Down on the bottom. Bob Dylan lays down lines for later use.

By Tony Attwood

Down on the bottom is the opening song of the New Basement Tapes collection of songs created by various artists using lyrics from a Bob Dylan notebook which is thought to have dated from 1967.

In this case the prime collaborator is Jim James of My Morning Jacket.  And this was not just the first song on the album but also the first song performed in concert by the band and indeed it was the first song that was recorded by the band.

The phrase “Down on the bottom” was of course re-used by Dylan in Not Dark Yet: “I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies. I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes,” and we have also had “You been down to the bottom with a bad man, babe. But you’re back where you belong” from Baby Stop Crying.

And of course we have “Been in trouble” as in “I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town, I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down” as per Mississippi.

Down on the bottom
Down to the last drop in the cup
Down on the bottom
No place to go but up

Always been in trouble
Nearly all my life
Always been in trouble
Struggle, scorn and strife

Go find me my bluebird
Flying so high up above
Go find me my bluebird
Go find me somebody to love

Down on the bottom
Down to the last drop in the cup
Down on the bottom
No place to go but up

Always been in trouble
Nearly all my life
Always been in trouble
Struggle, scorn and strife

Go find me my bluebird
Flying so high up above
Go find me my bluebird
Go find me somebody to love

It is not a typical Dylan song at all, in my view – it is completely atmospheric – a statement about being down and out, the typical blues concept.  But it lacks the essential Dylan-ness that would elevate it to a different level, which of course is what Bob subsequently did with these other songs, and with all the blues songs that he has recorded across the decades.

But I am not suggesting that Dylan went back and looked at his notebook to find the phrase when writing “Not Dark Yet” etc – it is too common a phrase for that.  I suspect it just hung around in his memory, because it is just what the blues is.  Being down on the bottom.

And now here is the bonus because Elvis Costello separately wrote his own music to the song, and we have a recording of that too…

We’re currently working through the whole of the songs from the New Basement Tapes, and updating the index of songs in the 1967 section of the page “Dylan songs of the 1960s”

So if you are reading this account sometime after it has been published (November 2018) and want to see the commentaries of other songs from the album do visit the 1960s page and scroll down to see how far we have got.

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+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains 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 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

 

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1 Response to Down on the bottom. Bob Dylan lays down lines for later use.

  1. Aaron G says:

    The Costello version was supposed to appear on a compilation called The Good Samaritans in early 2018… but can’t find out if it was ever released…anyone know?

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/elvis-costello-me-full-story-how-i-recovered-from-two-philip-hayes/?published=t

    Elvis has also performed 2 unreleased NBTC tracks live a few times…Matthew Met Mary and Santa Cruz… never found a copy of Matthew Met Mary but here are 2 versions of Santa Cruz…anyone, Larry? Want to try and decipher the lyrics?….

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HfzwC4Qv3Vo

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NnIyv10qBLM

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