Bob Dylan: Breaking Down The Incomplete Discography

Page 8 of 8

Fade to 1966. "Like A Rolling Stone" has hit the top of the charts, and Columbia is pressing for another hit. "Positively Fourth Street" is successful, "Crawl Out" flops, "One of Us Must Know," though one of Dylan's best records, flops, and finally they score with "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35. And then, just before the release of Blonde on Blonde, comes the pretty, bouncy "I Want You." Those who bought it got a surprise; on the flip of Columbia 4-43683 was "Just Like Tom pool, 1966: five minutes and thirty-six seconds of tearing, devastating hard rock. Where was the rest of the concert, the rest of that long tour of Europe? Tapes of a performance in Dublin have leaked out. the acoustic part of the show only — "Desolation Row," "Visions of Johanna," Just Like A Woman," and others, with blazing harp work; but of Bob Dylan and the Hawks, only their numbers are available outside of Columbia's vaults, Pennebaker's files, and Dylan's own collection.

When The Circus Was In Town

Bob Dylan and the Hawks. They were, without exception or qualifications, the finest rock and roll band I have ever seen or heard. If you weren't there it will be difficult to convey the visual power of their performances. There were Bob and Robbie Roberston, like twins on the stage, charging each other for the solos, their fingers only inches apart; Rick Danko, puffing out his cheeks and bending his body deep, dancing through the cables and wires; Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, each off to one side of the stage, sitting back and making sounds one might have thought came from the guitarists, simply because one could not take his eyes off them; and Mickey Johns or Bobby Greg, sitting high above it all, holding it together, never missing.

The sound they produced was stately, extravagant, and visionary — there is nothing with which to compare it in all of Dylan's recordings. At the bottom of that sound was a rough, jerking marriage of blues and honky tonk, but over that were grafted the sorts of echoes that come from the music box of a circus merry-go-round: the fire and ice of Garth Hudson's organ and the young, brash clinches of Robbie Robertson's guitar. And it was loud, louder than anyone played in those days, but so musical and so melodic that the band could dance free and their audiences easily went with them.

There was an urgency to those performances, an urgency that is captured in the three recordings that have filtered out of New York City. It's certainly there on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," the single that is at least available in Europe (CBS 2258b). Dylan's voice is tired, raspy, but even at the end of an endless tour he wouldn't quit. The music and the phrasing are nothing like the version on Highway 61 Revisited, and the real stars are Hudson and Robertson, Garth soloing weirdly in between the lines, Robbie punching notes in and out of Bob's shouts and screams until there is no separation between the singer and the musicians: "And picking up ayyn-gel/Who just arrrrryyyved here/ BAM/From the cchhhhhhst/Who looked so fiiiine at firstbutleftlooking/Just . . . like a ghohhhhhhst! Yeah." And then Robertson and Hudson are in to the break, so fast they literally have to slow down the tempo in order to catch the last verse. It's a stunning performance.

Probably recorded the same night was "One Too Many Mornings," which has surfaced on a tape of professional quality. It is almost pure honky-tonk in its structure, with Dylan rushing the verses, stretching out his vowels more than he ever did on record. Danko and Manuel join him on the choruses, lending a high, moaning dimension to the song that it hasn't known before or since. "Just one too many mornings/ And a thousand/ myyles/BA-DA-DA-DUMP-DA-DUMP/BE-HIND." There is virtually no resemblance between this performance and the soft, sorrowful ballad of years before. Dylan sings it almost as if it was a memory that belonged to someone else.

And then, finally and ultimately, there is "Like a Rolling Stone" — Dylan's greatest song, and on this tape, in my opinion, his greatest recording. The performance lasts a full nine minutes.

The Hawks — and especially Robbie Robertson — brought out something in Dylan that allowed him to project, and to reach his audiences, in a way that he had never done before. "If I told you what our music was really about we'd probably all get arrested," he said to an interviewer in 1965. More than just sound, the Hawks gave Dylan the dramatic back-drop he needed to step all the way and sing. He did it, then, night after night, all over the world. It was glorious — Dylan was a triumphant rock and roll star in a manner that will not be repeated. The parallel, visually, and in its musical excitement, was Elvis Presley. The Hawks made it possible — because Dylan could be sure it was all there without looking over his shoulder.

"Like A Rolling Stone" would be the last encore. The three guitarists would turn their backs on the audience and face the drummer; he'd raise his stick above his head and bring it down with the crash of a cannon shot. Bob would leap into the air and the three of them would hit the first note just as he hit the ground; instantly, they'd have it all. On the live tape the song is slowed down greatly from the recorded version, giving Bob more space in which to sing, more room for those long, stretched-out phrases and the shouts that end each line. It opens with that gunshot and rises immediately with a riot of sounds and colors, with Garth Hudson playing as if he's standing on one key of his organ, shooting out a scream that is constant throughout the nine minutes. The key to the performance is Robbie Robertson — he hits the toughest, hardest note imaginable at the beginning of every other phrase. signaling the changes and setting up Dylan for every image that's shouted into the microphone. The song moves up and down with Robertson's rhythm, fading and returning: "They used to be/ Briiiinnnng!/Sohhh amused/ Baaaaah/With Napoleon in rags/ Briiiinnnng!" Robertson cuts each line in half and doubles its impact, like the "mathematical guitar genuis" Dylan said he was.

But in the end the performance belongs to Bob. Burning his lines with a power he had only suggested on record, he pulls his way to the climax: "You better take your diamond ring down and/PAWN IT/BABE!!!" Dylan crashes it down and then fades while Robbie solos for a verse, letting it out until the band is ready to end it. Printed below is the end of that; of the song, the concert, and the high point of Bob Dylan's career, the way he sang it that night in Liverpool:

How does it feel?

Ahhhhhhh, How does it feel?

To be on your own?

With! No! Direction! Home?

Like A Complete Unknown?

Like A Rolling Stone!

This is a story from the November 29, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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