By Tony Attwood
It is said that the second Wilbury’s volume was originally mostly a Bob Dylan creation and that after he had slipped away for his touring duties those left in charge of the editing set about removing quite a bit of his work.
But Bob is loud and clear on this song, expressing his concerns about the decline of the environment. I am not sure Bob had expressed this concern much before – and certainly in his last album (Under the Red Sky) there was not much sense of it. Although I guess it might be possible to consider the title song as having a concern with the environment – with a stretch of the imagination.
But I get the impression that at the time Bob was looking around for new themes – for a new subject area to lend his muse to, and I think this is a better explanation of this exploration of ecological and environmental issues.
The song itself is very enjoyable for me – not something I would play over and over but still a good piece of work that I am more than happy to come back to for the writing of this review. However it had one odd stand out event within it. The song is in E, but the bridge section, “Be careful where you’re walking” suddenly jumps to G without any warning at all.
This sudden movement from one key to another gives a real sense of a jerk. It is deployed in pop occasionally, but when Bob has changed key in the past he has normally sought to do it by utilising a chord sequence that gets him from one key to the next via a chord that appears in both keys. The problem here is that there is no chord that appears in both the keys of G and E. So one would have to travel from E major to A major to D major to G major – and then you are there – quite a bit of a journey. But instead we just go bang, from E major to G major
When you’re inside out (E major)
Be careful where you’re walking (G major)
The band could have written the movement of chords as an instrumental change, but that would have destroyed the movement of the piece as a whole. So why persist with the notion of changing keys?
I suspect to get the bridge section into a key that George Harrison could sing. Normally if this were not an ensemble song there’d be no need for another singer to pop in at this point, but this is supposed to be the Wilbury’s not Dylan and Friends, so something had to be done to give the rest of the gang a chance.
Bob sets out the message clearly from the off….
Look out your window
That grass ain’t green
It’s kinda yellow
See what I mean?
Look up your chimney
The sky ain’t blue
It’s kinda yellow
You know it’s true
It’s so hard to figure what it’s all about
When your outsides in (inside out)
And your downsides up (upside down)
Yeah, your upsides right (rightside up)
Yeah, don’t it make you wanna twist & shout
When you’re inside out
So the message is clear. We’re all pouring muck into the environment whenever we can
Look down your drain pipe
What color do you see?
It’s got to be yellow
Don’t try to fool me
And don’t it make you wanna twist and shout
But why “twist and shout”? Shout seems a pretty good response, but “Twist and Shout”? One might guess that Bob was poking fun at the Beatles recording of “Twist and Shout”. I’m personally not sure it is ever worth poking fun at that recording since it is such a poor piece of music, but maybe there was a joke in the band at the time.
The message continues through the bridge passage Harrison sings and it becomes not just a warning, but a suggestion that there is something more sinister and underhand going on as well.
Be careful where you’re walking
You might step in something rough
Be careful where you’re talking
And saying all that stuff
Take care when you are breathing
Something’s funny in the air
And somethings I’m not saying
Bout what’s happening out there
It’s inside out
And indeed things do get darker, because now we are told that rather than the future looking bleak, it might not be a future at all. A few years earlier in a Dylan song this would have been because of Armageddon, the great war that precedes the Second Coming, but now it seems to precede just, well, the end.
Look into the future
With your mystic crystal ball
See if it ain’t yellow
See if it’s there at all
Ain’t no shadow of doubt
Don’t it make you wanna twist and shout
Here’s the video…
It’s a good song – not earth shattering, but very listenable, and suggests that “Under the Red Sky” involved an experiment in trying to find a new form. With the Wilburys Bob was showing us he could still deliver some very good songs without having to find that new form or direction. But he knew that new form was out there.
What is on the site
1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.