Bob Dylan Countdown #168: “Sweetheart Like You”

It’s kind of amusing to think of Dylan trying to chart in the midst of the peak MTV years with material like “Sweetheart Like You.” Not that there’s anything wrong with the song; on the contrary, it stands out as a dusky beauty, one of Bob’s more soulful efforts. He was just playing a different game than the artists ruling the charts at that time, hence a rather paltry #55 showing in what was his last real stab at significant radio play.

Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine this song programmed between “Hungry Like The Wolf” and “Karma Chameleon,” unless it was in some Bizarro World rock block. The sound of this track off Infidels was slick enough, all 80’s studio soul with a nice Mick Taylor guitar solo thrown in for classic rock cred. But Dylan’s lyrics defy any easy accessibility.

Which is just fine with me. Only Bob can take one of the hoariest pickup lines in all of history and imbue it with enough meaning to keep Dylanologists guessing deep into the night. There certainly seem to be references galore here, but I don’t listen to music with a Bartlett’s Quotations book at my side, so I prefer to let the lyrics have their impact as if Dylan had pulled them out of thin air.

I do think the “dump like this” place that this femme has entered is more a metaphorical construct than anything else. As fetching as it is to imagine Bob as the friendly bartender, dish rag over his shoulder, offering advice, it seems more likely that he has simply met this woman right as she’s about to make a bad decision. Dylan’s character has likely made enough of those, and, although he wants her desperately, he seems to be trying to do the right thing for the both of them. There’s no turning back for him, but she still has a chance.

Oh, and Bob did put out a video of the song, but don’t go looking for answers there. It’s basically Dylan and his band playing in an empty bar while an elderly cleaning woman watches. No, watching Bob may not turn up hidden meaning. Listen to his soulful performance of “Sweetheart Like You” though, and you’ll hear truth that stands out among the artifice of the MTV era. 

 

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4 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #168: “Sweetheart Like You””

  1. wardo says:

    One of the things I love about this song is how it starts out like a simple barroom come-on (or maybe I’m just thinking of the setting of the video) and halfway through he’s hammering her with maxims like “They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings/Steal a little and they’ll throw you in jail, steal a lot and they’ll make you king.” If she hasn’t paid off her tab and hightailed it outta there by then, they’re made for each other.

  2. Jokerwoman says:

    The elderly women sweeping the floors in the video was Bob Dylan’s mother Beatty,

  3. Jokerwoman says:

    Sorry, it’s late here in San Francisco; I meant the elderly ‘woman’, not ‘women’.


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