“Boots Of Spanish Leather” (1963)

What is Bob Dylan’s finest love song?  Christopher Ricks, under the category of “Faith” (one of “The Heavenly Graces”) in his book Dylan’s Vision of Sin, thinks it’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.”  So I assume he’d give it four stars.  The song though has only one:
Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’
It’s the fourth verse, one of the four that begins with “Oh,” and it may be the most heartfelt expression from the, shall I say, male lover who does not want his beloved to depart.  Ricks is right that this song doesn’t ask for anything, and in this verse, the lover would even give up great possessions like stars and diamonds if he had them for just one of her sweet kisses.  They’d also be the shiniest stars since they’d be from the darkest night–perhaps the one coming once the Dear John letter arrives in verse seven:
I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’
This finest of love songs has a rhyme that haunts me, and it’s one repeated, and not from the chorus, unusual for Bob, so the rhyme must have meant something to him in this song.  It appears in the second and fourth of nine verses:

No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
From across that lonesome ocean

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin

There it is, delightfully forced, “ocean” and “ownin.”  Those two words are thematically meaningful in the song, lovers separated by an ocean (time is an ocean) and the relinquishing of owning anything, anyone (even her?).

But then there’s that “o” sound, as in “oh, oh, oh.  The pain of losing her is stressed from this pervading sound, not only appearing in those verses, but in three others for a total of five; the sound of emotional despair, the sound that can come from punishment, intense and persistent as wearing boots of Spanish leather, a reference to a torture device used during the Spanish Inquisition.

It’s Dylan’s voice, not quite tortured, but getting there, that captures just the right tone that makes this a legitimate pick for his finest love song.  Always worth a listen:

 

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