By Tony Attwood
This is one of those songs where Bob has an idea which focuses around the beat of the verse and the sudden variation of the scansion in the “Northern Claim” chorus. But it hasn’t got any further than that.
Knowing that Bob could take weeks and on occasion months playing around with songs before he became fully comfortable with them there is no way of knowing where this song was supposed to be going or indeed what his intention was with the Northern Claim / Southern Claim dichotomy that emerges.
It might be that friends from the United States can explain it to me. For the moment all I can think is that it could be any number of debates, arguments, points of view of battles between the north and south in America. I don’t have enough information even to take a guess, but if this is a phrase that comes out of American folklore or the civil war or anything else in US history I would be most grateful if you could write in a let me know. I haven’t got a clue.
And of course there is the fact that the composition is not just unfinished but also that it is poorly recorded. Dylan however could take even the simplest of song elements and turn them into something well worth listening to if he felt so inspired – but here it seems the muse never took him. And so where this was going and where it might have gone we’ll never know.
A lot of the lyrics below are pretty much guess work, so if you want to work out a variant version please do. I’m not saying my version is right – it just is a version. There are other versions available on the internet.
Well I took a first built engine on a travelling charge
Calling to darling and southern barge
Well it’s hard to make my getaway with pouring rain
Left myself inside the northern claim
Northern claim such sound of rain
Now all my life depends on a man of my dependence on a northern claim
Well I was found myself an ocean with a $10 fly
And the tombstone ladies looking passed on by
Well it’s bodies a-coming and my drive mobile
And I spend bullets flying, I rob, murder or steal
And it was northern claim beg borrow sound of rain
Northern claim suicidal rain
Well it don’t matter what you,
Don’t matter, just a southern claim
To me it sounds a bit plodding and uninspiring musically and would need a fairly nifty set of lyrics to make a song of real interest out of the current version, in my opinion.
Indeed I was even thinking of a plodding version of “Tombstone Blues” before I heard the word “tombstone” in the lyrics, and that got me remembering that I had compared “Next time on the Highway” with “From a Buick Six”. Both this song and “Next time” are travelling songs, and maybe Bob had been thinking back to his work in 1967. Consider this period of writing…
- Tombstone Blues
- Desolation Row
- From a Buick 6
- Can you please crawl out your window?
- Positively Fourth Street
- Highway 61 Revisited
These songs of disdain and songs of the highway were very strongly represented in this brilliant period of writing, and maybe, just maybe, with a lot of work this song could have become part of that epoch. But, it didn’t.
What else is on the site?
You’ll find an index to 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 the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own. You will find it here. It contains links to reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.
We also now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
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.