Monday, June 29, 2009

Bob Dylan 16: Planet Waves

For his Asylum Records debut—on a roster that boasted (at the time) the likes of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and Tom Waits—Dylan devised a winning combination: all new songs with the full-fledged accompaniment of The Band, followed by a full-fledged tour. (This wrinkle would surely have been as much of a boon for The Band, as despite success on the concert circuit, their best work was behind them and they’d reached something of a creative standstill.) The resultant album, Planet Waves, was recorded rather quickly and released in time for the tour.
“On A Night Like This” continues the homey sentiments of Nashville Skyline and New Morning, with something of a duel between harmonica and accordion. “Going, Going, Gone” offers a little more mystery, wound up nicely with a stirring bridge and Robbie Robertson’s trademark pinched tone. “Tough Mama” and “Hazel” sing of other unspecified women, both sporting clever rhymes and catchy melodies, while “Something There Is About You” is a little more straightforward.
Two versions of “Forever Young” are included, back to back; allegedly the slow burner that ends side one was considered too “mushy”, but it’s also much more effective than the fast hoedown that starts side two. (The song still runs rings around Rod Stewart’s overblown paraphrase that still gets airplay on “lite” stations.)
“Dirge” is one of the album’s highlights, consisting of just piano, Bob’s voice, Robbie’s acoustic guitar interruptions and an undercurrent of something downright sinister. After five minutes of self-loathing, “You Angel You” sounds a little funny coming next, but “Never Say Goodbye” brings some of the mystery back, complete with a teasing reference near the end of a “Baby Blue”. And as he’d done before, a solo acoustic performance closes the album. “Wedding Song” would be heard as autobiographical, and its inherent conflicts take us out on an odd note.
Was this the sound people had been hoping to hear since the motorcycle crash? Planet Waves certainly gave critics yet another chance to trumpet the “return” of their bard, and the album has endured as a cozy listen. It’s not one of his greatest works, but it’s a worthy chapter in the ongoing saga. (When Columbia retained the rights to the album in 1982, the cover art was modified to remove the original handwritten liner notes; these were restored on the 2003 SACD reissue.)

Bob Dylan Planet Waves (1974)—3


  1. can you go into some detail about the motorcycle crash? i don't understand how everything fits in.

    also, it would help me to have the date of the album near the top of the page. for an artist like dylan who put out so many records, i find myself scrolling down to the bottom then back up again after placing the date. a minor quibble to be sure, but it would certainly help me.

    thanks, dick

  2. It still blows my mind that Dylan drew an incorrect peace symbol on the cover. Makes a person wonder if he was paying attention.

  3. Who says it is an 'incorrect peace symbol'? Dylan rarely does anything without thoughtfulness, even at this stage of his career, and the cover is hardly intended to be THAT obvious. You might as readily describe the 'symbol' at the top of the picture as an anchor embedded into Bob's head, and that would be just as 'meaningful'.

  4. this is a great album, my favorite bob dylan album. i have them all plus about 3000 bootlegs and i still think this is the best of the bunch.

  5. Dick:
    It's something of a generalization that Dylan "changed" after his motorcycle accident, wherein he broke several bones and lay low for a while, prompting rumors that he was dead or a vegetable. When he did emerge musically, it was with the low-key John Wesley Harding, a sharp contrast to the electric sound and lyrics of the previous three albums (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde). The albums after the accident weren't (at the time) considered very revolutionary, disappointing those looking for the imagery on those last few pre-crash albums.
    So when Planet Waves came out, recorded with the same band with whom he was touring when he last sounded like that, it was A Big Deal.

  6. What always amazed me about Dylan is how simply he could go from a song like "Dirge" (which to me is in the upper range of his works, and is in a similar vein musically and hauntingly with "Blind Willie McTell") to a song like "Wedding Song" and on the same album no less.

    Both of those, as well as this album because of the top songs on it, are in my opinion among his best.

    You gotta love him.