“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:

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“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: