Song of the Week – I Want You; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elvis Costello

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Over the many years I’ve been writing, I occasionally cover a topic I call the Evolution Series.  Those posts either follow a song that has been covered in many forms/styles or demonstrates how a rhythm has been used differently in songs.  Today I’m stretching the concept a little further.  Today’s evolution traces three songs with the same title, by three different outstanding artists, that are not related in any direct way, except that they all depict a lover’s obsession.  The song title is “I Want You.”

First up is the Dylan classic from Blonde on Blonde.

The verses contain the vivid imagery that we all came to expect and enjoy from Dylan and the chorus switches to a very heartfelt, direct plea.

The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns
Blow into my face with scorn
But it’s not that way
I wasn’t born to lose you

I want you, I want you
I want you so bad
Honey, I want you

In 1970, John Lennon contributed a song to Abbey Road called “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

Everyone knows this one!  It has several cool surprises.  It opens with an arpeggiated guitar riff, quickly moves into the main theme, and switches into a Latin influenced reprise.  About 4:30 in John practices his primal scream vocal that reveals his excruciating pain — it makes Dylan’s “heartfelt, direct plea” seem charming – then returns to the arpeggio opening.  This continues for 3 minutes, getting heavier and heavier with each cycle – until it unexpectedly ends abruptly in a morass of static.  Brilliant!

Elvis Costello released one of his best albums, Blood & Chocolate, in 1986 and it too contained a song titled “I Want You.”

The truth can’t hurt you it’s just like the dark
It scares you witless
But in time you see things clear and stark
I want you
Go on and hurt me then we’ll let it drop
I want you
I’m afraid I won’t know where to stop
I want you
I’m not ashamed to say I cried for you
I want you
I want to know the things you did that we do too
I want you
I want to hear he pleases you more than I do
I want you
I might as well be useless for all it means to you
I want you

The slow, sparse arrangement emphasizes the darkness of the lyrics.  Wikipedia quotes Rolling Stone aptly calling the track “an epic testament to jealousy over a former lover’s new partner.”

I wonder if any of these artists were influenced by the song(s) that preceded theirs.  Perhaps there is a more direct connection than initially seems to be the case.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Too Much Monkey Business, Chuck Berry, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan, Pump it Up, Elvis Costello, Wild Wild West, The Escape Club

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Over the years I’ve written several posts in what I refer to as the “Evolution Series.” It consists of two sub categories. The first highlights the development of a single song over time by different artists [say, Train Kept A-Rollin’ by Tiny Bradshaw (1951), Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio (1956), The Yardbirds (1965), Aerosmith (1974)]. The other traces a certain song style – i.e. a rhythm or lick – as artists borrow from the past to make it their own (the Bo Diddley beat to Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” to “Magic Bus” by The Who to Springsteen’s “She’s the One” to U2’s “Desire”).

Today’s SotW is another collection in the second category. It starts with Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” (1956).

Berry’s 5th single introduced an unusual rhythm for the vocal delivery of the lyrics. He spits out words to simply describe the frustrations of everyday life, like losing your money in a pay phone (that is, if you know what a pay phone is).

Pay phone, somethin’ wrong, dime gone, will mail
I ought to sue the operator for tellin’ me a tale

Bob Dylan picked up on Berry’s lyrical delivery and raised the bar on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965).

In 2004, Dylan told the L.A. Times’ Robert Hilburn of “SHB,” “It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of “Too Much Monkey Business” and some of the scat songs of the 40s.”

It became even more iconic with the D. A. Pennebaker directed scene, from the documentary Don’t Look Back. of Dylan flipping through a series of cue cards with key words from the song, including one of Dylan’s most quoted lines:

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”

Next in line is “Pump It Up” (1978) from Elvis Costello’s second album, This Year’s Model.

“Pump It Up” has some of Costello’s best lyrics from his early days as the angry young man.

She’s been a bad girl
She’s like a chemical
Though you try to stop it
She’s like a narcotic
You wanna torture her
You wanna talk to her
All the things you bought for her
Putting up your temperature

Lastly is “Wild, Wild West” (1988) from the one hit wonder, The Escape Club.

In 1988 I was the DJ at a Christmas party at the famous Cask & Flagon near Fenway Park in Boston. The friends that hosted the party were mostly into the “alternative” rock of the day (Style Council, English Beat, etc.) which was right up my alley. I still remember seguing from “Pump It Up” into “Wild, Wild West” and how nicely it worked – the true test being that no one left the packed dancefloor.

I can think of a couple of other songs that might be close relatives to this series – maybe U2’s “Get On Your Boots” or R.E.M.’s “The End of the World as You Know It.” Can you come up with any others?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Dirty Lie, Secret Sisters

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Secret Sisters are the duo of real life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers. They began singing together as children in Alabama, but only pursued a career in music together about five years ago. But they’ve had a charmed career since their discovery. They’ve been championed by T-Bone Burnett, cut a 7” single with Jack White on guitar (“Big River” b/w “Wabash Cannonball”) and contributed to the soundtrack of The Hunger Games.

A couple of months ago they released their second album – Put Your Needle Down – an eclectic set of country, folk and Americana. It was produced by T-Bone, so you know it’s got to be pretty good.

Today’s SotW is the song called “Dirty Lie.” It was written by Bob Dylan and demoed on his May, 1984 Verona Rehearsal tape but never properly recorded or released.

Rolling Stone reported how this song came to the Secret Sisters:

“We were in the middle of our recording session with T Bone and he said to us, ‘Bob sent over some songs for you guys to listen to and choose one to finish,'” Laura recalls. “It was the weirdest thing ever to even be considered to finish it in a way that even remotely measures up to what he is known for. So we looked at four or five demos he’d sent, and [‘Dirty Lie’] really spoke to us.”

In the hands of the Sisters, “Dirty Lie” takes on a whiskey soaked, jazzy vibe. It also shows off their unique vocal style. Add the quirky guitar work of Marc Ribot (known best for his contributions to Tom Waits’ classics such as Rain Dogs) and the result is something very special.

Here’s what the Dylan demo sounds like.

Enjoy… until next week.