By Tony Attwood
It is strange where research can take you.
Let me start from a simple observation: I think Dylan’s recording of this song is awful. If you are going to take a song very slowly and have a range of instrumentalists involved, then the orchestration (that is the arrangement of the music – in effect who is playing what and when) needs to be really tight and well rehearsed. You can get away with “jamming” at speed, but if you want to do it slowly you need a lot of practice at playing together. And quite clearly for this track, there was precious little in the way of rehearsal.
Which is where I could have stopped and maybe not even reviewed this song at all – but, as I listened to the song today a thought struck me. Odd though it may seem, it is also possible to sing this song fast (which at least fits with the 90mph of the title). One minute at the piano proved it could be done (although I am not suggesting that my rendition is anything anyone else would want to listen to).
Anyway, I went looking. Had anyone recorded this song fast? Was Dylan the first to do it as a dirge? What follows is a summary of what I found about this song.
“90 miles an hour” was written by Hal Blair and Don Robertson, both highly eminent songwriters closely associated with Elvis Presley. Hal wrote “I was the one” – the original B side of “Heartbreak Hotel”, which was released as a single after Elvis’ death. The pair wrote songs for virtually every Elvis movie of the sixties.
Not all have stood the test of time, but “Please help me I’m falling” certainly has, and is still a song worth hearing. The pair had many other hits, although most are only known these days to country and western fans. But “I don’t really want to know” sold multi-millions, and Elvis also had a hit with “I’m counting on you”. Meanwhile Don also played keyboard on recordings by Chet Atkins, Nat King Cole, Duane Eddy, and of course Elvis.
So, back to this particular song. There is a recording by the Keats Family on You Tube which does take the song fast. Not how I imagined it, and for me it isn’t very good, but it shows it can be done. There is also an amazing version on You Tube by Tommy Womack which is unaccompanied and has different lyrics. If you choose to dig that out, beware – he stops part way through, but then starts again. Here’s the opening verse
I went to Indy in the rain
To a club that wasn’t ever gonna have me again
I had Chianti in the seat
90 miles an hour down a dead-end street
Dylan sings the original lyrics and there’s something in the rhymes which I can’t exactly define, that makes this song fun, although reading the lyrics of the last verse on the page it is anything but:
Warning signs are flashing ev’ry where, but we pay no heed
‘Stead of slowing down the place, we keep a pickin’ up speed
Disaster’s getting closer ev’ry time we meet
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
But the fact is that love throws all logic and sanity out of the door. It makes us all do crazy things, and if you have ever been really in love you’ll know that. Love turns the sane into the insane, and once it is inside you there is no escape until it passes. That is why love songs can be fast or slow. Personally I find the first verse demands speed, not mawkishness
I took you home from a party and we kissed in fun
A few stolen kisses and no harm was done
Instead of stopping when we could we went right on
Till suddenly we found that the brakes were gone.
But let me leave you with a verse from Tommy Womack
I turn my foul ups into rhyme
Life takes up a whole lotta my time
I still like bootie on the street I see
But I’m not as horny as I used to be
Different subject, an awful subject, but hell, that’s much more fun. But Dylan’s the master. He obviously knows something I don’t. I just wish he’d find a way to tell me what it is.
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