Under control. Bob Dylan’s Basement Tape prototype for the Buick 6

By Tony Attwood

Under Control is the third of five Dylan compositions on Disc One of the Complete Basement Tapes box set (noting as before that “Spanish is a loving tongue” which is credited to Dylan on the album is certainly not one of his).

The music is a very abrasive, rough 12 bar blues with the accompaniment made up of (I think) three electric guitars all competing with each other to play rhythm and/or lead.  The aim clearly was to have the rawest sound imaginable, and then add words that matched with it.

But it certainly sounds to me as if Bob didn’t have any lyrics written down and didn’t quite know where the song was going other than the fact that it had the words “Under control” repeated several times at the end of each verse – and that this phrase related to a woman.

One thing to remember in looking at a transcription of mine is that I’m not familiar with many everyday slang American phrases from the 1960s so I could easily have mistaken a phrase simply by not recognising what was said – so all improvements on the set of lyrics below would be much appreciated.

It is perhaps also worth noting in passing that we have the sad fact that a significant number of websites have put up pages that purport to be about each of the Dylan compositions from this album, but then offer nothing but a blank page.  I guess it is excusable for the official Dylan site to do it, but it is still frustrating.  One site has every single track from the box set listed with video links that go nowhere.  It just wastes people’s time.

Anyway, in one sense the roughness of the track makes it a hard listen, as does the poor recording quality, and I am not at all sure that the lyrics are particularly appealing, but then it was never meant to be anything that a rough and ready sketch, just to see if it got anywhere.

And I think this one did, because lurking in the roughness I suspect I hear elements of “From a Buick 6”.  However that is not the only reason to listen, because this working through of very raw blues by Dylan also eventually gave us the fantastic “I once knew a man” which I’ve always rated as one of his great forgotten compositions.

Here’s my transcript.  Try not to laugh too much at the ludicrous mishearings which undoubtedly lurk within…

Under control

She’s gonna make a graveyard fence
Just how much was too American
Yer heart was taken beneath the floor
Arrows to ashtray  say it once more
That she’s ready to go but no she ain’t ready to go
Well she’ told me that she’s taken me underneath the floor
She’s on her hands and then you know your too hot to hold 
But once you get her she’s under control
under control under control
Police man will turn her way out there
Comb on his face long underneath her yeah the windows shake
I’ve got the money but she’s too hot to hold
Once more you got her in her soul
She’s a limestone woman
but she’s heart and soul
lay down and lay down and let it roll
I said under control under control under control


Well tombstone baby rave on the night
Don’t mind me brother She said one more time
Don’t mind the mistress once again
Take it apart put it back again
She don’t need no gratitude to hold her hand she’s on hold
sure to hold
Yes but when I’ve got you got to hold
I’m ready me but too hot to hold
Under control under control under control

What else is on the site

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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.

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  1. I’ve seen ‘rhinestone woman’ suggested, but haven’t heard the song myself

  2. This is the prototype for “Like a Buick 6”? That’s an interesting theory. Maybe time was running backwards in the basement of Big Pink.

    This does sound like a throwback to 1965 and 1966, though. It’s very similar to some of the recordings with the Hawks, especially the early takes of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Tell Me, Momma.” You could easily imagine this as a soundcheck from the 1966 tour.

    It’s ultimately pointless, but always fun, to try to transcribe the lyrics of songs that don’t really have lyrics. Here’s my stab at it. There are only a few bits where I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right. One is “hard to hold” instead of “hot to hold.” Here in America, where we pronounce our r’s (just as Shakespeare did), we can usually distinguish between “hard” or “heart” and “hot.”

    . . . understanding she’s under control

    And she’s fleece on the baby when she’s graveyard fence
    Just how much was, was too many sense
    She hollerin’ on the table beneath the floor
    Arrows to ashtray and she said once more
    That she’s made of grold but she don’t, she ain’t ready to hold
    Well she’s honing but she taken meeth underneath her soul
    She on her hand and bed a motion on your too hard to hold
    But she’s wash and ditty, she’s under control, she’s under control

    From her hips on down please on to the corner
    Policeman and sound way upstairs
    Woe is made lordy beneath her big head window shade
    She said look out sa man she’s too hard to hold
    One cha-cha motion down in her soul
    She’s a mighty strong woman but she’s hearts of stone
    She’s a been already been made on your jelly roll
    But she’s under control, under control, under control

    Well tombstone baby but her rate on the dime
    Don’t mind me brother she said one more time
    Don’t mind my sister she said once again
    Pray tan the possum sure buddy let’s pretend
    That she’s don’t need nobody to hold her hand, she’s set on board
    She sure let go
    Yes but, but and she’s hammin’ but she’s hard to hold
    Already been made but she’s blue hard to stall
    She’s under control, under control, under control, under control, under control

  3. Prototype?

    Regardless of the timeline, however, both songs can still contain similar ‘elements.’

  4. Yes, they can contain similar elements; you can certainly compare them. You just can’t talk about the later song as if it came first. Unless you’re being deliberately paradoxical. I could say, for instance, that Dylan’s “flood” songs start with “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” which is only a sketch, an unfocused first draft, that he’d later refine in “High Water” and distill to its essence in “Crash on the Levee”–only to return to, as the center of a larger statement, in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

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