By Tony Attwood
Some 45 years on, working through the first LP of the original Blonde on Blonde album is a bemusing and confusing affair. There’s the knock about Rainy Day Women as an opening track – a scene setter, a statement about Dylan’s adoption of electric rock as a way of expressing himself. Then the confused love blues of Pledging my Time, before the atmospheric brilliance of visions of Johanna, and the disdain of One of Us Must Know.
We turn the LP over and get the bubblegum effect of I want you, the absolute confusion of Memphis Blues Again, and then, the strange world of Leopard Skin pill box hat.
Leopard Skin is amusing, first time around, and somewhat surreal with the doctor and the new boyfriend wearing the woman’s hat. OK, but so what?
This seems to be a song of disdain, certainly of sarcasm – making the hat the most important object in the woman’s life. Well, yes, there are both men and women like that, but surely it doesn’t need a Dylan song to point it out.
So what are we to make of this song, and indeed of an album, whose first LP contains such a strange mixture? With anyone else we might say that some of the songs are nothing more than throw aways, there to make up the number because the singer hadn’t written enough worthwhile pieces to fill up the album. But surely not with Dylan, for as the subsequent release of some of the many unused recordings of the era shows, Dylan has always had more than enough music to put together in an LP. And besides, if this was a real problem of writer’s block, why not put out a single album, as Dylan did for the rest of the LP era.
Looking at the opening lines of Pill-box hat there really is nothing here to show us why this song is here…
Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin’ like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
And that’s the problem. It is not a distinguished song, it is not insightful, it is not atmospheric. It is a jangly bumpy blues, and unlike all the other songs of distain it is just rather ordinary.
What it does show is that the old blues format can be used for anything, from the original “I woke up this morning” to a song about a woman’s hat. Well, yes, but do we really need to know?
Some of the imagery is quite amusing as with
You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances
On a bottle of wine
But really, from the man who gave us Desolation Row, and Rolling Stone, what is the point of it all?
In the last review I wrote, I considered Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again, and was able to find a connection between the town of Mobile with the writer of the Memphis Blues. Here I can find nothing, no redeeming feature nothing. Maybe it is there, but if so, at the moment it is beyond me.