- Country Pie (1969) part 1: People try and read so much into songs
- Country Pie (1969) part 2: Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
- Country Pie (1969) part 3: I’m your wicked Uncle Ernie
- Country Pie (1969) part 4: Sugar and spice and all things nice
- Country Pie (1969) part 5: It’s weird, man
by Jochen Markhorst
VI “A clear statement of Dylan’s present credo”
I don’t need much and that ain’t no lie Ain’t runnin’ any race Give to me my country pie I won’t throw it up in anybody’s face
Rolling Stone reviewer Paul Nelson thinks Nashville Skyline “could well be what Dylan thinks it is, his best album,” and writes a corresponding jubilant review, 31 May 1969. It’s a particularly friendly song-by-song review, and Nelson thus also dwells on “Country Pie”. And has an original opinion on the lyrics of this second bridge: Ain’t running any race/Get me my country pie [sic]/I won’t throw it up in anybody’s face is “a clear statement of Dylan’s present credo.”
Leaving aside the naive premise that the first-person narrator in the song is Dylan himself, which besides by common sense should by now have been adequately disproved by Dylan’s mantra, “credo” if you will, je est un autre, it is also puzzling what the reviewer considers a “clear statement”. None of those three verse lines is unambiguous. In fact, the third, I won’t throw it up in anybody’s face, is downright puzzling. From the overall tenor of the review, it can be deduced that Nelson qualifies the LP as a testament to Dylan’s “new-found happiness and maturity”, and elevates to “credo” then the arguably weakest verse line of the entire album, Love is all we need/It makes the world go round, from the bridge of “I Threw It All Away” (which Nelson, as if to illustrate the facile superficiality of his article, after the rattling quote of the give to me my country pie line from this second middle eight, again misquotes; it’s Love is all there is).
Content-wise, this second bridge falls a bit out of tune, here in “Country Pie”. No eccentricities such as giant geese, marathon violinists, Saxophone Joe with his hogshead or a pie assortment, but still Basement-style bollocks. Only the opening line I don’t need much and that ain’t no lie is untainted by this, with Basementesque humour. But Basementesque nonetheless; after all, filler lyrics that Dylan plucks here and there from his vast working memory, we also know from the Big Pink. Throwaways like “One For The Road” and “I’m Alright” consist entirely of rock and country clichés, and in gems like “Odds And Ends” or “This Wheel’s Of Fire”, the impovising song poet, as here in “Country Pie”, glues up the gaps between the frenzies with whole and half quotes from the canon.
Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, then, would be an educated guess. In Basement songs like “I’m Alright” and especially “All You Have To Do Is Dream”, we have already heard more echoes of Curtis’ best Chicago soul records of the 1960s, People Get Ready (1965) and Keep On Pushing (1964), the record we also see on the cover photo of Bringing It All Back Home. Robbie Robertson, especially, is a fan, judging by the many Curtis guitar licks he sneaks into Dylan’s basement songs. And snippets of lyrics can be heard everywhere – like this “I don’t need much”, from People Get Ready‘s delightful opening track, the modest hit “Woman’s Got Soul”;
Now I'm just a regular fellow I don't need much I don't need a Cadillac car Or diamonds and such But the woman that I hold She's got to have soul
Of course, “I don’t need much” is far too generic to attribute to one unique source – but if “Country Pie” is a Basement relic, which seems more than likely by now, Curtis is an obvious candidate. Just as, say, Chuck Berry’s “I Got To Find My Baby” (1960) can be designated as the obvious purveyor of the subsequent rock ‘n’ roll cliché that ain’t no lie – especially since we hear as many Chuck Berry echoes as Curtis Mayfield fragments in those same Basement songs;
I got to find my baby I declare that ain't no lie I ain't had no real good loving Since that girl said goodbye
Well, technically not a Chuck Berry song, actually. But “I Got To Find My Baby” or “Gotta Find My Baby”, though written by Peter Clayton in 1941, is more or less confiscated by Berry – when The Beatles play the song (live at the BBC, 1963) they also seem to think they are covering a Chuck Berry song. With, incidentally, a splashy harmonica contribution by Lennon, which Dylan will also appreciate (although the 1956 version by the “King of the Harp” Little Walter probably is one step higher up in his gallery of honour).
Anyway, Dylan’s I don’t need much and that ain’t no lie is the remarkably unremarkable stepping stone to the terzet that the Rolling Stone critic considers “a clear statement of Dylan’s present credo”, to Ain’t running any race/Give to me my country pie/I won’t throw it up in anybody’s face.
That last line is of course the most striking, and especially for that peculiar “throw up in a face”. No mistake; that’s how it is published in the official Lyrics, and that’s how we hear Dylan sing it in both the official release on Nashville Skyline and in “Take 2” on The Bootleg Series 15 – Travelin’ Thru (the outtake released on The Bootleg Series 10 – Another Self Portrait is cut short a few seconds before this passage of text).
Weird; it’s admittedly conceivable that a playful Dylan, a certified slapstick fan, would want to do something with pie-in-the-face-throwing. “Daydream”, the 1965 Lovin’ Spoonful hit from his mate John Sebastian, is still in the air (A pie in your face for bein’ a sleepy bulltoad), and apart from that, any entertainer who has already sung thirteen pies, like Dylan at this point in “Country Pie”, will start throwing them, preferably in faces. But it takes a particularly villainous kind of humour to infect such an innocuous classic with the ambiguous “throw up”… and in particular “throw up in a face” is of a student-like nastiness that is miles away from all the homeliness and family happiness that reviewers like Paul Nelson see in it – bizarrely enough.
To be continued. Next up Country Pie part 7: I thought it was just a regular peach tree
Jochen is a regular reviewer of 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
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic