By Tony Attwood
This post edited slightly on 7 Jan 2018 after a further thought suddenly struck me while I was playing the song over and over in my head
This is one of the utterly, absolutely brilliant pieces of Dylan’s early work that was performed in the Town Hall concert and then abandoned. If you have never heard it, you really should scoot down to the foot of this little review and play the one and only recording there is. It is a masterpiece. An absolute masterpiece.
The song is a cross between the lyrics of “With God on our side” and the melody of “Ballad for a Friend”. Indeed the melody was also used in part in “Oxford Town”, although obviously at a very different speed and to different effect.
That reuse of melodies in totally different ways of course is the sort of thing Dylan can do, but if anyone else had written this it could be one of their crowning glories. It says its message and its eats right into your heart and soul, and leaves you standing there wondering what on earth to do next. Or at least, that is what happened to me.
And if you are coming to this song for the first time in the Donald Trump era, I suspect it might actually ring a few more very very shrill bells in your head. Of course I am not an American citizen, so I have no say in the matter, but from where I live it seems that what Dylan was crying out against back in 1963 still needs protesting against with as much vigour as he created for this song and its extraordinary final line.
It is also a remarkable cross-over song when it comes to form and format. While “With God on our side” is straight folk and “Ballad for a Friend” is straight blues, this is somehow both, and that is quite a remarkable achievement. All the more remarkable in that it is in 12/8 – the time signature of Times they are a changing. Put another way its in triple time, and the 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3 pulse rings out through the whole piece, and yet still gives it that feeling of being the blues.
What’s even more interesting is the way the guitar is played, which seems to have chord and note clashes throughout. I like to think I’m a fairly competent musician whose been around the block a few times, but I listened and listened to the recording of this song trying to work out what Dylan was doing musically. I could hear it but was struggling to explain it.
In the end (and not for the first time) the wonderful Eyolf Østrem helped me out via his dylanchords.info site. If you want the musical explanation of what makes this song sounds so spooky and extraordinary here it is. I am quoting from https://dylanchords.info/00_misc/hiding_too_long.htm
“Both in the guitar and in the singing, the tone Bb is prominent, which of course clashes with the B in the G major chord of the guitar — which of course is how it’s intended. In the guitar this is accomplished either with the high Bb (as in the second measure of the intro) or the low Bb on the fifth string (I’ve indicated this in the tab by using “bb” for the high and “Bb” for the low Bb), which is frequently hammered-on from the open string, as in the third verse.”
I don’t know how he worked that out; clearly his ears are better than mine.
This is another song that appears on “The 50th Anniversary Collection 1963,” one of the two albums put out by Sony with the express purpose of extending the copyright on this otherwise unreleased songs. And so thankfully it has been preserved.
It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to have been at the Town Hall for this session and to have heard this still mostly unknown talent explode onto the scene with songs like this. Just listen to the crowd’s reaction at the end.
And indeed just look at the first verse…
Come you phoney super patriotic people that say
That hatin’ and fearing is my only way
That this here country has got to be
You’re thinkin’ of yourselves, you ain’t thinkin’ of me.
You can’t actually tell it any straighter than that, but just in case there is any misunderstanding Dylan makes it even clearer
You’re not thinkin’ of any George Washington
You’re not thinkin’ of any Thomas Jefferson
But you say that you are and you lie and mislead
You use their names for aims, for your selfish greed.
So it rolls on, and just in case we think that well, yes, we’ve got the message the final fifth verse just reminds us of where we really were in 1963, and perhaps where we still are
Get out in the open, stop standin’ afar
Let the whole world see what a hypocrite you are
I ain’t jokin’ and it ain’t no gag
You bin hidin’ too long behind the American flag.
An utter absolute masterpiece in my humble opinion. Here it is.
What else is on the site
1: Over 460 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 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 produced 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