The meanings of the original songs in the Basement tapes part 1

We already have three articles on Bob Dylan’s work from 1966.

Now we come to the huge issue of what was Dylan writing about in the Basement Tapes.

In what follows a few songs which I’ve relegated to the category of “larking about” are not listed as they seem to have no subject beyond the fun element.  See you later Allen Ginsberg (1 and 2). 

For the most part I have expressed the meaning of the essence of each song twice – once in a few words in brackets, and then summarised that summary in one word, which I have put in bold.

  1. Edge of the Ocean (change is coming, innocence will be lost) Change
  2. One for the road (change is coming, let’s have a drink for lost times) Change
  3. Roll on Train (keep moving on, there is no choice) Change
  4. Under control (she may stay, she may go, it is not decided yet) Change
  5. I’m guilty of loving you (I love you and can’t let go) Love
  6. I’m a fool for you (I love you but it is hurting) Love
  7. Tiny Montgomery (All the freaks have a party) Party/freaks
  8. Big Dog [recording is too short to get a clear idea what it is about – if anything]
  9. I’m Your Teenage Prayer (Young man and old man try to pick up a teenage girl) Lust
  10. One’s Man’s Loss (What is good for me, can hurt you, and vice versa) Relationships
  11. Baby won’t you be my baby (The world is awful, so stick with me) Love
  12. Try me little girl (Be my lover, I will liberate you from an awful life) Love
  13. I can’t make it alone (You’re not treating me right but I love you) Love
  14. Don’t you try me now (Don’t mess around with my delicate heart) Love
  15. Million dollar bash (Laughing at Bohemians) Party/freaks
  16. Yeah heavy and a bottle of bread (Laughing at psychedelia) Party/freaks
  17. Please Mrs Henry (My life is a mess)  A mess
  18. Lo and behold (Nothing makes sense) A mess
  19. Crash on the Levee (The flood) A disaster
  20. Dress it up, Better have it all (Maybe nothing has to make sense) A mess

Now of course for you to accept my analysis of the songs as a whole, you will have to go along with the meaning of each song – or at least the meaning of the majority.  So if you do agree with my interpretations, this is what we get in terms of the subject matter of the first 20 Dylan compositions from the complete Basement Tapes recordings.

  • Change – 4
  • Love and lust – 7
  • Party freaks – 3
  • Relationships – 1
  • Life is a mess – 3
  • Disaster – 1

Now that surprised me – to be able to take the first 19 songs that Dylan composed and which were simply played out on the Basement Tapes, and be able to put them in categories at all was not something I was expecting to happen.

I’m now going to carry on with the next set of 20 or so Dylan originals from the Complete Tapes and see if the same sort of simple analysis of meanings can be given to the song.  The ultimate aim, of course, is to see how Dylan was thinking at this time – that is to say, what subjects were interesting him at the time.  Since I am publishing these pieces as I write them, at the moment I have no idea what the answer is, but I am intending at the end of the series to try and pull the pieces together.

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