Bob Dylan and Gene Simmons joint compositions: make of them what you will

Research by Aaron Galbraith, commentary by Tony Attwood

This is a review of part of the Gene Simmons’ $2000 10 disc “Vault“ box set in which Simmons and Bob Dylan talk and work a little on evolving a song together.

In fact the two musicians created two songs together: at 23.00 on the recording below you’ll find “Na Na Na Na” and at 41:30 for “Everybody Needs Somebody” neither of which have we ever listed in the full index of Dylan songs  which has always been the bedrock of this site.  So I guess we ought to have them listed.

Also on the recording is a long chat between Simmons and Bob Dylan in which Simmons seems to be trying to get help from Bob in the creation of a song.  I can’t make out everything that is said, but my impression is that Bob isn’t too impressed by what is going on.

The irony of the appearance of this material on the internet (and of course all we are doing is providing links to the material, not actually hosting it) is that around 2007 Simmons made quite a thing of his opposition to music piracy, and demanded legal action against pirates.   He threatened (but I don’t think initiated) legal action and threatened to withhold any new recordings.

However three years after that the group “Anonymous” who specialise in cyber attacks on people they don’t like, launched a distributed denial-of-service attack on all of Simmons websites.  Simmons responded in anger and so Anonymous took his sites down again.

But now we seem to have at least part of the Vault box set on line.  This contains two songs apparently by Gene Simmons with input from Bob Dylan.  But let me warn you, these are not clear studio recordings – these are songs in evolution.

If you play the video above and jump to 23:00 you can hear  “Na Na Na Na” and then at 41:30 you can hear “Everybody Needs Somebody”, followed immediately after by 15 minutes of audio from the Bob & Gene writing session.

I’ve listened to the audio chat but really I am none the wiser – it seems mostly to be the two guys trying a bit of this and a bit of that, but if you can gain any insights from this, please do write in and share your thoughts.

Anyway, a little more about Gene Simmons in case you are not familiar with him.  He was also known as The Demon, and was bassist and joint lead singer of Kiss – a band in the tradition of Alice Cooper.

Simmons is known as an advocate for the work ChildFund International’s work.  According to Wiki, “He traveled to Zambia during his Gene Simmons Family Jewels show to visit several of his sponsored children, of whom he has more than 140,” and is involved in a project to “revitalize music education in disadvantaged U.S. public schools.”

He stated in an interview that “Writing with Bob Dylan around 1989 would have to be up there, too, which resulted in Waiting For The Morning Light and two other songs – Na Na Na Na Na and Everybody Knew Somebody. Those all came from my time sitting down with Bob.

“We’ve also included a long track of Bob and I actually writing the parts – you can hear us talking and figuring it out; that’s all in there. He’d strum ideas on guitar and I would strum back, we’d talk about lyrics, I’d start humming things and we’d figure out what we liked….  Bob came up with some chords that I liked a lot and I started humming the melody….”

The chords of “Everybody wants somebody” are indeed unusual for popular music in the “middle 8” but to me they sound very forced – and not of the style that I would say is normal for Dylan.  That’s not to say in any way I’m denying this was a song writing session, but rather I am not too sure we can learn that much from the recording.

But there seems to me to be deep vagueness in what is going on which, for me, fits in with my image of Bob’s writing – that it is not deeply researched but rather simply comes into his head, in the way that conversation comes to everyone.

Some of the earlier comments are interesting though, including the bit early on where Bob is talking about it “happening quickly” and if if it doesn’t then one gives up.  It’s all there in the recording above, if you want to work through it.

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