When Rap Genius launched in 2009, its sole mission was to annotate hip-hop lyrics. But last year, it changed its name to Genius and dramatically broadened its scope to include all forms of music along with television shows, literature, movies and sports. Their newest project focuses on Bob Dylan’s recording output during the crucial 1965/66 period when he electrified his music and wrote some of the most enduring tunes of his career.
Utilizing early versions of the tunes found on the new Bootleg Series box set The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966, along with Dylan’s manuscripts from the era, they’ve created a fascinating visual representation of how songs like “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” “Desolation Row” and “She’s Your Lover Now” evolved into their final form. “There are some lyrical changes that are total head-scratchers,” says Genius Music Editor Anna Oseran. “My favorite is on ‘Desolation Row’ where on take one he sang, ‘On her 20th birthday,’ but on the final take he sang, ‘On her 22nd birthday.’ Why did he need to make that change?”
“Desolation Row” Lyric Evolution
To promote the new compilation, Sony Legacy reached out to the lyric site about a collaboration. “This is a dream project,” says Oseran. “”Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was actually one of the first songs added to the site. Bob Dylan is arguably the best lyricist of all time, so it seemed like a no-brainer that we’d create something together.” As they pored through the material, they came across all sorts of great nuggets, like an early “Desolation Row” with the line “Now he’s spoon-feeding Casanova the boiled guts of a bird” which ultimately became “They’re spoon-feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured. “There is no way to make sense of that change,” says Oseran. “The two lines are completely unrelated. I personally love the image of boiled bird guts, but alas…”
So far, only nine Dylan songs are part of the Evolution of a Song project, which also includes “Outlaw Blues,” “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” but the door is open for more to be added in the future. “So long as there is more material to work with, which I imagine there is, we’d love to keep working with Dylan’s camp,” says Oseran, who notes that they hope to broaden the project to include other artists in the future. “Picture Taylor Swift fans getting ahold of her songwriting pages,” she says. “Can you imagine?”
“One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” Lyric Evolution