Quick like a flash: Bob Dylan and the problem of the New Basement Tapes

By Tony Attwood

Quick like a flash is a song written by Bob Dylan in his notebook to which Jim James added music.  It is part of the New Basement Tapes collection.

It has been suggested that “Quick Like a Flash” (only found on the deluxe edition) sounds like it is ready to roll as a soundtrack a Tarantino opening credit sequence in the near future.  That is possible, but I am not totally convinced.

Quick like a flash, we got to border that bus
Go down on the hump and screw it
We don’t need your opinions take a look at us
When we find something good, we’re true to it

Revenge is sweet when we take a trip or two
Put ol’ Peter in the pocket
Then pull in or out and paint ’em blue
Put a bow tie on ’em, and sock it

Quick like a flash
Quick like a flash
Quick like a flash

Crossharp’s coming just once that’s all
Oh baby, wontcha please come use him
Gang up on the punk and a big checker haul
Poor little punk, don’t bruise him

Quick like a flash, we got to border that bus
Go down on the hump and screw it
We don’t need your opinions take a look at us
When we find something good, we’re true to itQuick like a flash
Quick like a flash
Quick like a flashIf I heard this in in other situation I think I wouldn’t even notice the song – just passing on to something else.   But there is one thing that pulls me up when I do come to look in detail.  It is the lines

We don’t need your opinions take a look at us
When we find something good, we’re true to it

I suspect that many a writer, having got to this point would have made the “we” of the song move into

We don’t need your opinions take a look at us
When we find something we wanna do, we just do it

And that is how the soundtrack is played out.  But such lines would be very un-Dylan and in the line he has written

We don’t need your opinions take a look at us
When we find something good, we’re true to it

we get a song that is about having ideals and principles.  Except, of course quite a bit of the song is not like this (or at least doesn’t seem to be like this).

For example

Quick like a flash, we got to border that bus
Go down on the hump and screw it

On the other hand for a very short set of lyrics there is a lot here that is obscure, such as

Then pull in or out and paint ’em blue
Put a bow tie on ’em, and sock it

I suspect the most likely explanation of this song is that Dylan was simply jotting down lines, and would have then edited some out, having decided what the song was going to be about – if anything.  What influences us of course is the music that has now been added – music which takes the song in a very particular direction.   But to see what Dylan meant we really do need to go back just to the lyrics.

I’ll settle for it being just a sketch, which in other circumstances might have donated lines to other songs.   And it sure would have been good to have seen a whole song based around

We don’t need your opinions take a look at us
When we find something good, we’re true to it

A criticism of the ever changing world of politicians perhaps.

———-

We’re getting close to the end of the New Basement Tapes reviews; you can find a complete index of the songs and links to the reviews on the “Dylan in the 60s” page – just scroll on down to 1967 and they appear at the top of the huge list of that year.

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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3 Responses to Quick like a flash: Bob Dylan and the problem of the New Basement Tapes

  1. This whole set is problematic. If Dylan abandoned these notes it was probably not because he didn’t have tunes to put them too– the more likely reason is that he felt they were dead ends lyrically. There are moments when the Dylan-ness comes through, but those are scarce. That’s not to disparage the performances- Ms. Giddens in particular; and I’d say the whole crew did a good job with the melodies, but without the Dylan pedigree probably none of this material would amount to a standout number on any of these artists own recordings.

  2. Gavin Bickersteth says:

    Back in the early ’80s I remember a writer on the NME suggesting that if David Bowie set his shopping lists to music there’d be an enthusiastic audience for it (“It’s Friday: I must remember/eyeliner, make-up remover…”)
    I kind of enjoy the NBTs, but there is a sense that the only reason it exists is a need for product.

  3. Canute says:

    I’ve wondered if many of the artists have performed in their own concerts the songs they have helped to create more fully with melodies. I’d like to think they have and know that Elvis Costello has. I think Bill might be happier if Dylan himself gave any of these songs and run in concert and maybe even with the melodies he had in mind when he wrote them … if he can remember that far back. He has a good memory. I think he would remember what he had in mind.

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