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 other two…
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 rosta. I’ll be going back and correcting relevant pages.
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
1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
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, is starting to link back to our reviews.