Saved – a review of the Bob Dylan song.

By Tony Attwood

From Nov 79 to Nov 81 “Saved” was played by Dylan on stage 83 times, and then no more.  In the subsequent 35 years, nothing.  Not one outing.

In fact this was not the only song from the era that suffered this fate, although as we have seen a few have been given a brief resurrection on occasion.  So why not “Saved”?

I think the reason for it being dropped from the schedule so absolutely has been more musical than any thought about what was in the words.  For as a piece of music, Saved is just pure rollicking fun – what those of us who have never been to a Christian revivalist meeting imagine the music at such events must be like.  (Although I have seen the Blues Brothers movies, so I have got an inclination).

Musically the song is a 12 bar blues extended beyond anything I’ve come across before or since – the first chord is held for 16 continuous lines – the chord change coming on “And I’m so glad”.

I guess this is Bob showing that the devil doesn’t have all the good tunes.  But I bet neither the Psalmist nor Saints Paul and John (whose words are used in the song) for all their faith in the eternity of their message, reckoned on their writings giving birth to this sort of treatment, getting on for 2000 years later.

Besides which I suspect that the reason that after two years Bob had had enough of performing it is that the song goes at such a speed and has such a simple musical setting, that in the end there is not much more you can do to it.  Slowed down or made more intricate it would lose the power of its message and the essence of the song.  But at this speed there’s no time to add new harmonies and chords, no way you can get anything more out of the piano (get a pianist to play those repeated chords at this speed and he/she will be talking to you about aching arms and shouting “enough” after five minutes absolute max.)

It is, quite simply what it is, and can neither go further nor retreat, nor morph into something else.

I therefore think I rather agree with the commentary on the Ultimate Classic Rock website that “this is where his religion overshadows his music, turning the album into a sermon to an audience that is nearly certainly unconverted — and never will be, either.”

I am not sure if the album contains, “The best religious songs reach even non-believers” – that is certainly the case for me with When He returns – but Saved is not a patch on that song.

Rolling Stone was harsher saying, “With a single leap of faith, he plummeted to the level of a spiritual pamphleteer.   What made the Gospel According to Bob especially tough to take was his hook-line-and-sinker acceptance of the familiar fundamentalist litany, and his smugness in propounding it. Dylan hadn’t simply found Jesus but seemed to imply that he had His home phone number as well.”

Certainly if you listen to Dylan’s occasional monologues during the shows at this time there is an absolute certainty in his voice, and as with all firmly committed to a religious cause there is no room for argument, logical analysis, evidence gathering or anything much else.

This at least is what I find: my scientific background to forming opinions and seeking the truth, can’t intermingle and co-exist too easily with the fundamentalists because they don’t share my belief in logical analysis, nor do I share their view in the ultimate truth of the word of the Lord.

What Rolling Stone found was a hope in the music that Dylan would eventually walk away from Biblical literalism. As they said at the time, “Maybe he’ll evolve, maybe he’ll just walk away. Whichever the case, stagnation has never been his style, and after Saved, there seems precious little left to say about salvation through dogma.”

And later… “The only miracle worth talking about here is Bob Dylan’s artistic triumph—qualified thought it may be—over his dogmatic theme.”

What this album, and certainly this song, gave us was passion, which is not always there in Dylan.  Nor does it need to be, because sometimes the story telling will talk for itself.  For all the anger in Positively Fourth Street, there is no passion  in “Tell Ol’ Bill”  where there is a message of the hopelessness the slave feels, and the resignation of “anything is worth a try”.

And there is one other thought I would like to take.  This comes from a review in Vanity Fair.    “It helps that, three decades on, Dylan’s proselytizing has become easier to take, or at least contextualize: he sings all kinds of vernacular and pseudo-vernacular music—why shouldn’t he cut a gospel album?”

I guess, looked at like that, it’s fair enough.  Except that having gone back to “Saved” and listened to it several times over, as I do with each song I review for this site, I don’t actually want to play it any more.  I’ve got it, I understand it, I know what he’s talking about, I can hear the music, that’s enough.

For having mentioned “Tell Ol Bill” in passing, I immediately want to go back and listen to it again – having heard it hundreds of times more in my life than I have ever heard Saved.  “Saved” in the end is a jolly, fast, energetic, ok, song.  Which is good.  But it’s not really much more than that.

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WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN AND TIM DRUMMOND
I was blinded by the devil
Born already ruined
Stone-cold dead
As I stepped out of the womb
By His grace I have been touched
By His word I have been healed
By His hand I’ve been delivered
By His spirit I’ve been sealedI’ve been saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved
Saved
And I’m so glad
Yes, I’m so glad
I’m so glad
So glad
I want to thank You, Lord
I just want to thank You, Lord
Thank You, LordBy His truth I can be upright
By His strength I do endure
By His power I’ve been lifted
In His love I am secure
He bought me with a price
Freed me from the pit
Full of emptiness and wrath
And the fire that burns in itI’ve been saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved
Saved
And I’m so glad
Yes, I’m so glad
I’m so glad
So glad
I want to thank You, Lord
I just want to thank You, Lord
Thank You, LordNobody to rescue me
Nobody would dare
I was going down for the last time
But by His mercy I’ve been spared
Not by works
But by faith in Him who called
For so long I’ve been hindered
For so long I’ve been stalled

I’ve been saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved
Saved
And I’m so glad
Yes, I’m so glad
I’m so glad
So glad
I want to thank You, Lord
I just want to thank You, Lord
Thank You, Lord

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