Waiting to get beat: Dylan goes Ska

This article has been updated with more information about the source of “Waiting to get beat”

By Tony Attwood

Somewhere in between writing one set of songs that went onto Empire Burlesque, such as Seeing the real you at last,  I’ll remember youTrust Yourself , and Emotionally Yours and a second set (When the night comes falling from the sky, Never gonna be the same again and the magnificent Dark Eyes) Dylan went on a meander (in terms of song writing).

During this middle spell he wrote four songs that were then handed over to others to complete: Well well wellHowlin at your windowTragedy of the tradeTime to end this masquerade.   They are all interesting, but as I have suggested in my reviews one of them (Well well well) turned itself into a magnificent song which can be played in all sorts of ways.  I really do listening to one particular version – it is completely superb.

After this we come to another bunch of songs, the first two of which are for the moment causing me a problem, as I don’t have a copy of the bootleg album on which they apparently appear.  The three songs are “Straight A’s in love”, “The very thought of you” and “Waiting to get beat”.

“Straight A’s in love” is a re-write of a Johnny Cash song, and “The very thought of you” takes the title of one of the most famous songs of the 1930s and then adds new lyrics and music.

“Waiting to Get Beat” however I have been able to listen to, both in the short Dylan original and a subsequent version which is widely available.

One point I can’t clarify is that these three songs re-use either the music of each other, or the music Dylan used for earlier songs.   The suggestions made to this effect are fairly unclear so I am not at all sure what the writers were implying, but I am sure that “Waiting to get beat” is musically a copy of a song by David Byrne.  I haven’t found it yet, but I am sure that it comes from his post-Talking Heads period.

Anyway, its a ska song, neatly performed by Dylan and it could (to my ear at least) easily have fitted into the mixed ethos of Empire Burlesque.  The essence of the song is that the mob are out to get the singer’s girlfriend, because she’s been messing with the wrong sort.

Here’s the lyrics since they are not on the official Dylan site….

Waiting to get beat
On a dark and lonely street
Pay time ’round, pay back down
Waiting to get beat

Waiting to get beat
Waiting like a piece of meat
The mumble is on, the thrill is gone
Waiting to get beat

You’re playin’ around with daddy, baby
When you should have quit
Nobody messes up one of these boys
And get away with it

Waiting to get beat
Can’t sleep, can’t eat
Getting rude, getting bold
Getting ready to be rolled
Waiting to get beat

Setting a match to the house that you live in
And falling for the first clown you see
One day there’ll be a knock on the door
And you know who it’ll be

Waiting to get beat
Playing with a heart that will cheat
Getting pretty, getting ripped
Getting dressed to get whipped
Waiting to get beat

Musically, as I say, it is a ska beat (which in the Tea Leaf Green version takes to extremes – Dylan’s version is much more restrained) with a simple three chord accompaniment underneath.

While doing the normal bit of background on this song I came across a very apposite Haiku based on the song…

Bob warns his girlfriend

That she’s hanging out with some

Quite rough customers

That’s more or less it.  I like it, but it might not be to everyone’s taste.

Elsewhere…

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