All Directions beyond Street Legal: Bob and Helena unravelled (partly)

By Tony Attwood

A full index of the articles in the series appears here

And so we are in 1978, which as we have seen, opened with three songs written with Helena Springs and then the final two songs required to get Street Legal up to the regulatory LP size.  After that came the rest of the co-compositions, some for which we have recordings, others being never recorded, or are simply lost.

There are seven songs listed as written with Helena Springs of which recordings have been found,  and the last time I looked only one of these is listed on BobDylan.com, although it seems his company owned the copyright to the whole collection, until this was sold to Universal.

It is commonly said that these songs were written by Dylan with a very small input by Ms Springs, but this is normally stated without any evidence.  Supporting the claim is the fact that although Ms Springs has had an illustrious career as a backing singer, she’s not known as a solo artist or composer, and indeed even Wiki, which seems to have a page on almost everyone who has recorded anything, doesn’t have a page on her.

Ms Springs later worked with the Pet Shop Boys and appeared as a backing vocalist on some of their early hits such as “West End Girls”. In 1986 she signed a solo deal with Arista records and released the singles “I want you” and “Paper Money”.

If you want to see a list of her performances as a backing vocalist – and there is no doubt she is a very good backing vocalist – there is a list on rateyourmusic

So moving on with the list of songs Dylan is credited with writing, and for which we’ve got recordings, the next song in the Dylan/Springs collection was “Walk out in the Rain”, which again Clapton recorded.

The lyrics most certainly could be Dylan’s, given all that had gone on in the previous year…

Walk out if it doesn’t feel right
I can tell you’re only lying
If you’ve got something better tonight
Then don’t mess up my mind with your crying

Just walk out in the rain
Walk out with your dreams
Walk out of my life if you don’t feel right
And catch the next train
Oh, darling, walk out in the rain

However the melody in the second and fourth lines of the verse doesn’t sound very Dylan at all, although the chorus, including its “train” certainly could be.  So it seems like a genuine co-composition. It certainly is a song that lends itself to multiple interpretations and this version makes the most of the gorgeous melody.

Next up was “Coming from the heart (the road is long)”.   Dylan did say that a full band version of it was tried out at the time of Street Legal and Helena Springs confirmed in an interview that it was the third song that she and Dylan wrote together.    Heylin liked it and included it in his list of lost Dylan gems.

Dylan did indeed play this once in 1978, and the lyrics are provided on BobDylan.com along with a recognition that it is a joint composition.

We have got to come together
How long can we stay apart?
You may get it maybe never
But it’s coming from the heart.

Your life is full of indecision
You can’t make up your mind.
We must get it in position
And move it on down the line.

‘Cause the road is long, it’s a long hard climb
I been on that road too long of a time
Yes the road is long, and it winds and winds
When I think of the love that I left behind.

But to me, the words are not very inspiring.  I looked at it about five years ago, and it didn’t do anything for me then, and it doesn’t do anything as I return to it in 2021 while writing this series – except when it hits the title line at the start of the chorus; there the emotions do work.

Maybe Bob was still thinking of his work with Jacques Levy and that he could reach those heights again through another collaboration – but I don’t think this was a period that could bring lines such as these from “Romance In Durango”

At the corrida we’ll sit in the shade
And watch the young torero stand alone
We’ll drink tequila where our grandfathers stayed
When they rode with Villa into Torreon.

Next up was “Wandering Kind” which could well be a Dylan composition throughout.  It’s a hell of a story encapsulated in a short song: you could make a whole movie out of this.  And isn’t that the way so often with Dylan?

Continuing the co-writing affair, next is “More than Flesh and Blood”, which again does have the sound of being a Dylan rock blues song.  I think what gives me that feeling is simply how well it works; it just has a natural feel – the verse is almost totally on one chord, and then the chorus provides a relief.  There’s a progression in the lyrics too, and the band has taken care over the production with the addition of a background sax section.  Yes, I’d put this down as a Dylan composition definitely.

Of course this is not to say it is a great song by Dylan standards, but it is lively, bouncy and entertaining, and not every Dylan composition is an absolute masterpiece (although of course many of them are!)

With profound thanks to Jack Aldworth and Eduardo Ricardo from Edlis Cafe we actually do have the lyrics – they’ve appeared on Untold Dylan before but in case you’ve missed them, they are published here again below.

I would argue that although one can’t say lines such as, “But to be strong I must be weak or else I won’t endure I love you, but I love you unaware,” to make them fit with the music is pure Dylan; we can indeed say that they are the lyrics of  very practised and accomplished song writer.  Indeed if Dylan were to say “no, I didn’t write that” I would still doubt that Ms Springs did, because these lines have a sense of maturity I don’t think she had as a songwriter; they feel like the lines of a songwriter who has written shedloads of lyrics, not just turned to the job the first time.

Lines such as, “The room is going round and round and now it’s in reverse” are not profound but they are fun, illuminating, and just plain different.  If the line was there without the last four words it would be nothing of interest.  Add those four words and suddenly you have to take note.

I also love, “You drive off in your Cadillac and leave me with the mule”.  Where did that come from?

You’re fighting for existence, you hate me cos I'm pure
You put a hurting on me baby and you make me insecure
But to be strong  I must be weak or else I won't endure
I love you, but I love you unaware
And that's more than flesh and blood can bear
More than flesh and blood can bear
I reach for you at midnight just to find you're never there
And its more than flesh and blood can bear


I see you at the party baby trying to converse
The room is going round and round and now it’s in reverse
Don't give into the spirit, the spirit is adverse
Beware because your feeble mind will tear
And that's more than flesh and blood can bear
More than flesh and blood can bear
Don't discard the lily like the garment that you wear
It's more than flesh and blood can bear


Time regards a pretty face like time regards a fool
You drive off in your Cadillac and leave me with the mule
In order to keep up with you I must go back to school
I see that in the wicked way you stare
And that's more than flesh and blood can bear
More than flesh and blood can bear
Do yourself a favour cos I know you're never there
And its more than flesh and blood can bear

I'm going down to find a church that I can understand
I need new inspiration and you're only just a man.
And with the blackjack table I can't play another hand,
The meat you cook for me is blood red rare 
It's more than flesh and blood can bear 
More than flesh and blood can bear 
Take the saddle off your horse and give yourself a chair 
More than flesh and blood can bear.

And that last verse, if Ms Springs did write that then where is the rest of her writing?  You can’t create lines like that in a song and then stop composing.  No, this one is real Dylan – and interestingly Dylan moving into a sense of humour rather than resource and regret.  He’s worked his way out of this end-of-marriage woes.

Moving on from the lyrics what have a we got?  A bouncy three chord song with hints of concern about the “true religion” he was in the process of finding maybe.   If my understanding of the opening line is right then she’s saying that he’s trying to get into the church, while she is already there.

But what we also have is Dylan firmly moving away from the style and approach of both lyrics and music in the last album, and really writing a clever, interesting piece.  Not a great work of art, but a jolly, amusing, enjoyable sketch.

And besides, who but Dylan could or would write

Take the saddle off your horse and give yourself a chair

And this I think is the whole point of the Dylan/Springs era.

Bob had created a new set of styles and a radical new approach to songwriting both in terms of lyrics and music with the songs of the previous year.  He now needed to break away from that and find a new muse, and at the start of the collaborations, I think Ms Springs really did have quite an input.

So the songs we get are  “paying dues” and “having fun.”   But although, as I have indicated, there are items which Ms Springs is more likely to have written than Bob, simply because they are not Bob’s style, as we work through the series we get more and more of the vibrant, innovative and experimental Bob returning, after exhausting himself with the album material, and all the emotions, of the previous year.

Thus by the time we get to “I must love you too much” we can really hear that Dylan is once again enjoying himself.  Compare and contrast with the heartfelt angst of last year’s songs – this is now fun.  He’s found a new mode of expression.

Heylin makes an interesting comment that around this time Dylan started playing with the lyrics of some of these songs when they were used in sound checks, which again must have helped him move into his new mode of writing.

As for the source of the lyrics of “I must love you too much”… Greg Lake said, “We didn’t actually sit down and write it together. I wanted to do a Bob Dylan song, but I didn’t want to do one that everyone else had done. I wanted to do one that was obscure. What happened was he sent me over a tape of a half-finished song and said, ‘Look, you finish the song off and then you can do this with that one, and that way it’s something original.’ I finished the song and it was called ‘I Love You Too Much.'”

And maybe we could leave it at that, but, there is even a chance to bring in Dylan Thomas at this point.  I’ve quoted before the letters from Thomas to his wife Caitlin which I see as an origin of this song for the phrase “I love you so much” became central to the Dylan Thomas image, so much so that there are even posters based on the phrase.

We know that Bob Dylan studied Dylan Thomas, and Bob knew that emotionally he was being pulled in every direction by Ms Springs, so there are a lot of links.  And there is also the music itself.  It is an endless driving force like a runaway bulldozer on heat, and that surely is what comes across in Dylan Thomas’ letters.

So, that’s where I think the frantic version of the song as it seems to be in keeping with the style of Dylan Thomas’ letters.  Here’s the Greg Lake version from his 1981 UK “Greg” album

There were apparently more songs that were written in the Dylan/Springs era but I have not laid my hands on recordings of any of them so we have to stop here.

However I would suggest there is enough above to reveal that this was not a simple collaboration but an evolution away from the songs of the previous year, with Bob sometimes engaged more, sometimes less.

These songs emerged in different ways, and dismissing all the songs from this period as trite and of no interest is wrong… some are not that memorable, true, but others are, and should be noted.  And they are a sketchbook via which Bob cleared his mind of last year’s songs and got ready for whatever was to come next.

Expecting Rain provided a list of songs I’ve missed

  • Baby Give It Up (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Her Memory (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs-Ken Moore)
  • One More Time (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Responsibility (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Someone Else’s Arms (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Tell Me The Truth One Time (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • What’s The Matter (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Without You (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Take It Or Leave It (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs)
  • Your Rockin’ Chair (Bob Dylan-Helena Springs) [Title uncertain?]

while Heylin went further and added another five

  • Afternoon
  • Romance Blues
  • Satisfy Me
  • Brown Skin Girl
  • Miss Tea and Sympathy

and he states that over time all the songs were copyrighted.

So there we are.  Another period of Dylan’s life comes to an end.  And what next?  Well,  clearly Dylan was ready to take another leap forward.  But where?

Meanwhile elsewhere

There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page.  You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down

 

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2 Responses to All Directions beyond Street Legal: Bob and Helena unravelled (partly)

  1. Aaron G says:

    Hey Tony

    We do have recordings of Responsibilty and Tell Me The Truth One Time

    Aaron

  2. Jay says:

    “You drive off in your Cadillac and leave me with the mule” reads like an update of the line from the classic blues “She caught the Katy/And left me a mule to ride.”

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