Why does Dylan like “Lonely Avenue” by Ray Charles?

by Tony Attwood

Recently, with the help of Jochen I started musing on songs that Dylan has commented on – songs that he didn’t write but which he particularly likes.   So far I’ve looked at two of them in these articles

Jochen also reminded me of Lonely Avenue by Ray Charles, which in turn took me back to the story that Bob Dylan’s voice was going to be available on car satnav systems.  I don’t know if that ever happened, but the notion of always turning onto Lonely Avenue was one that a lot of commentators latched on to at the time.

Lonely Avenue has a vital place within rhythm n blues music as it was the first Doc Pomus (real name Jerome Felder) song to gain attention across the US and Europe.   Indeed there is a biography of Doc Pomus called “Lonely Avenue”.  He’s one of the songwriters whose life was so varied and wild it is hard to believe it is all true, but I’ll leave you to find that out for yourself.  Here it is the music that concerns me.

But you’ll probably know Pomus’ music from such classics as Save the Last Dance for Me, This Magic Moment, A Teenager in Love etc etc, and it is often mentioned that Bob Dylan visited Doc Poums.

Here’s the Ray Charles version of Lonely Avenue…

In one way, loving this song is pretty much essential for anyone brought up on R&B from the 1950s, and listening to it again now the openness of the song immediately strikes one.

There is no escape from the beat it just pounds on and on and on and on 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – there is no way around this.  It symbolises the room without sunlight.  It is relentless in pushing across the image of the man isolated, alone, feeling desperate: the ultimate blues of the 1920s transmuted into the blues style of the 1950s, sung, of course, by a man with a most brilliant blues singing voice.

The backing by the female singers works perfectly too, giving us the echo of woman he has lost still in the room but not there. It would be so easy to overdo that, but it is timed perfectly.   Here are the lyrics…

And if you are listening and reading at the same – note how in verse two the melody doesn’t change at all, although the chords move on.  A perfect clash

Now my room has got two windows
But the sunshine never comes through
You know it’s always dark and dreary
Since I broke off, baby with you

I live on a lonely avenue
My little girl wouldn’t say I do
Well, I feel so sad and blue
And it’s all because of you

I could cry, I could cry, I could cry
I could die, I could die, I could die
Because I live on a lonely avenue
Lonely avenue

Now my covers they feel like lead
And my pillow it feels like stone
Well, I’ve tossed and turned so every night
I’m not used to being alone

I live on a lonely avenue
My little girl wouldn’t say I do
Well, I feel so sad and blue
And it’s all because of you

I could cry, I could cry, I could cry
I could die, I could die, I could die
Because I live on a lonely avenue
Lonely avenue

Lonely avenue
Lonely avenue

Now I’ve been so sad and lonesome
Since you’ve left this town
You know if I could beg or borrow the money
Child, I would be a highway bound

I live on a lonely avenue
My little girl wouldn’t say I do
Well, I feel so sad and blue
You know its all because of you

This is pure, relentless emotion of the bleakest kind, helped very much by the way the melody works.  And the bleakness is enhanced by the repetition not just of the chorus but also of the second verse

I live on a lonely avenue
My little girl wouldn’t say I do
Well, I feel so sad and blue
And it’s all because of you

There is also the way the song just starts without any preface – we are straight in there, the image is solid and there is no escape.  Bang, we’re stuck in the room without the door having opened.

And it would have been tempting I guess to have a fade out at the end – but the producer didn’t do this – he ended the song with a chord – I think it is a 13th but I fear my ears are no longer sharp enough to be sure.   But whatever it is it symbolises the discord of the man’s life.

If ever there was a song that has the sound that represents the lyrics this is it – at every level.  The beat that is relentless at the start just represents the monotony of the singer’s life in a way that envelops the listener.  There is no escape; this is the world.

Of course Dylan would never write a song like this – but I can absolutely see why he still remembers it all these years later.  It works to perfection.  It simply hits you and then wraps the listening up inside it.

There really is no escape.

Here’s the remastered version

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2 Responses to Why does Dylan like “Lonely Avenue” by Ray Charles?

  1. Marsh says:

    Dylan performs on the Doc Pomus tribute album, Till The Night Is Gone. Los Lobos opens the album with Lonely Avenue followed by Dylan doing Boogie Woogie Country Girl. Van Morrison does an outstanding version of Lonely Avenue on Too Long In Exile.

  2. Kiwipoet says:

    That room without sunlight reminds me of the ‘haunted rooms’ in Dylan’s Wedding Song, the stuffy room in Pledging My Time: ‘The room is so stuffy, I can hardly breathe’. And ‘I”m all boxed in no room to escape’ in Mississippi.

    Charles may well have liked the song because it reputedly expressed how it felt to cold turkey from heroin. The obsessive, repetitive, lurching movement of the song is arguably echoed in many Dylan compositions. Try Lovesick.

    But don’t overlook the fantastic sax solo by the inimitable David (Fathead) Newman. Now that’s blues into jazz!

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