Time for another confession. I have trouble appreciating artists that don't have great voices. It's my jumping off point. Maybe for you, it's the groove. Or for others, it's the lyrics or the melody. For me, it goes: Voice, melody, groove, lyrics...etc.
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - This Year's Model
While I love Elvis Costello's Painted From Memory (with Burt Bacharach), I have had trouble appreciating his other efforts. I'm not saying he doesn't have a fine voice--it's just an acquired taste, perhaps. It's more about the affect he employs in his delivery, I guess. Not my cup of tea.
I decided I would listen to all of the top 100 records 3 times through at least...because in the past some of the records that I've come to love, I didn't really understand upon first listen.
I've listened to this one now about 5 times this week. I like the production. I think the songwriting here is tight. I like his biting social commentary. I like how Little Triggers hints at what's to come with the Burt Bacharach record, but it's not at that level (for me).
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
My girlfriend LOVES Dylan. I think she owns every book ever published about Bob. It's a cliche at this point to mention his voice as a stumbling block to appreciating him. I got past that and really fell in love with Blonde on Blonde several years ago, but have never gotten to a point where I hold him in the esteem that most of my singer-songwriter peers do.
The fact that this entire record is just Bob, his guitar, and harmonica is amazing (Corrina, Corrina the one exception that adds full instrumentation).
I know some of these songs are considered the best ever written. He was 21 at the time (unreal). Songs like Blowin' In The Wind and A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall are some of his most beloved. For me, it can sometimes leave me feeling like I did in church as a child. Old hymns with 6 verses and no lifting chorus or bridge. Just verse. And verse. And verse. And verse.
The lyrics here are unarguably amazing, depicting varying shades of fear, love, humor, and seething anger. Some lyrics come off as a fever-dream transcription (especially A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall). Others like an excitable and somewhat corny young man (i.e. from I Shall Be Free: "...President Kennedy callin' me up. He said, 'my friend Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?' I said, my friend John, Bridget Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren...country'll grow").
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright is one of those songs I thought I've heard my whole life. But upon the third listen this week, I realized I never really heard to the lyrics. How perfect they are. How accurate the portrayal of those contradictory emotions at the end of a really pivotal relationship--when there are more questions than answers. I believe it will soon be one of my favorite songs of all time. Maybe I'll even take a whack at covering it.
It's amazing to now learn that Bob pulled some of his greatest work from other songs. For example, with Don't Think Twice... Bob admits to pulling from Paul Clayton's Who's Gonna Buy You Ribbons (When I'm Gone). Even lifting the first line, "It ain't no use to sit and wonder why".
Wait. You can do that?? You can be one of the greatest songwriters of all time--and still admit to stealing from others for your biggest songs?? It's a thin, grey line, I guess.
Another of my favorite tracks here, Corrina, Corrina, isn't Bob's...it's originally from The Mississippi Sheiks. But Bob borrows lines a few Robert Johnson songs: Stones In My Passway, 32-20 Blues, and Hellhound On My Trail.
As an aside, we watched the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis last weekend. The final scene shows a young Bob Dylan playing at the Gaslight. I am still unsure how I feel about the film. I think they nail what it feels like to be an aspiring singer-songwriter in the village (in any era). It was hard to watch because I identified Llewyn with several of the scenes...especially when plays for the club owner in Chicago, baring his soul in a beautiful solo impromptu performance, only to be told "I don't hear any money here".
I'm glad I listened to both of these records. I don't think I'll return to This Year's Model, but definitely see myself returning many, many times to a handful of the songs from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan...
96: The Who - Tommy