Bob Dylan Countdown #194: “Series Of Dreams”

I’ll be honest:  When I first heard this fascinating outtake from the Oh Mercy sessions, I assumed that U2 was the backing band. Take a good listen. It’s a dead ringer for one of those arching constructs by Bono and the boys like “Where The Streets Have No Name”, with the ringing guitars and thunderous drumming.

In the end, this production by Daniel Lanois, who, of course, also collaborated with U2, is to the song’s detriment. Dylan’s lyrics, which are wondrous without ever being too showy here, get a little bit lost in the shuffle underneath drummer Alton Rubin Jr.’s impression of Larry Mullen Jr.

I think that Dylan sensed the disconnect there, which is one of the reasons that he left it off the album. He also talks in Chronicles about he and Lanois jousting over the structure of the song, with the producer wanting to build the song out of the bridge. You can’t blame him for that, because the bridge is fantastic, but it was too much of a struggle for Bob to reimagine the song in that way.

All of this craziness caused the song to trickle out on several different Greatest Hits collections and the first Bootleg Series release, and it works best in that context. It’s truly a stand-alone kind of thing, and likely would have seemed like a non-sequitur no matter the album it inhabited.

Ah, but those lyrics are truly something, aren’t they? My take is that Dylan seems to be willing to give himself over to the power of these apparitions and shades that visit his slumber without questioning their significance. Take the bridge for example:

Dreams where the umbrella is folding                                                                                                                                                                  Into the path you are hurled                                                                                                                                                                                    And the cards are no good that you’re holding                                                                                                                                           Unless they’re from another world 

The corporeal stuff won’t help you in this world that Dylan has conjured. Only the nonsensical truly makes sense here.

I also find it intriguing how Dylan says that he’s “thinking about a series of dreams.” He’s not actually inside the dreams as he sings, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any guarantee that he’ll get back there again. It lends an air of wistfulness to the proceedings, just another element to this beguiling oddball of a track. The song may ultimately be something of a missed opportunity, but all missed opportunities should be this good.

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4 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #194: “Series Of Dreams””

  1. Angel With Four Faces says:

    I’m reviewing all of the previous postings on this great countdown. Thanks so much. This song is terrible low (or is that high?) on this list, however. This was my Dylan “conversion” song, I became terribly excited when hearing it, asking myself “What is this?!” Let go of all that Lanois history, it’s a tremendous song – and performance. To quote Bob quote Robert Johnson, “‘the stuff we got will bust your brains out”, this song does just that.

  2. Cory says:

    I’m wandering back in the archives too! I love this song. Kid, you’re spot on about the strength of the lyrics. I also think his vocal performance is particularly awesome – especially his wonderfully Dylanesque way of singing ” scheme” and, a verse later, “climb”. Both get me every time.

    The video is supercool too. Fun fact: when listening to this, I (still) find it very difficult to discern whether he’s saying “the one you can’t see with your eyes” or the one you *can*. In the version of the video that includes this verse (oh why can’t I find you now!), the line is written out in cursive on the bottom of the screen and the apostrophe and ‘t’ actually crumble away after a second. How awesome! I know the published lyrics say can’t but lo, I still ain’t convinced!


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