By Tony Attwood
Solid Rock is a song that hardly needs an explaining – but nevertheless Bob has explained it at some length (see the links below). Which always strikes me as interesting. If not downright odd.
What I mean is that we all know that Bob’s religious songs are about the need to follow the ways of the Lord, repent and get ready for the Second Coming. The lyrics are among the most obvious that Dylan has ever produced.
And yet these are the lyrics that he would explain. Whereas the songs that have caused quite a lot of debate and require a fair bit of work to disentangle (songs like Too much of Nothing, for example – there are many, many more, right up to his most recent compositions) are never explained. I call that perverse.
So here we get a bit more of Revelations – this time the bottomless pit of Saved is avoided by hanging onto the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ. Which is fair enough as a Christian message – I think I learned that in secondary school. By which I don’t mean to denigrate the message but rather to emphasise my point that if Dylan were to be in the mood for explaining a song, there are plenty of others that I’d love to hear him talk about.
There is some evidence (from the way the song evolved on stage) that Dylan didn’t quite like the fact that his fan base would enjoy the music as music (rather than hearing the music as a route to salvation). So the song changed over time to try and make the message more meaningful to disbelievers, but as that happened so the song lost its impact.
But what really makes the song so good is the treatment of the “made before the foundation of the world” line – I can’t think of where else Dylan does this. It contrasts so perfectly with the utter, boiling energy of the song and yet fits in exactly. Each word called out independently. Clever stuff.
Between November 1979 and October 2002 it was played 162 times – making it one of the longer lasting redemption and salvation songs – and musically it deserves that longevity, although to my ears only when it kept the incredible vigour of the early live versions.
Well, I’m hangin’ on to a solid rock
Made before the foundation of the world
And I won’t let go, and I can’t let go, won’t let go
And I can’t let go, won’t let go and I can’t let go no more
To add a little more about that second line, the impact of calling out the individual words is heightened by the unexpected chord changes that surround it. Not only are we getting the words called out one by by one, but each is proceeded by three chords: D, E, F#m. I really don’t know the origins for that notion – it seems like a real Dylan original.
And then, following on, just listen to the vigour and energy we get with
For me He was chastised, for me He was hated
For me He was rejected by a world that He created
Nations are angry, cursed are some
People are expecting a false peace to come
There was an interesting commentary in one of the Rolling Stone retrospectives on Dylan which said,
“The release of Bob Dylan’s 1979 born-again LP Slow Train Coming was a major event, and the album hit Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100. Less than a year later he released Saved, which was greeted like the second moon landing. It was a million times less interesting the second time around, and his label was even reluctant about putting it out. But the album has never really gotten a fair hearing. “Solid Rock” is one of the highlights, and it firmly explains Dylan’s dedication to his new beliefs. “I won’t let go, and I can’t let go,” he sings. “And I can’t let go, won’t get go and I can’t let go no more.” A few years later, he let go and re-embraced his Jewish heritage.”
I’d go along with that.
Here’s the fun version with only a limited intro
Or if you prefer it with a sermon first follow this link…
- Index of over Dylan 300 songs reviewed on the site
- Dylan’s best opening lines: an index
- How Dylan writes songs, and other articles.
- Dylan’s songs in the order they were written.
- Bob Dylan wins the Nobel prize for literature
- Added review of “I once knew a man” complete with link to the only known performance.
- A link to just about the most amazing version of Visions of Johanna by Dylan I have ever heard
- Updated and expanded the review of Blind Willie McTell and a link to the electric version added.
- Also 8 lesser known Dylan songs that are works of utter genius
- Things have changed – review revised and updated with link to a 2016 live performance.
- Added a review of “You took my breath away”; a tribute from the band to Roy Orbison