Bob Dylan’s Had a Dream About You Baby. The music, the meaning, the context

By Tony Attwood

I have written several times about Bob Dylan looking around trying to find the next thing to explore.  He has been through so many forms – indeed he had invented quite a few of them himself – that year on year we could easily find ourselves asking “what next?”   There is in many creative artists a genuine reluctance to go back and re-work a form or style that has been used before, and so it is not surprising that at different moments in his life Bob seemed to be looking, looking and looking… seeking out the next inspiration.

In such cases the artist generally turns to certain existing forms and styles that he/she likes and has used before, to see where they might go next – and that is certainly the case that we see several times as we review Dylan’s chronology of compositions in the 1980s.

Dylan had been exploring all sorts of approaches in his work in 1985, but now with the pressure on to write some film music he turned to music which I can really only describe as “the joint is jumping”.

As an introduction to this form, if you haven’t heard it already, I would urge you to listen to Rock em Dead – there is a link to a live rendition of the song in the article.  It was the first song of 1986 and although t is not a completely original Dylan piece and is not listed on BobDylan.com it contains a considerable reworking of a multitude of songs which are then shuffled enough to be what I would call an original piece of Dylan music.

And it is amazingly great fun which should be on the play list of everyone who enjoys this type of music.

After this came You wanna ramble which has never been played in public, but lurks very much in the same tradition, and after that Got my mind made up which was co-written with Tom Petty.

What we have there is rock music with further experimentation – just consider the “going off to Libya” line – who else would ever write that?

And then continuing with the experimentation was have “Had a dream about you baby” – which in essence is more re-working of this type of rock n roll.

On first hearing you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just a rocking 12 bar piece.  But it isn’t.  The rhythms are quite different, and so it the chord sequence.  Trying to play these rhythms and come in with the vocals at the right moment – it is very difficult.  With that interview in which Dylan spoke about his band playing rhythms that no one else knows, Bob could well have been talking about this song.

Of course experimenting with rock to see where it goes is not to everyone’s taste – indeed it  brings us back to the age old problem of critics treating every song as if it were a finished masterpiece.  The great visual artist is known to have a sketch book and it is generally not seen until long after his death whereupon it is looked at as a sketchbook.  Dylan however is one of the few musicians who also has a sketch book – or at least a set of sketch recordings, and that is what we should see these songs as.

For those of us with ears to hear it is wonderful that we have all these sketches, but for people who have not got the first inkling of how the creative process works, there are simply responses such as “This is desperate stuff”.  You can probably guess who wrote that.   He also wrote about this song, “The runt of a very thin litter” and “the muse was getting lazy.”

But the whole point is that Dylan endlessly plays, experiments, listens, records.  This is not laziness – this is the opposite in fact.  It is a level of creativity that only a handful of people can aspire to.  The ability to explore, to see where it goes, to draw a line and wonder what happens next.

What happened in this case is that Dylan played the song four time in 1988 and then let it rest, but that was not because it was rubbish, but because by then it had served its purpose of leading him ever further forwards.

Yes the lyrics are indeed simple

I got to see you baby, I don’t care
It may be someplace, baby, you say where

I had a dream about you, baby
Had a dream about you, baby
Late last night you come a-rollin’ across my mind

But Dylan at least has fun with the format, and looks to see where he can take it next…

You got the crazy rhythm when you walk
You make me nervous when you start to talk

And he is also toying with us.  The “middle 8” tells us…

The joint is jumpin’
It’s really somethin’
The beat is pumpin’
My heart is thumpin’
Spent my money on you honey
My limbs are shakin’
My heart is breakin’

But then suddenly we change tack…

You kiss me, baby, in the coffee shop
You make me nervous, you gotta stop

So is it the coffee that is making him hyper or the woman…

We never find out.  But it is fun to imagine.

The Discussion Group

We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase in, on your Facebook page or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/254617038225146/  It is also a simple way of staying in touch with the latest reviews on this site and day to day news about Dylan.

The Chronology Files

These files put Dylan’s work in the order written.  You can link to the files here

 

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