It is strange to think that all those years ago, my feeling about the very first Dylan album (“Bob Dylan”) was that the producer of the album had made a very odd choice as to the order of the songs. Surely one puts the strongest songs first, I thought. Get off to a flying start.
It took quite a few years to realise that this was just a Dylan thing. The whole album is wonderful, and still deserves playing. But some of the later songs from side B are particularly good and should have got a higher listing than “She’s no good” which starts the album. It’s fun and ok, but musically little more than a quick rush through a Jesse Fuller lark around.
There’s also the interesting realisation (which came much later) that there’s hardly a reference to the 12 bar blues here – the 12 bar format that formed the basis of so many of Dylan’s later songs. Ah well, so it goes.
“See that my grave is kept clean” is a stand-out song – and that at least is properly placed as the last song on the album. It is a stunning piece simply because the guitar playing is perfectly clean and understated, and the voice is remarkable. On first hearing in the 60s it gave the feeling that here was a remarkable blues singer who could take a conventional song about dying and give it something more than even Lemon Jefferson (of all people) could do himself.
In fact it sounds as if Dylan wrote it for himself to sing. We forget his age at the time – it sounds as if he knows what the blues mean – which is much harder to achieve than you might imagine. White man sings the blues? Whatever next.
Just listen to the “two white horses” verse and how he sings it. The mix of tension, anger and subtlety. The different way the word “following” is used in each repeated line…
And what is amazing is that this all comes from a man who has always said that the lyrics are what counts. “You can write a song on one note,” he once said – and yet here he uses the voice to express everything with a song that only has two lines per verse. There is plaintiveness, sadness, anger, tension… What more do you need?
There’s one last favour I’ll ask of you
See that my gave is kept clean.