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Bob Dylan – A first listen

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. 26 November 1963

Somehow, I’ve made it into my 30s without ever having listened to Bob Dylan‘s first album. That is, not that I can remember; my mother informed me over the weekend that I indeed heard it many times as a young one, but truth be told I don’t remember much from my diaper-wearing days (but we’ve already gone over how terrible my memory is).

In honor of the March 1962 release of Dylan’s eponymous album, I’d like to share my first-listen experience with you. Click on the song titles to listen to previews on Dylan’s website. Share your own impressions of Dylan’s first album in the comments – when did you first hear it?  What did you think of it?

The First Two Tracks

You’re No Good” by Jesse Fuller: Whoa. What’s happening with that harmonica? I’m pretty sure we just briefly entered the realm of polytonality. Not necessarily complaining.

Talkin’ New York” by Bob Dylan: This pretty much sums up my first year in NYC (brrr that was a cold winter)

Moving on

In My Time of Dyin’” arr. Dylan: This is more to my liking, a moany, bendy blues tune. Dylan can really sing! This must be where the White Stripes got the inspiration for their sound.

Man of Constant Sorrow” arr. Dylan: We switch to a major key, but Dylan’s soaring voice makes it sound, well, sorrowful. Ooo and I like that overlong harmonica note that’s mimicking his voice.

Fixin’ to Die” by Bukka White: More gritty vocals, Dylan seems to be trying to embody the grim lyrics with his vocal chords.

We Hit the Middle

Pretty Peggy-O” arr. Dylan: Your standard upbeat tune about a girl with yellow hair who runs away.

Highway 51 “: I like the recurring syncopated chord-pattern, I hear in it the nascent cries of heavy metal.

Gospel Plow” arr. Dylan: Heart attack harmonica playing! I always wondered how harmonica players can play those super fast rhythms without passing out in the middle of the song.

Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” arr. Eric von Schmidt:  Cute story at the beginning about meeting Schmidt in the green pastures of Harvard University. This is the most pop-rock-sounding song on the album so far.

Pulling into the Station

House of the Risin’ Sun” arr. Dave Van Ronk: The only song on the album I recognize (but as recorded by The Animals). I love this song, and Dylan brings out the lamenting bass line expertly.

Freight Train Blues” arr. Roy Acuff: Crazy gear change as we veer off into harmonica hyper-drive again. Aw, he’s imitating a train whistle when he sings “bluuuues”. Ow, ok, enough!

Song to Woody” by Bob Dylan: It’s amazing how differently he sings when he’s singing his own songs. Much more intimate tone, really touching, confessional song.

See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” by Blind Lemon Jefferson: Back to the gruff vocals, he actually sounds like an old man singing this.

What was I doing at the tender age of 20? Certainly nothing that some scrappy blogger would want to write about 51 years later. Cheers, Mr. Dylan.

Recent Comments

  1. Alison

    Heard it when I was 15-16, always loved Bob, a great poet and musician!

  2. Ashley

    I will have to listen to this album in its entirety. I have always loved “Song to Woody”. His cover of “I was young when I left home” also stops me in my tracks.

  3. Tom

    Wow, he looks very young in that picture! I was introduced to Bob after being a massive Clapton fan, since Eric performed at his 50th at Madison Square Gardens. Great concert, and great album.

  4. William DeVogue

    Bob Dylan fans should be aware of his first forgotten born son!! Bob sure is!!!


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