Tag Archive for Bob Dylan

Pretty Lights on the Tree, I’m Watching Them Shine

Sometimes you can hear a song a hundred times and on a random afternoon it will hit you in a new way. Whap, right upside the head. As a huge Bob Dylan fan, that happens to me frequently, where I’ll suddenly appreciate, say, Dylan’s piano technique on “Blind Willie McTell” — and need to hear that song every day for weeks.

That happened to me recently with “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector.

Specifically, these simple lines:

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching them shine
You should be here with me

Those lines have all the qualities of a successful haiku except for the syllable count — that attention to concrete detail, the lean clear prose (no purple or wasted words), and a darting movement from exterior, objective reality to an interior emotional state, where “outside” and “inside” become linked through juxtaposition.

I admire lines that can be as unadorned as, “Pretty lights on the tree/I’m watching them shine.” I love how that straight description conveys an inner depth (I’ve talked about that quality before, most recently here). I think it’s difficult to pull off, using simple words, yet evoking a depth of feeling that lies somewhere below language.

“You should be here with me.”

And, absolutely, it’s Darlene Love’s vocal performance that puts it over the top.

A lot of people have done this song, with mixed results: U2, Death Cab for Cutie, Mariah Carey, John Martyn, Hanson, Bruce Springsteen, etc. But nobody, but nobody, touches Darlene Love’s version, produced by Phil Spector on this 1963 LP: “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.”

On this essential disk, Spector lends his signature “Wall of Sound” treatment to a number of secular holiday tunes, enlisting the vocal talents of the Ronettes, the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, and Darlene Love. A few years back, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #142 on its list of 500 greatest albums of all time — not bad for a holiday album.

Here’s Darlene Love on a 1995 visit to “Letterman” — just a stunning version, given the full arrangement it so richly deserves. Violins and cellos, nine backup singers, a horn section, random percussionists pounding on the kitchen sink, and . . . snow!

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The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Lots of people around
Baby please come home

The church bells in town
All singing in song
Full of happy sounds
Baby please come home

They’re singing “Deck The Halls”
But it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching them shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

They’re singing “Deck The Halls”
But it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

If there was a way
I’d hold back this tear
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home

Here’s Bono and the gang giving it a go:

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In this recent cover by Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard eliminates the celebratory element that has crept into recent versions, to capture the sadness and longing that is at the song’s (true, I think) core.

If there was a way
I’d hold back this tear
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home.

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Come back on Monday for the first of a two-part interview with my old friend, author/editor Deborah Kovacs.

New Dylan Song: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

Fans of Bob Dylan were happy yesterday to learn that his new song, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” was made available for FREE DOWNLOAD. Offer expires at midnight tonight (I think), so as they say in the old advertising game: Don’t delay, act now.

You can hear the track by clicking on the video. Nothing earth-shattering — this isn’t a new masterpiece. Bob’s basically an old bluesman now, like a living Robert Johnson, and this is a cool R & B tune featuring the great David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) on accordion. The full album, “Together Through Life,” releases in late April.

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Oh well, I love you pretty baby
You’re the only love I’ve ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ we can call our own

Well, I’m movin’ after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don’t know what I’d do without it
Without this love that we call ours
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ but the moon and stars

Down every street there’s a window
And every window made of glass
We’ll keep on lovin’ pretty baby
For as long as love will last
Beyond here lies nothin’
But the mountains of the past

Well my ship is in the harbour
And the sails are spread
A-Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said


If I strike you as obsessive about Dylan, it’s because I am. With most celebrities, we know way too much, and the more we know the less we are interested. Then there are those rare people, like Dylan or Nixon, who strike me as endlessly fascinating. The more you know, the more you want to know.

Here’s the just-published book I’m reading right now, by Clinton Heylin, author of the wonderful, 800-page Dylan biography, Behind the Shades Revisited:

“We Are Living in Exponential Times”

Watch this, guaranteed to make you think, whether you are an educator, a parent, or just a Homosapien residing on the planet.

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According to the website, Shifthappens:

“Did You Know?” originally started out as a PowerPoint presentation for a faculty meeting in August 2006 at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, United States. The presentation “went viral” on the Web in February 2007 and, as of June 2007, had been seen by at least 5 million online viewers. Today the old and new versions of the online presentation have been seen by at least 15 million people, not including the countless others who have seen it at conferences, workshops, training institutes, and other venues.

The video has generated strong reactions, and been redesigned and remade more than once, as its intended audience has broadened. The original maker of the video is named Karl Fisch; he is the Director of Technology for Arapahoe High School. He blogs at The Fischbowl.

He explained the genesis of the “Did You Know” video here. For a taste of that post:

I put together a PowerPoint presentation with some (hopefully) thought-provoking ideas. I was hoping by telling some of these “stories” to our faculty, I could get them thinking about – and discussing with each other – the world our students are entering. To get them to really think about what our students are going to need to be successful in the 21st century, and then how that might impact what they do in their classrooms. It would also help the faculty that are not currently participating in my staff development join the conversation.

It went viral in early 2007. Fisch commented in his blog:

To tie this back to one of the major themes of this blog, it’s a different world out there. A world where anyone’s ideas can quickly spread if they happen to strike a chord. Where you don’t necessarily have to have a large company or a huge public relations effort to make an impact (although that still doesn’t hurt). And we need to be preparing our students to participate in such a world, to understand both the positive and the negative sides of that. To help them learn how to live and work in a rapidly changing world, where a fairly simple PowerPoint presentation that I almost didn’t even show to my staff has now been seen worldwide.

Since then, different people (Scott McLeod, for one,  XPLANE, for another, in cooperation with Mr. Fisch) tweaked and revised the presentation. The video above is, I’m fairly sure, the “new and improved, latest and greatest” version.

We are living in an amazing time. And somehow all of this seems to connect to the book I’m dying to read next:

I keep thinking of a line written by my musical hero — someone I consider the single greatest American artist of the past 100 years — Bob Dylan: “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone . . .

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For Mets Fans Only: Joni, Too

Two more aerial photos of Shea Stadium from Chopper 880, taken by Tom Kaminski. Why is this so fascinating to me? I feel like a crow circling a cadaver. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy about the new stadium. Shea was a dump. But it was always, always there. And now it’s gone. Disorienting.

Hat tip to Steve Keane of the Eddie Kranepool Society for the lyrical suggestion, Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

If you are ever looking for something a little oddball (and who isn’t?), you should track down Bob Dylan’s cover of this tune. The story behind that: When Dylan decided not to  renew his Columbia contract, in 1973, the label released a bunch of poor outtakes for the album, “Dylan.” “Big Yellow Taxi” is on that appropriately maligned disk.

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Here’s a newer version, the Counting Crows with Vanessa Carlton, featuring some nice shots of Coney Island and NYC. Though I think the Vanessa Carlton walking-around-aimlessly-with-scarf shots are beyond lame.

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What’s On My iPod?

I’ve been a huge music fan all my life. As the youngest of seven children, born in 1961, I grew up with an amazing record collection right in my living room, combining the tastes of four older brothers and two older sisters. I still listen to music all the time. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve been obsessed with Bob Dylan over the past couple of years. My oldest brother, Neal, was a big fan; I always liked and respected Dylan; but now I am fascinated, reading book after book, listening to the songs over and over again.

Go figure.

In April of 2007, I finally went fully digital with my work computer/iPod setup. The weird thing about an iPod is it keeps track of your listening history. I have precisely 26,198 songs on my iTunes library and I know for a fact that I listened to “Tell Me Why” by Neil Young exactly ten times over the past year, but somehow I’ve heard “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones only once.

Here’s a list of the Top 20 Most Played Songs on the iPod. Not my favorites, not the coolest list I could ever come up with, just what I listened to the most these past fourteen months:

1. Positively 4th Street/Bob Dyan. The greatest kiss-off song ever written, supposedly in response to being jeered at Newport after he went electric. His goodbye to the folk community. “You got a lotta nerve/To say you are my friend . . .

2. Romulus/Sufjan Stevens.

3. Little Martha/The Allman Brothers Band

4. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues/Bob Dylan. If you haven’t heard Nina Simone’s version of this, well, what have you been doing?

5. Lion’s Mane/Iron & Wine. Love this guy, very quiet, almost gothic singer/songwriter.

6. You Still Believe in Me/M. Ward. A pretty, quiet guitar song.

7. For No One/Rickie Lee Jones. Great Beatles cover.

8. Subterranean Homesick Blues/Bob Dylan. I shared a bedroom wall with my oldest brother, Neal, each on opposite sides. This song bled through that wall, night after night, when I was what? five, six, seven years old? I guess it made an impression. Neal passed away in 1993 and my family has felt off-balance ever since, a ship listing to one side. I still can’t listen to Dylan or the Stones or the Talking Heads without thinking of Neal — and that’s a good thing.

9. She Belongs to Me/Bob Dylan

10. Workingman’s Blues/Bob Dylan

11. Tell Me That It Isn’t True/Bob Dylan. His voice kills me on this track, off the “Nashville Skyline” disc.

12. Well-Tempered Clavier/M. Ward

13. King of Carrot Flowers Part 1/Neutral Milk Hotel

14. Changing of the Guards/Patti Smith. A cool cover of a Dylan tune; she nails it.

15. Film/The Bad Plus. A hipster jazz trio covers an electronica song by the Aphex Twin — and it is sublime.

16. To Be Alone with You/Bob Dylan

17. Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Bruce Springsteen. I love that this track doesn’t sound like standard Bruce; I like to see him stretch to learn new tricks.

18. I Lost the Tooth I Lost/Justin Roberts. Along with Ralph’s World and Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts is among my favorite children’s musicians. My Maggie loves this song.

19. Jackson Square/Mason Jennings

20. True Love Travels on a Gravel Road/Nick Lowe