Congratulations: Dylan and the Travelling Wilburys, plus the non-Dylan songs on the LP

By Tony Attwood

This article continues on from my previous reviews of the Wilburys first album, and wraps up the reviews of that first LP.  There is an index to all the relevant reviews from the album at the end of this piece.

Of the remaining songs from the LP (excluding the later bonus tracks) “Congratulations” is absolutely obviously a Dylan song and indeed in an interview George Harrison confirmed that “those are mostly Bob Dylan lyrics”, and I think that is fairly obvious.  The problem with the song is that it is Dylan on a bad day, for pretty miserable a piece it is too – although not so miserable that Bob couldn’t perform it three times at his own gigs in 1989/90.  But maybe he just wanted to annoy everyone there.

It is possible (as millions of songwriters have found), to write songs about lost love, and to make them sad but to make them elegant or beautiful or telling or….  “Weepies” they used to be called.   But there is a vindictiveness at the start of this song which takes it out of all those categories.  It is just plain nasty.

Congratulations for breaking my heart
Congratulations for tearing it all apart
Congratulations you finally did succeed
Congratulations for leaving me in need

The intervening verses are more in the general style of lost love songs

This morning I looked out my window and found
A bluebird singing but there was no one around
At night I lay alone in my bed
With an image of you goin’ around in my head

But then the vindictiveness comes back…

Congratulations for bringing me down
Congratulations now I’m sorrow bound
Congratulations you got a good deal
Congratulations how good you must feel

and for the last time…

Congratulations for making me wait
Congratulations now it’s too late
Congratulations you came out on top
Congratulations you never did know when to stop

Bob never seems to have the melody totally under control, and the rest of the band singing “Congratulations” all seems a bit naff to me.   Meanwhile the music is simple enough: chords C F G F C repeated in the “congratulations” part and a slightly more adventurous main verse section that adds a Dm and a G6.

But to what point?  To tell a woman that he is really annoyed with her?  I suspect she probably knew.  To make us feel wretched?  To create a memorable song?  If so, it failed.  To fill up a track on the album when the band was saying “We need one more from you Bob”.  More than likely

Of course I really don’t know for sure, and as must be obvious by now if you have read this far, I don’t want to know.  This song has no redeeming features for me.

Moving on to the rest of the tracks…

Although “Margarita” has Bob Dylan listed as a singer alongside Tom Petty this is a song from the first Wilburys album in which I can find little Dylan input.  The opening verse

It was in Pittsburgh, late one night
I lost my hat, got into a fight
I rolled and tumbled, till I saw the light
Went to the Big Apple, took a bite

could be Bob in a silly mood and when we get to the end verse, well who knows?  I just don’t think he wrote this…

I asked her what we’re gonna do tonight
She said “Cahuenga Langa-Langa-Shoe Box Soup”
We better keep tryin’ till we get it right
Tala mala sheela jaipur dhoop

She wrote a long letter on a short piece of paper

I do like that last line though.  I wish I’d thought of that.

“Not alone any more” is very much a Jeff Lynne piece written for Roy Orbison, in my estimation.  Maybe Bob is in there strumming a rhythm guitar, but probably not doing too much more.  And I suspect much the same can be said of “Rattled”, which is a variant 12 bar blues, which has a rhythmic break of the type that I’ve never come across Dylan using.

“End of the Line” is a song that again doesn’t have Bob featuring much at all, although everyone else is involved, so I rather suspect not only is it not a composition he was involved with, but also he might not even have been there.  Or if he was he is just strumming a rhythm guitar.  It certainly has some Tom Petty in it and there is a lovely holding back of the delivery of the lyrics when he is involved which is one of Tom’s tricks.

The closest we get to anything Bob-like is

Maybe somewhere down the road aways (end of the line)
You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days (end of the line)
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays (end of the line)
Purple haze

But would Bob have put “Purple haze” there?  Somehow I think not.

So what we now have for this first Wilburys LP is the following (with links to my reviews  of the songs considered previously)…

“Maxine” and “Like a Ship” were added separately as bonus tracks and I will deal with them anon.

Elsewhere

Articles on Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Year by Year, Decade by Decade

An index to every song reviewed on this site is on the home page – just scroll down.

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

 

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2 Responses to Congratulations: Dylan and the Travelling Wilburys, plus the non-Dylan songs on the LP

  1. Innocent III says:

    I always appreciate the insights but we are poles apart when it comes to ‘Congratulations’. You hear the difference between the verses and the choruses as an alteration between ‘vindictiveness’ and ‘the general style of lost love songs’ and so do I. However, I love the modulation which obviously just doesn’t work for you. Maybe not a solid gold smash but, to my ears, there’s more silver than dross.

  2. TonyAttwood says:

    Thanks for that. I will go back and listen again as the song has always puzzled me, and I know I am very often wrong in these things.

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