By Tony Attwood
1971 was a very curious year for Bob Dylan in that it contained, as far as I can make out, just four newly written pieces. Two were absolute masterpieces in my view, but the others…
- Vomit Express (post modernist blues; cheapest seats on the cheapest flight)
- When I paint my masterpiece (art, Rome)
- Watching the river flow (The artist as observer)
- George Jackson (protest)
- For you baby
Maybe George Jackson can’t appeal to me because I am too many thousand miles away from the action and my review of that song was criticised because of my lack of knowledge of the background to Jackson’s imprisonment.
But Wallflower is slightly different. It doesn’t appeal to me because it just seems like a country song not saying anything new. According to the official Dylan site it has never been played in public by Dylan, and I must admit, when constructing the Chronology, I completely missed the song from the roster.
The idea with the song, (I have read elsewhere), was that Wallflower might be the B side of the George Jackson single, but it wasn’t, and in terms of Dylan it was shelved. That is until it turned up on the opening box set of the Bootleg series (vols 1-3) with a second version turning up on Volume 10 (the “Another Self Portrait”) edition.
Except that in October 1972, the song was recorded by Doug Sahm, with Dylan apparently singing backing vocal. Several copies of this version have been uploaded and then deleted. At the moment of writing this one is still up there. I believe it comes from Sahm’s album Doug Sahm and Band, released in 1973.
Indeed just to show how far out of touch with many other people my feelings about country music is, the song has been recorded by many other artists and so I guess they all liked it. Here’s a list that I found, although I haven’t checked them all out. I shall leave that to a more dedicated researcher than I (and also someone who actually likes the song).
- David Bromberg, 1974, for Wanted Dead or Alive
- Buddy and Julie Miller, 2001 for Buddy & Julie Miller
- Uncle Earl, 2007, for Waterloo, Tennessee
- Diana Krall, 2015, for Wallflower
- Anna Elizabeth Laube, 2016, for Tree
The whole approach of the song is extremely simple
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m sad and lonely too
Won’t you dance with me?
I’m fallin’ in love with you
Just like you I’m wondrin’ what I’m doin’ here
Just like you I’m wondrin’ what’s goin’ on
It continues in this approach and then ends
I have seen you standing in the smoky haze
And I know that you’re gonna be mine one of these days
Take a chance on me
Please let me ride you home
Now just because Dylan wrote “It’s all right Ma” and “Desolation Row” and the rest doesn’t mean that simple songs are no good, and I only like complicated stuff. I can still, after over 50 years, listen to “That’s Alright” by Elvis Presley and get a lot out of the song. It’s just that somehow the simplicity doesn’t seem to have anything else with it to make it worth hearing more than once. But I think it is just my lack of connection with country music – because clearly so many other people feel quite differently about it.
When Diana Krall included the song on her 2015 album she was asked by Billboard why she used the song and said, “I love Dylan and always have. I got stuck on ‘Wallflower,’ listening over and over again.
“We started playing it on gigs more than a year ago. “That’s the one song I played all the piano on, me and [guitarist] Blake Mills sitting in a room, just playing. We didn’t redo anything.”
So there we have it. It needs someone who really does get something out of the song to explain to the rest of us what it is that makes it work for them. As for me, sorry, but no.
What is on the site
You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page. You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.
The index to all the 594 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.
We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members. (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm). Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.
On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article. Email Tony@schools.co.uk
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, links back to our reviews