Dirty World: The meaning and the music of Dylan’s song with the Wilburys

by Tony Attwood

Does mucking around in a studio generate good music?  Well sometimes it does.   And as George Harrsison is reported as saying, “If you know Bob and his songs, he’s such a joker really.”   

So maybe taking odd moments out of the music from “Stuck inside of Mobile” where we get to “Oh mama can this really be the end” and mix it with some of Robert Johnson’s most unappealing lyrics such as

I’m goin’ heist your hood, mama
I’m bound to check your oil
I’m goin’ heist your hood, mama
I’m bound to check your oil
I got a woman that I’m lovin’
Way down in Arkansas

and we get something like,

He loves your sexy body, he loves your dirty mind
He loves when you hold him, grab him from behind
Oh baby, you’re such a pretty thing
I can’t wait to introduce you to the other members of my gang

Whether that is very amusing or not depends on your point of view.  

Musically it is a simple variation around the normal chords of a song played in the key of C.  The one thing that makes it stand out (musically) is that it has a coda – a long tailpiece that uses a different chord sequence. (Bb, F, C) over

He loves your electric dumplings

etc etc

Much of the album seems to be related to the members of the band throwing lines into the mix as they aim to write and record a song a day before Bob goes on tour again.   Ask anyone who works in the creative arts and she or he will tell you, yes it can happen, but most of the time when you are anxious for it to happen it certainly does not happen.  What you get is maybe amusing, maybe interesting, but not great art.

For me, there are some Wilbury songs that do work, and quite a few more that don’t.   And what we know about Bob is that quite often he throws out songs (often very good songs) as he works on an album.   But this whole notion of one song a day before Bob went on tour meant that there was precious little spare to pick and choose the best bits, and so we get it all – including songs which in another world might have been buried forever.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the song to my mind, it is just there isn’t much right to it.

You don’t need no wax job, you’re smooth enough for me
If you need you oil changed I’ll do it for you free
Oh baby, the pleasure would be all mine
If you let me drive your pickup truck and park it where the sun don’t shine

OK maybe you chuckled, maybe not, but that’s not really the point: the point is would you want to hear it again, and again and again…  And I guess that yes there are some people out there who have played this track and indeed the whole album over and over and would happily play it again today and tomorrow.  It’s just that it doesn’t do anything for me.   

And that is the problem with lines like

Oh baby, turn around and say goodbye
You go to the airport now and I’m going home to cry

It comes as a surprise first time around, but then….

He loves your Trembling Wilbury

actually doesn’t.

Going back and listening to this piece for the first time in many years I found I had much more time for Robert Johnson

Now, you know the coils ain’t even buzzin’
Little generator won’t get the spark
Motor’s in a bad condition
You gotta have these batteries charged
But I’m cryin’, please, please don’t do me wrong
Who been drivin’ my Terraplane
Now for you since I been gone
Mr. Highway Man, please don’t block the road
Please, please don’t block the road

It’s very non-contemporary, but maybe that is what makes it work.

Does mucking around in a studio generate good music?  

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