an exchange of greetings happen, or so we’re told. A dancing girl advises the man to return to the gypsy but the gypsy is not there when he tries to return to him.  And then the dancing girl is missing as well, leaving the man to reflect, meditate:

So I watched that sun come rising
From that little Minnesota town

It’s a vignette, a small piece of a character’s life.  The song glides and the tune is catchy.  Perhaps the most pleasing part is in the third verse when Dylan sings a litany of rhyming words from the c rhyme position that starts with “there” (albeit a bit forced with it):

He can move you from the rear
Drive you from your fear
Bring you through the mirror
He did it in Las Vegas
And he can do it here”

It’s a good song, easy to listen to, and that final image, with one of the few if any direct references to his home state, lingers.  We get to reflect with the singer on what just happened or rather what didn’t happen.  We are left with more of a gap.  What happened between the exchange of “How are you’s” and why does he take the dancer’s advice to go back?  The story has a pattern but the questions make us realize how little of a pattern there is, as with the rhyming.

Here’s the original studio version

And here’s the latest from the recently released Bootleg Basement Tapes cuts:

“True Love Tends To Forget” (1978)

I’ve binged listened to this song in my car a number of times.  I enjoy the interplay of the instruments, the lyrics, and Dylan’s vocals especially in the twice repeated bridge,

I was lyin’ down in the reeds without any oxygen
I saw you in the wilderness among the men
Saw you drift into infinity and come back again
All you got to do is wait and I’ll tell you when

The rhyming in this song is all couplets, each verse strumming and humming with aa/bb.  So it sounds like a love song, and “love” is in the title.  For Christoper Ricks, rhyming involves memory. We must remember what the sound of a previous word was for us to get the rhyme.  He even refers to rhyming as “a kind of loving, two things becoming one, yet not losing their own identity.” And this song captures that paradox that is love because as Michael Gray says about all the songs on Street Legal, “Every song deals with love’s betrayal.”  And maybe when the need to assert one’s identity becomes stronger than the need to become one with another, betrayal of that love is inevitable or even necessary.

There’s struggle and pleading in this song, this song draped, cloaked in “loving” couplets.  The beloved though loved is hard to recognize, days are like Russian roulette, she is seen with other men, and with her he experiences a weekend from hell. But the last verse gets out what is really on his mind or in his heart,

You belong to me, baby, without any doubt
Don’t forsake me, baby, don’t sell me out

A reminder–one thing certain–without doubt even, she belongs to him (remember another Dylan song of that title?).  That can’t be forgotten even though true love tends to forget.  “Tends” is the key word. It’s not a certainty this forgetting with true love involved.  It can be defied.  And maybe through the rhyming so certainly so without a doubt couplets from beginning to end keeps the balance of love, the Ricksonian one–becoming one while keeping both ones’ identities one, not betraying each other, not betraying each one’s self.

Some inventive rhymes, too, and assonance in this tune, e.g., eyes/recognize; near/sincere; oxygen/men; Mexico to Tibet/tends to forget. Each joined by similar sounds, each its own meaning.

Here it is, in “Remastered” form:

“Never Gonna Be The Same Again” (1985)

Empire Burlesque came as a relief to many Dylan fans, to the chagrin of others.  The relief was from a severing of his overtly religious, specifically Christian pontificating lyrics thumping begun with Slow Train and jammed down throats in his completely gospel LP Saved“Never Gonna Be The Same Again” is a love song, of the pining, yearning type, typical say of Blood On The Tracks or even going back to Another Side of Bob Dylan, and the type that would be heard, five years later on Oh Mercy, e.g. “Most Of The Time.”

The rhyming in “Never” is, with some departures, abcbdee.  It is an all terminal rhyme song, with the auto-rhyming word “baby” advancing full-throttle by the end.  It has a gospel feel still, but the piercing guitar is rock for sure, and the refrain line, “And I ain’t never gonna be the same again” stays with the listener. It’s dramatically delivered, like a pronouncement of some kind, a declaration, at the end of each verse (four of them).

The three rhymes with “again” that end verses 1, 2, and 4 are my favorites, “pretend” with “again” maybe the most creative, but Dylan’s wrenched rhyme “wind”/”again” is striking in how he makes it work, makes it rhyme, a rhymester when it’s all said and done, the song, I mean, “again” never the same again with such words rhyming with it.

Worth a listen for that end wrenched rhyme:

“Long Distance Operator” (1971)

The rhymes on this song are mostly from logical auto or identical word rhymes. The first verse sets the pattern:

Long-distance operator
Place this call, it’s not for fun
Long-distance operator
Please, place this call, you know it’s not for fun
I gotta get a message to my baby
You know, she’s not just anyone

“operator” and “fun” just repeat to summon the rhyming sound.  Need a rhyme? Just repeat the word, right?  Easy?  Well, there’s an exception at the end of each verse.  Note the last word in verse one, “anyone” rhymes with the second repeated word rhyme, “fun”/”fun.”  “wait,” “inside,” and “wire,” are the other non-identical terminal word rhymes, the best I think being “wire” with “higher.”

An amusing thought to this repeated rhyming is how often you have to repeat words when speaking to an operator.  Perhaps a little shot at those frustrating calls from Dylan’s rhyming arsenal?  A stretch right, but it never hurts to speculate what Bobby D has up his sleeve when it comes the to purpose of his rhymes.

Richard Manual is the vocal on the version we all know well from The Basement Tapes, but I found a cool cover of it by the James Cotton Blues Band from 1970–dig the harp!:

“Lo and Behold” (1967)

“Lo and Behold” off The Basement Tapes starts with a story to tell–a looking for my woman who’s waiting for me plot.  And by stanza two, it seems this woman is met, somewhere in Pittsburgh, and her name is Molly.  But by stanza three Molly is looking to see where her herd of moose, a gift from the speaker, has flown to, and our speaker heads to Tennessee.  From there, the storyline descends into complete farce, or ascends depending on your admiration for farce.

The rhyming goes this way as well, meaning we’re introduced to a pattern to follow, but it becomes unreliable by verse three.  The pattern in verse one and two is abcbdefe. One terminal rhyme appears in verse three: “own”/”flown”, and the last verse stresses internal rhyming over terminal rhymes:

Now, I come in on a Ferris wheel
An’ boys, I sure was slick
I come in like a ton of bricks
Laid a few tricks on ’em
Goin’ back to Pittsburgh
Count up to thirty
Round that horn and ride that herd
Gonna thread up!
Lo and behold! Lo and behold!
Lookin’ for my lo and behold
Get me outa here, my dear man!

the words “in,” “Ferris,” “slick,” “bricks,” “tricks,” “Pittsburgh,” thrashing around the ‘I” assonance.

I’ve just always admired how Dylan sings “Lo and BEhold” instead Lo and BeHOLD.  It seems he didn’t want to be beholding to the usual way of saying the phrase, but then again he turned it into a noun, something to be looked for, so why not pronounce it different, too?

The original off The Basement Tapes:

“License To Kill” (1983)

If you want a precise, succinct, fair, and accurate assessment Oh Mercy check out Michael Gray’s entry on it in his The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.  He calls it “[a]ttentively written, vocally distinctive, musically warm, and produced with uncompromising professionalism.”  Credit Daniel Lanois for that last bit of praise.  But the album is not without flaws, and Gray’s omission of “License To Kill” as one of the “standout tracks” may be because it houses some of the flaws.

I’ve never found the sound of it appealing; I don’t think Dylan’s voice works with it.  I’ve liked covers of it more (see Richie Haven’s below), but there aren’t many, and maybe that’s because it is a challenge to sing.

Part of the challenge in this 9 verse song is the 13-15 length lines found in the opening of four of the verses. There’s a lot to cram into those lines vocally, not too mention lyrically.

The rhyming is interesting.  Most of the verses only rhyme in the last two lines, as does the refrain,

But there’s a woman on my block
Sitting there in a cold chill
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

as if the song’s rhymes are wedded to the refrain’s, tied to the women on his block, who ponders and poses questions throughout the song about man’s actions.

But there’s a major departure from this pattern, accompanied by a shift in the pronoun focus from he (the man) and the woman, and that’s to “you”, second person, in the seventh verse:

Ya may be a noisemaker, spirit maker
Heartbreaker, backbreaker
Leave no stone unturned
May be an actor in a plot
That might be all that you got
’Til your error you clearly learn

And the rhyme scheme shifts from abcc to aabccb.  This shift makes this the most compelling verse of the lot.  And Dylan is too playful with pronouns to easily pinpoint who the “you” is.  Is it us, the listener, Dylan, the woman, man?  Ah, the gift of interpretation.  Up to you to decide, me and you. Thanks for that, Bob.

I’ve decided Haven’s best version I’ve heard:

“Let Me Die in My Footsteps” (1963)

This is a song with 7 verses and a strict rhyming pattern of couplets and a refrain ending each verse.  Some internal rhyming sounds abound, but the striking rhyming feature is the anti-illogical eye rhymes, or rhymes of words that look like they would not rhyme but do.  Examples are “been”/”wind”, “word”/”heard”, and perhaps the best “sea”/”history.”

The third verse contains an extended semantic rhyme with the words “see,” “me,” “around,” underground” ending the first four lines and expressing almost a full sentence.  This is counter to the refrain’s message of wanting to “die in my footsteps/Before I go under the ground.”

“Footsteps” and “ground” impress upon the listener from beginning to end–even the first line of the song ends with “ground.”  You can here the footsteps, and whether he dies or not or however he dies, the ghostly presence of their sounds seem certain.

This could be Dylan’s first song, and some parts are precursors to great lines to come, as “’Stead of learnin’ to live they are learnin’ to die” becoming “That he not busy being born is busy dying on “It’s Alright Ma,” or the threat “I’d throw all the guns and the tanks in the sea/For they are mistakes of a past history” later appearing as the main message in “Masters of War.”

Worth a listen, if you haven’t heard it lately: live audio, 1962:

“Huck’s Tune” (2007)

As far as I know, this song only exists off of the Bootleg Collection, Tell Tale Signs. (and I guess on the soundtrack to the film Lucky You, where it plays at the end when the credits appear)  The rhyming in this song is sneaky structured.  It has five verses and a refrain kicker at the end.  The five verses go abcbdefe, but what stands out more are the rigid internal rhymes that appear in every other line.  Let me repeat that:  EVERY OTHER LINE!  Take a look; it’s masterful, and creates a beautiful see-sawing sing-song effect.

And some lines are just terrific like

“In this version of life called death”

“I took a rose from the hand of a child”

“Every day we meet on any old street”/”And you’re in your girlish prime”

“All the merry little elves can go hang themselves”

“Nature’s voice makes my heart rejoice”/”Play me the wild song of the wind”

See them in context with the full lyrics below and listen for them with this video accompaniment:

Well I wandered alone through a desert of stone
And I dreamt of my future wife
My sword’s in my hand and I’m next in command
In this version of death called life
My plate and my cup are right straight up
I took a rose from the hand of a child
When I kiss your lips, the honey drips
But I’m gonna have to put you down for a while

Every day we meet on any old street
And you’re in your girlish prime
The short and the tall are coming to the ball
I go there all the time
Behind every tree, there’s something to see
The river is wider than a mile
I tried you twice, you can’t be nice
I’m gonna have to put you down for a while

Here come the nurse with money in her purse
Here come the ladies and men
You push it all in and you’ve no chance to win
You play ‘em on down to the end
I’m laying in the sand getting a sunshine tan
Moving along riding in style
From my toes to my head, you knock me dead
I’m gonna have to put you down for a while

I count the years and I shed no tears
I’m blinded to what might have been
Nature’s voice makes my heart rejoice
Play me the wild song of the wind
I found hopeless love in the room above
When the sun and the weather were mild
You’re as fine as wine, I ain’t handing you no line
But I’m gonna have to put you down for a while

All the merry little elves can go hang themselves
My faith is as cold as can be
I’m stacked high to the roof and I’m not without proof
If you don’t believe me, come see
You think I’m blue, I think so too
In my words, you’ll find no guile
The game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold
And I’m gonna have to put you down for a while

The game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold
I’m gonna have to put you down for a while

“Heart Of Mine” (1981)

When I was 21 this song either saved my life or ruined it; I’m still not sure which, but that’s a clammy tale.  Let’s get to the rhymes.

“Heart Of Mine” consists of five verses, all of which begin and end with rhymes. The first and last verses are all “i” rhymes.  This is fitting as this is a song with an internal conflict between one’s heart and mind, all about the battle raging within the “I” of the song.  An antithetical rhyme like “home”/”roam” enforces this, as does the rhyme at the end of the second verse

Don’t put yourself over the line
Heart of mine

because indeed if the intent was to stick to the pentameter 10 syllables, one syllable has sent it over to eleven, overreaching, beyond control of the line, over the line, like this heart that won’t stop desiring no matter what the mind tells it.

And the instruments creating the music in the song battle as well.  The percussion, the drums are the beating heart, sometimes drowned out or overcome by organ, piano (that’s Dylan on the studio version), or Ron Wood’s guitar scratching, so memorable in this song.  But like the heart that gets louder and louder by the end in Poe’s “Tell-tale Heart” the drums become more demanding, more prominent, as does a heart bursting to fulfill desire, lust, love, call it what you will.

The drum make it’s presence known after Dylan sings that “over the line” line, but especially after

Don’t untie the ties that bind
Heart of mine

It’s as if the heart can put up with the rest of the mind’s admonishments, but not untying ties that bind, oh no, that will not do.  By the end, the drum matches organ and piano. Listen for it.  Nothing can stop a heart wanting to be fulfilled.

Here’s a live version, outdoors, Dylan’s hair blowing in the wind, from I don’t know when but looks early 80ish.

“Eternal Circle” (1963)

Christopher Ricks calls this song an “entrancing dance of shadows” with “three pairs of partners.”  One is between a man and a woman, the other between the love of a woman and the love of singing, and the last one between the the song the listener hears and “the song we are hearing about.” I’ll add another: the lines that don’t rhyme and those that due.

The rhyming pattern is consistent in this song, perhaps what you might expect from a song with “circle” in its title.  Every fourth and eight lines rhyme in each of the five eight line verses.  The song has 40 lines, both divisible by 4, and, and 5 for that matter.  And as Ricks also notes “n” plays a role in all the rhymes.  He associates this with the “nth” degree as an eternal circle.  I’d like to venture the “n” rhymes are there because “n” sounds like “end,” as in the end of each line, or as a counter to circles which never end, going round and round.

There are things that end and don’t end in this song.   The girl of the singer’s infatuation leaves; she’s gone by the end of the song:

As the tune finally folded
I laid down the guitar
Then looked for the girl
Who’d stayed for so long
But her shadow was missin’
For all of my searchin’

But the singing never ends, the never ending tour, the circle complete but never completed, the song long, and the longing persists:

So I picked up my guitar
And began the next song

Here’s the song, with Dylan always willing to step into the light, the spotlight, forever picking up his guitar and harp to play his next song.

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