By Tony Attwood
There are, it seems, two “On a rainy afternoon” songs by Dylan. One which is one of the Glasgow hotel songs recorded along with “What kind of friend is this” and “I can’t leave her behind” and the other which turns up on The Basement Tapes Complete. This review deals with the hotel song from 1966.
This swing-along song has always reminded me somehow of the interest Dylan had in the music of earlier days which he indulged in, on some of his later albums, taking themes, lyrics and even music from the great songs of the 20s to the 50s.
However I was forced to rethink that a little when I read an article on Expecting Rain (an excellent website that you really ought to read if you don’t already) in which a correspondent noted a link between Rainy Afternoon and the song “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles, from 1962.
Here’s the link to that song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NYw83uAQig
and to Dylan’s hotel song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE3owtjQmSc
The writer adds, “As you can hear, the phrase at 0:20, “You were my first love/and you’ll be my last” is quite close to the Dylan’s “Now she’s walking in the morning/Howlin’ you come home.”
I find that a very interesting comment, but I would also want to throw in the fact that what is particularly stunning is that this song comes from the time of “Most Likely You Go Your Way”, “Temporary Like Achilles” and “Rainy Day Women”.
It is, stepping back from everything we know about Dylan and his writing, quite extraordinary that one composer could be contemplating both these styles at almost the same time. It is almost if Bob is saying, “well, here is another direction I could be going in, if the mood takes me.”
And to be clear, it is not a question of whether what Dylan sings is somehow purloined from an earlier song, but rather that he was being influenced by all these different sources at once.
The mood didn’t exactly take him down the route we hear in this song, at that time, because events got in the way, as we know, and the hotel tapes theme turned into the Basement Tapes, which were in part influenced by the musicians Dylan had around him at the time. But it does give us a clue to the extraordinary range of Dylan’s options and possibilities in the 1960s.
And it possibly is the antecedent to Dylan’s decision to travel in such different directions subsequently, what with Nashville Skyline and so on.
In this incarnation Dylan is taking two different tracks – one lyrical as he gives us a “please come home” song (just about the polar opposite of Rainy Day Women and the like) and a focus on melody (something that Dylan could quite often ignore if he felt like it – as with the monotonal verses of “It’s all right ma”).
Plus the chord sequence is not at all what we might associate with Dylan who was spending much of his time in the studios seeing what could be done with the standard three chords of the blues. Visions of Johanna, we might recall, for all the might of expression and possibility of meaning, is a three chord song.
By contrast, at one point in this recording Dylan plays
Dm, F, Bb, Am, Gm, C7, F, Bb, F
as the accompaniment to just one line.
Several writers have been good enough to put down a transcript of what Dylan sings. There are variations of interpretation but the one below seems as good as any. Even though these lyrics are clearly not a completed song, and Dylan is making some of them up as they go along, it is a great insight how Dylan can work with songwriting. What we have is an opening idea, and then phrases and sounds that fit. If he had wanted to turn this into a song he would record, Dylan would then undoubtedly have written the lyrics thus far in a notebook or on hotel notepaper, and then started to manipulate them as he saw fit. I suspect virtually many of his songs begin like this; perhaps the majority.
But please remember these lyrics are an approximation of what is sung, in many parts with Dylan making it up as he goes.
Now she’s walkin’ in the morning
Howlin’ you come home
I’ll be on my way, so long, forlorn
You just can’t go
I will get it if I have to
If I have to please come home
Try, but I’ll be dry, and I crave you
If I haunt you back all day
Carry my trouble
Yes you satisfy my mind
I’ll try to tell you, if I can’t come in
And I must stay true
I’ll be happy in the morning
I try my best, I will try to help you
If I can, and I leave it too
But I just can’t find you away
Won’t some time away
That’s the way I think she told me
Heart she bent on me
I’ll be out all morning, for you
But you can’t stop me
Yes, I try my best to please you
Try my best, but if I fail
You must help me to see you
As I go by…
Now, if you send me a letter
I’ll be on my way to get it for you
I’ll be with my sister too
I can’t find me what to do
Yes, I’ve been trying to get a message
To you, but you have to treat me
I won’t let her to
And then I try my best to hunt her, you…
As Bob Dylan himself said in 2016, “Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one. And you have to sacrifice a lot of things that you might not be prepared for. Like it or not, you are in this alone and have to follow your own star.”
Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?
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