by Jochen Markhorst
I That dog song
In the connection between Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd, there seems to be a well working diode; the current only goes in one direction. From Dylan to Pink Floyd, that is. And the current already flows even before Pink Floyd exists: somewhere at the end of ’64, beginning of ’65 the founder of the band, crazy diamond Syd Barrett, writes his “Bob Dylan Blues”. We know the background to this almost lost song thanks to then girlfriend Libby Gausden. On the fansite sydbarrett.com, Libby is kind enough to release parts of Syd’s letters:
“I have written a song about Bob Dylan. Yeh! Yeh! Soul, God, etc. It starts off I got the Bob Dylan blues and the Bob Dylan shoes and my hair an’ my clothes in a mess but you know I just couldn’t care less. In fact a bit satirical and humorous. Ho! Ha! Hee! Tee! for Syd.”
And Libby also tells about the background; how Syd took her to a Dylan concert in London in May ’64; how fond they both were of The Freewheelin’, The Times and Another Side; how Syd’s eyes began to sparkle when she had her hair bubbled (“done in that image of Dylan on the cover of ‘Blonde on Blonde’, which we had endlessly listened to, and identified with”) and how glad she was that David Gilmour still had the song on tape somewhere.
The song was recorded in 1970, on the second day of recording for Barrett, Syd’s second and last solo album. After that, the song was lost for years, and was eventually found in the garage of producer and guitarist Gilmour. “I probably took it away to have a listen and simply forgot to take it back. It wasn’t intended to be a final mix. Syd knocked it off, I took a tape home.” When he finds it back, some thirty years later, it is a welcome enhancement to the 2001 compilation The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn’t You Miss Me? With Gilmour’s comment: “Bob Dylan Blues is a bit of fun. He was quite a Dylan fan, though there was a bit of jealousy there, too.”
“A bit of fun” is a good description, indeed. Loosely based on the melody and chords of “Chimes Of Freedom”, references to “Blowin’ In The Wind”, “Masters Of War”, “I Shall Be Free #10”, and in the title, obviously, and the song is mainly what the title promises: a tribute.
Gilmour was also hooked on Dylan at the time of Syd’s song conception. Way before Syd even, if we should choose to believe him in the BBC documentary Wider Horizons, March 2016 (and we may, up to a certain point). His parents have moved to New York for work, he tells us, to Greenwich Village (“They could see the end of Bleecker Street out of their window”) and also support their son’s musical dreams from a distance: “I got Bob Dylan’s first record for my sixteenth birthday, which they sent me from Greenwich Village.” Which can’t be entirely true… Gilmour turned sixteen on 6 March 1962, thirteen days before Dylan’s first album was released. He must mean a seventeenth or an eighteenth birthday then.
The Dylan love, however, is real and lasting. When he is the castaway in BBC 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2003, Gilmour calls Dylan “fabulous” and “wonderful”, and his second Desert Island choice is a Dylan song, though a surprising one: “Ballad In Plain D”. “I’ve lived through a lot of his heavy protest stuff. This was another side I’m very keen on, this sort of love song approach.”
In the trailer for the unreleased Italian documentary Who’s Ever Met Bob (2012), people like Bernardo Bertolucci, Pretty Thing Phil May and Joe Boyd talk about their encounters with Bob Dylan. Dream Academy frontman Nick Laird-Clowes tells how he and David Gilmour were admitted to the dressing room just before a gig in London, presumably sometime in the 1990s.
“There’s Bob. Seeing David – he doesn’t know who I am – seeing David coming towards him, he’s trying to get his silver lame trousers over his motorcycle boots, and you could see it’s a thankless task, they are much too… ah! And then he sees us and he launches himself towards us, trips as he comes and it’s like my God he’s gonna break his arm! […] And then we stand, and he suddenly says: Hey Dave, I love that dog song. And David says: Dog song, Bob? What dog song? I say: Dogs Of War, your song! And he goes: Ah, thanks Bob. And Bob says: We should really write together sometime. “Yeah”. And then Bob goes: I better get ready for the show but it’s great you guys stopped by. And we say: Sure! We shake him by the hand. He squints up at us, and we leave.”
David Gilmour also speaks in the same documentary, and the interviewer comes back to that story of Nick Laird-Clowes. Gilmour remembers, and remains, as usual, modest:
And he liked Dogs Of War very much?
So he said, yeah.
So it’s like mutual fans. You’re fan of his, and he’s fan of yours
Well, I don’t know if he is. But he certainly… he seems remarkably well-informed.
It’s a bit hard to imagine. “Dogs Of War” (1988) is a fairly archetypal Pink Floyd song, not particularly loved by fans, and in many ways a kind of “Money” rip-off. But then again, content-wise the lyrics are a clone of Dylan’s “Masters Of War”, and the basis of the music is a pretty successful variation on the structure of a twelve-bar blues in minor (Gilmour goes from C minor to E flat minor rather than F minor) – both pillars could appeal to Dylan indeed. In addition, Dylan often expresses dissenting, highly unorthodox preferences, such as in the 2020 New York Times interview, in which he qualifies The Eagles’ “Pretty Maids All In A Row” as “that could be one of the best songs ever”.
Still, other candidates do seem more obvious. Dylan compliments “that dog song” and Laird-Clowes hastily fills in for Gilmour: “He means Dogs Of War!” That is quite questionable. For one, it’s pretty unlikely that the “remarkably well-informed” Dylan, with his uncanny memory for songs, would recall the striking title of a recent song like “Dogs Of War” as that dog song. A better candidate is already “Dogs” (from Animals, 1977), but Pink Floyd’s only real dog song is the most obvious: “Seamus”, the funny little throwaway that closes side 1 of Meddle (1971).
Just as reviled by the fans, but for the non-Pink Floyd fan a charming country blues, and for the dog lover (as Dylan is) a witty leading role for the howling of Steve Marriott’s border collie Seamus – by all standards a ditty that Dylan would remember a quarter of a century later, and which he would quite possibly remember as that dog song.
Too generic, though, to be qualifiable for an upgrade to influential song. That, Pink Floyd influence on a Dylan song, is really only indisputable one single time: on the rejected “Can’t Wait”, alternate version No. 2, which can be found on CD3 of the DeLuxe Edition of The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006, illustrating the one single time when the diode falters and the current flows in the other direction:
By the way, the Live at Pompeii version of “Seamus” is re-titled “Mademoiselle Nobs” because the howling is now done by the beautiful, white Russian wolfhound Nobs. In a drastically changed arrangement, with David Gilmour on harmonica. “He’d introduced the harmonica,” says Gilmour in that same trailer, “not, obviously, as a new instrument, but a new way of using the harmonica.” In this particular song, Gilmour’s approach is quite traditional, though.
To be continued. Next up: Can’t Wait part 2: Has he got a passenger service vehicle license?
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Bob Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978