Blessed is the name: Dylan loved to sing it but never recorded it

By Tony Attwood

There are no lyrics on the official site but they do list a song called “Blessed be the name” although Dylan clearly sings “Blessed is the name” in the one and only recording I can find of the song (linked below).

First played on 1 November 1979 and last played on 17 May 1980 – 43 renditions, and then put to sleep without release.

The inestimable Eyolf Østrem added a personal commentary (rare for him, so all the more worth reading) for his notes on the song

“Ironically, this is probably the song with which Dylan has made the most energetic attempts at a sing-along kind of rapport with the audience, but – it doesn’t really work, does it…?

“The lyrics for the verses – well, I made an attempt…”

And all of us must be forever grateful for the work since Østrem’s recording of the chords used is by far the best such data that there is.

As for “it doesn’t really work, does it” I guess it all depends what you mean by “work”.  As a singalong no – probably not because most of Dylan’s fans (as far as I know) never adopted his faith.  But as a jolly bouncer of a song it certainly does work well, and if the subject matter were different, or if he had gone on a longer period of integrating religious and non-religious songs, he might well have turned it into one of his classic crowd pleasers through many, many years.   Certainly the band are really in tune with what Dylan is doing and are thoroughly enjoying themselves so musically, yes it absolutely works for me.

The chorus is as simple as it gets, with just two lines

Blessed is the name of the Lord forever
Wisdom and might are his

And we get that lots and lots.  Here’s two verses as a sampler…

When he move his face upon the water
Sit up high on a throne
Like him there is no other
He's God all by himself alone

Well to the just he will be faithful
[let it rain fire and] brimstone down
But he did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah
Till Lot was safely out of the town

There’s some good hand clapping going on and the three chords behind the song are all you need to get the message across, so for me the whole thing is an enjoyable experience.

Apparently, the audience at the show were moved to shout (when they were not calling for classic Dylan tracks) “Praise Dylan!” but seemingly not in any sort of hostile way.  Just deciding that they would sooner praise an earthly mortal rather than a fire and brimstone immortal who ultimately will kill off all those who don’t follow his laws.

The chorus comes from hundreds of predecessors using the phrase “Blessed be the name” but why the official Dylan site doesn’t want to know about the song, with some lyrics I’m not too sure.

Anyway, back to the origins: the phrase is from Daniel 2:20, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him.

There is a cantata from the 19th century called  Daniel or the Captivity and Restoration. by CM Cady and GF Root (with others credited) which is famous for opening with a very recognisable version of By the Rivers of Babylon.  The fourth song in the cantata is “Blessed be the name of the Lord forever,” and that absolutely must be where Dylan got it from since all other versions don’t have “forever” at the end.

It runs like this

Blessed be the name of the Lord forever.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
The name of the Lord
Blessed be the name of the Lord forever,
for wisdom and might are his.
are His, Oh!
Blessed be the name of the Lord forever,
for wisdom and might are His, are His.
And he changeth the times and the seasons.
He removeth kings and setteth then up,
He giveth wisdom to the wise,
and knowledge to them,
and knowledge to them,
and knowledge to them that know understanding.
He revealeth the deep secret things,
He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light
and the light, and the light dwelleth with Him.

So pretty much the Dylan version – published in 1853.

But as I say, I rather enjoy it as a stand alone piece, and it is good that we do have one recording of Dylan’s performance with a well rehearsed band, having this bit of fun.

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