Bob Dylan Countdown #124: “Dirty World”

I have probably listened to this song more than any other on this entire countdown. You see, I was a freak for The Traveling Wiburys. It was a confluence of factors that led me to this:  My love for The Beatles and therefore an excitement at hearing George Harrison on the radio, the overall excellence of the record, and the general suckiness of most all other music available in the hair-metal era of the late 80’s. Heck, I didn’t even have a Dylan album at that point; that wouldn’t come ’til I was freshman in college two years later.

I suppose that some may grumble at having any Wilburys song included on this list, but I only considered ones with Dylan front and center, which means he likely had the biggest part of writing them. In the case of “Dirty World,” George Harrison confirmed that Bob was the main guy, telling his buddies that he wanted to compose a song in the style of Prince. The other Wilburys added the ending, shouting out phrases from magazines in round-robin fashion to polish off this blast of a track.

The common way to describe the lyrics would be innuendo-laden, but the wording Dylan uses is so blunt that this goes beyond innuendo into in-your-face sexuality. The cartoonish nature of his catcalls make sure that any concerns of misogyny just slide right off. This is Dylan having so much fun that it carries right through the speakers to the listener.

It’s also a magic moment when Bob sings, “I can’t wait to introduce you to the other members of my gang,” and his fellow Wilburys do a quick, “Twist And Shout”-stle vocal run. Listening to the mischievous glee in his voice, you feel like he really means this line.

And yet, there is at the core of the lyrics a bit of sadness, because the object of all these lascivious come-ons has actually left the narrator for another man. It’s just enough of a shadow to keep this track from veering off into novelty-song land. Throw in the milky horns and Jim Keltner’s snare drums crackling through Jeff Lynne’s production, and you’ve got a track that truly encompasses everything this group was about. Believe me, I listened to it about a jillion times in a three-year period from 1988-1990, and many times since then, and it still hasn’t gotten old.

I couldn’t keep anything as great as “Dirty World” off a list of Bob Dylan’s best songs, so here it is. And don’t be surprised if the Wilburys make another appearance or two down the line.


5 Comments on “Bob Dylan Countdown #124: “Dirty World””

  1. And as influenced by Prince as Tweeter & The Monkey Man is by Springsteen.

  2. PK Eiselt says:

    I caught this about halfway through, so Now that the countdown is done, I’m going back through and reading up on the entries I missed before.

    I’m really thrilled that “Dirty World” and “Handy Dandy” are included, as they have been secret, guilty pleasures for me for years as well.

    For some reason they both seem like they should be minor works and yet, they’re really engrossing.

  3. Jmk says:

    And the great ending, with Harrison swearing “it’s a Dirty f’in world.”

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