Edge of the Ocean: Bob Dylan opens up the Basement

By Tony Attwood, with special thanks to Pat 

For the moment the only way you can hear Edge of the Ocean is by buying, borrowing or stealing Volume 11 of the Bootleg series – the Complete Basement Tapes.  Of course lots of scurrilous websites turn up if you type the title of the first track – Edge of the Ocean – into Google (“Listen on Deezer” comes up on my search) but none of them have it available for you to play.

So, in case you haven’t bought, borrowed, begged etc a copy, here’s a quick review of the very first track from the Basement.  So rare it is not even mentioned as existing in the all-encompassing Heylin.  But he probably wouldn’t have thought much of it anyway.

It starts with a mishmash of sounds and then suddenly Bob is there sounding as if he has already sung a verse but is coming to the end of it.

Below is what I think he sings – but I am notoriously awful at this transcription lark so all improvements are welcome – just don’t laugh at me too much

Well we’re living on the edge of the ocean
with a mockingbird ready to frown
Oh the fleet pass over my window.
On this ocean round
Well, forever up on every morning
Brother, brother was in my sound
But let me tell you, brother, it won’t be,
When the seagulls cross over the town
Well its all getting to feel with me
I ease my head today
And we’ve lost the rhymes I’d found
On that diamond day
On that will give no warning
Well open your head to the ground
But let me tell you, brother, its coming
When the seagulls cross over town

The music gently laps between two chords with additional chords only added for the last two lines.

Clearly Bob was making them up as he went, and hanging them around the melody and chord movement simulating the waves – and it works very well indeed.  This could easily have been a song from several of his song writing periods – it just needed a little more work.  Indeed if one heard it without knowing where it came from the chances are one would place it much later in Dylan’s writing career.

There’s a feeling of sadness as befits the gentle rocking motion and rhythm.  One of the few commentaries I have seen (from the writer of the Haikus – see below) suggested the song is both “charming and disturbing – right here at the beginning of the set we have Dylan’s penchant for apocalyptic warnings creeping into what sounds like a gentle calypso about life on the beach.”  That is a very good summary.

Robert MacMillan who writes or wrote the Haiku 61 Revisted blog came up with

On the ocean’s edge,
Something is on its way
When the seagulls come.

which seems fair enough to me.  He also put up a link to the song but that has now been taken down – the record company has worked hard to protect the copyright on these recordings.

Of course you are not going to go out and buy the whole box set of the complete collection for just one more song, but if you did buy it you wouldn’t be unhappy with this as a starting point, the first track of the first CD.

Many of the Basement Tapes songs in this sequence are not written by Dylan – this one most certainly is, and it has that Dylan trademark of his songs with melody (as opposed to songs like “Like a Rolling Stone” which for the most part dispenses with melody).  Play it a few times and you can’t get it out of your head.

Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?

You are of course always welcome to write a comment below, but if you’d like to go further, you could write an alternative review – we’ve already published quite a few of these.  We try to avoid publishing reviews and comments that are rude or just criticisms of what is written elsewhere – but if you have a positive take on this song or any other Dylan song, and would like it considered for publication, please do email Tony@schools.co.uk

What else is on the site

1: 500+ 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.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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


  1. This week SONY “Threw it “all” away/at us” with 12 more (all “new” except “Don’t Ya Tell Henry”)

    Edge Of The Ocean (Disc 1, Track 1)
    You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Take 1) (Disc 3, Track 17)
    I Shall Be Released (Take 1) (Disc 3, Track 19)
    Quinn The Eskimo (Take 1) (Disc 4, Track 4)
    This Wheel’s On Fire (Disc 3, Track 21)
    Johnny Todd (Disc 2, Track 1)
    Don’t Ya Tell Henry (Disc 4, Track 21)
    I Don’t Hurt Anymore (Disc 2, Track 19)
    Silent Weekend (Disc 5, Track 12)
    Crash On The Levee (Take 1) (Disc 3, Track 10)
    One Too Many Mornings (Disc 5, Track 2)
    I’m Your Teenage Prayer (Disc 2, Track 8)

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