Bob Dylan 1971: Wallflower Part 1

1971 is the fourth year of Dylan’s Seven Lean Years, the dry spell that Dylan himself places between John Wesley Harding (late 1967) and Blood On The Tracks (late 1974). These are the years when Dylan sits on the waterfront, watching the river flow, waiting for the inspiration to paint a masterpiece.

Then, in January ’71, a tape of Leon Russell floats by, inspiring a brief but long-legged revival: the songs Dylan recorded with Russell in March ’71 are on the setlist 50 years later, throughout the Rough & Rowdy Ways World Tour 2021-2024, night after night, some 200 times.

Apparently, they mean something to Dylan…

NL: Bob Dylans 1971 : Markhorst, Jochen: Boeken

UK: Bob Dylan’s 1971 (The Songs Of Bob Dylan): Markhorst, Jochen: 9798329337044: Books

US: Bob Dylan’s 1971 (The Songs Of Bob Dylan): Markhorst, Jochen: 9798329337044: Books

DE: Bob Dylans 1971 (Die Songs von Bob Dylan) : Markhorst, Jochen: Boeken

Wallflower (1971) part 1

by Jochen Markhorst

I           There’s so much beauty and truth in it

In 2020, she repeats the formula, albeit this time Diana Krall stays closer to her roots: This Dream Of You is the second album she names after the Dylan cover on it. The rest of the album is mostly filled with jazz classics from the American Songbook. “How Deep Is the Ocean”, “Autumn in New York”, “But Beautiful”, and the like. Actually Diana’s core business, the repertoire and genre that secured her a place among the greatest jazz musicians of the 21st century, but strangely enough, in particular the one Dylan song stands out. Perhaps partly because this is one of the three songs on which Dylan’s bassist Tony Garnier assists her, or maybe just because “This Dream of You” is not yet a hackneyed song that has been played to death, but compared to this one rendition, the other songs suddenly sound a bit, well, stale and listless.


The last time Krall let an album sail under the banner of a Dylan song was five years earlier; in 2015, she released the surprising Wallflower. The surprising thing being the tracklist: classics from the pop canon, mostly from the 1970s – “Desperado”, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”, “I’m Not in Love”, that category. Jazzy arranged, carried by her signature hazy, sensual vocal style and her superior, hypersensitive piano playing. Good enough, but not as startling as the outlier on the tracklist, Dylan’s wallflower “Wallflower”. Strange at first, to see this lightweight ditty listed among such landmarks as “California Dreamin’” and “Alone Again (Naturally)”, but half a listen is enough to understand why Krall puts precisely this flag on her album: it’s a breathtaking performance, intimate and sexy, with a superb contribution from guest guitarist Blake Mills – the master who demonstrates here once again that a Dylan song brings out the best of his enviable talents.

Incidentally, Krall’s solo performances – i.e. just piano and vocals, no strings and no Blake Mills – are no less crushing. Actually, paradoxically, the dullest version happens to be the live performance together with her husband Elvis Costello.

However, her motivation for choosing the song, which she reveals in a radio interview with Scott Simon for NPR, definitely does not resonate in her interpretation:

“I heard it on a Bootleg Series. It was summertime and I was driving around British Columbia on a beautiful summer afternoon and I was listening to it with the children in the back, and I thought, ‘Well, this is a song we all should be singing together in the car.’ I loved it. There’s so much beauty and truth in it. Simple, but it speaks to a lot of people.”

… fortunately, Diana does not turn it into a merry sing-along.


Still, that’s what most colleagues do, turn it into a nice sing-along. The approach is usually upbeat country with leading roles for fiddle and banjo, the mood is usually: a sunny farmer’s wedding out in the country. Which seems largely due to the song’s first official release.

Which is not Dylan’s, by the way, that first official release. Dylan records the song during the “George Jackson” session, Thursday 4 November 1971. The session is his second and last creative outpouring in that desert year 1971, apart from the somewhat obscure contributions to Ginsberg’s sonic experiments, also in November (of which Dylan’s musical contribution to Ginsberg’s long, half-spoken poem “September On Jessore Road” is at the very least interesting). “Wallflower” seems originally intended only as a B-side for the single “George Jackson”, and given its somewhat throwaway, easy-going quality, probably even written especially for that. In any case, an opening couplet like

Wallflower, wallflower
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m sad and lonely too
Wallflower, wallflower
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m fallin’ in love with you

… does not give the impression that Dylan spent much time and love on it, nor that he felt any ambition other than “it’s just a B-side”. What Paul McCartney calls a “work song”, the songs that unlike the “hit songs” are casually dashed off to serve as B-sides or album filler, the song that may then be sung by George or Ringo, or sold by Brian Epstein to Peter & Gordon, or Billy J. Kramer, or The Fourmost, or whoever, who then often enough score big hits with them. In fact, one might even suspect that Dylan used one of those work songs as a template:

Little child, little child,
Little child, won't you dance with me?
I'm so sad and lonely,
Baby take a chance with me.


… “Little Child” from 1963’s With The Beatles. Initially written for Ringo as a matter of fact, and intended only as an album filler, but Ringo didn’t like it (and therefore got “I Wanna Be Your Man”), so Lennon then did it himself. Indeed not a real “hit song”, in Macca’s words. They weren’t too proud of it either; the song is never played again by the lads, not even by any of them in the solo years. Though even a weekday “work song” from The Beatles is still a Beatles song, of course. Nevertheless, “Little Child” is too unremarkable to merit a Dylan reference. Taken on their own, separately, the lyric fragments won’t you dance with me, I’m so sad and lonely and take a chance with me are obviously too stereotypical to be considered for the “Dylan source” label, but hearing all three of them, in the same order too, does rule out the coincidence factor. Somewhere in Dylan’s subconscious, “Little Child” is apparently floating around, and the angle “just popping out a B-side” is enough to bring up the words of Lennon/McCartney.

Just as Dylan’s aftercare is similar to the love the Fab Four gave “Little Child” afterwards. Disinterest, that is. Worse still, “Wallflower” does not even end up on a B-side in the end, is never played live by Dylan either, is indifferently passed over for the compilation box Biograph in 1985, and is not released until twenty years later, on the second CD of the start of the successful Bootleg Series, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. Although – something of affection seems to be felt by Dylan after all, as we see a short year after that Thursday in November 1971. At least in October 1972, he hasn’t forgotten the song altogether…


To be continued. Next up Wallflower part 2: “He once played with Hank Williams!”


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:

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