CK Retro Review: Planet Waves by Bob Dylan

1974’s Planet Waves found Bob Dylan reuniting with The Band, his old buddies from the incendiary electric shows of the mid-60’s and the bucolic mystery music they made together in Woodstock subsequent to that. It marked a return to Dylan being a full-time rock star, as he scored his first ever #1 album and put together a huge arena tour with The Band behind it. While many of the songs still harkened back to the simpler pleasures of his previous few albums, a few pointed in the direction of the masterpieces to come. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

11. “Forever Young” (Side Two Version)- Even for Dylan, the decision to start Side Two of the album with a charmless, country-rock version of a song that he and The Band had done just about to perfection to send Side One was a bizarre one. The producers of the NBC drama Parenthood use this version for a theme song; they must have been in possession of a one-sided copy of Planet Waves growing up and missed out on the good one.

10. “Never Say Goodbye”- Each of the instrumentalists have nice individual moments but the music never quite coheres, while Dylan’s lyrics feel like an unfinished sketch. Somewhat interesting, but ultimately a bit of a misfire.

9. “Tough Mama”- There is a bit of an uneasy mix here between heady, impressive lyrics and the chunky rock conjured by The Band for the song. Dylan feels hemmed in and, as a result, this one never takes off like it might. Plus the phrase “a-hotter than a crotch” should have stayed within the bounds of Bob’s imagination.

8. “Hazel”- The sentiments are nice enough, but they are rendered in lyrics that sound like they could have come from a Dr. Hook single. The good news is that The Band would take the slow-song arrangement of “Hazel” and build on it for their classic “It Takes No Difference” a few years later.

THREE STARS

7. “You Angel You”- Planet Waves might be Dylan’s most lovestruck album; at least six of the songs can be considered odes to captivating women. There’s not too much fancy going on in this one, but the players all sound so at ease on the recording that it’s hard not to get swept up in the effortlessness of it all.

6. “Something There Is About You”- At times awkward, at times revelatory, this song is intriguing for the unique ways that it pays tribute to the object of the narrator’s affection. The references to childhood in Minnesota in the wonderful second verse would seem to indicate autobiography. Dylan never makes it that easy though, muddying things up by making metaphorical references to sabres and batons that sound more like something from Don Quixote. The Band provides one of their inimitable, weightless performances that encase the singer in a gorgeous glow.

5. “On A Night Like This”- On the surface, it’s not all that different from songs like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” or “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” in that it’s about shutting out the world and enjoying some alone time with a significant other. But swathed in Garth Hudson’s joyous accordion and containing references to reminiscences and déjà vu, it’s easy to hear this one as a celebration of the reunion of Bob and The Band, especially considering it’s the album’s opening track.

FOUR STARS

4. “Wedding Song”- Bob let The Band take five for the closing track, dusting off the acoustic and the harmonica and going to town on this testimonial to an all-encompassing love. There are just enough hints of darkness to keep this one from being sappy, and the focused intensity of the vocal is potent almost to the point of being harrowingly so.

3. “Dirge”- Whether Dylan is signing to a woman or to a drug, the intent is the same: To cast out the presence that is haunting him and revealing his worst self. Much of the song’s success comes from the mesmerizing duet between Robbie Robertson’s acoustic guitar and Dylan’s stutter-stepping, intuitive piano chords. Bob also provides a terrific vocal, all stark howls that strive for catharsis but end up simply baring more wounds. In its way, this song, perhaps more than any other on the album, signals the ultimate return to elite form that Dylan’s lyrics would take on his next album, Blood On The Tracks.

2. “Forever Young”- Now this is more like it. The magical, improvisational chemistry of The Basement Tapes met its logical, mature conclusion in this expertly-crafted, undeniably moving musical performance that can convey the intended message without a single word. Dylan steps up and delivers one of his most heartfelt set of lyrics. The placid wisdom of the verses is contrasted by the wailing vocals in the refrain, desperate and fearing like any sane father who sends his children into this unforgiving world rightfully should be.

FIVE STARS

1. “Going Going Gone”- This is one of Dylan’s most underrated classics, with nary an ounce of flab on it. The Band’s performance is both pristine and powerful, with special props going to both the herky-jerky rhythm section of Rick Danko and Levon Helm and to Robbie Robertson’s stinging licks that punctuate each verse. Dylan’s narrator seems to have reached a metaphorical point of no return, possibly driven by a break-up, but there is a certain amount of freedom in his banishment of all hope. (After all, as a wise man once said, “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”) That home-run call refrain could either be a final lament or a new beginning, or maybe both somehow.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0810888238

Advertisements

11 Comments on “CK Retro Review: Planet Waves by Bob Dylan”

  1. hans altena says:

    Well, this leaves me flabbergasted. Until now this series of reviews had enough to call for a nod of recognition or a shake of the head in wonderment, sometimes approving, at other moments rising to denial, but putting down in this way a record that sparked so much in the resurgence of Dylan is leaving me scratching my chin in mild disgust. But everyone his own taste, so I won’t criticize that, just will try to shed another light on it. Of course the album was recorded in too much haste, though that contributed to its pure Dylanesque atmosphere. I cannot help but think that part of why it was so rejected in the States and lauded here in Europe, was that over there the soft and overproduced striving for perfection sound of the Californian Music Maffia ruled (which resulted in sometimes very enticing elpees like those from Jackson Browne and Steely Dan), while in the old continent down to earth American songs were lauded as the grace that would save us from the commercial drab of disco and the over intellectual jazzrock and dead end street of once avant garde but now boring progressive bands… Punk had yet to rear its ugly head in reactionary rage… Anyway, the deceptively simple lovesongs were, though less sophisticated, a step up from those on the lovely New Morning, not only in intensity, but also in their groping for something beyond the cliché’s and still attaching to the wisdom of them, which gave New Morning already that strange deeply golden aura. And when the lyrics started digging deeper a Basementlike mythical force appeared. Tough Mama for instance does not pale in comparison to the brilliant Tell me Mama played live in 66, a five star performance for sure. Dirge is a high point in his whole oeuvre, not matched maybe in heartbreaking force, six stars no less if it could be given. The only thing I can agree with here is the high regard for Going gone. Thanks anyway for shedding light on this little pearl.

    • countdownkid says:

      Very well-written, and I agree with many of your points. I don’t think I necessarily gave the album a bad review; on the contrast, I quite enjoy listening to it, in part because I’ve always been in the tank for The Band and feel like they cast a special glow on even the minor songs here. I think the album may be a little bit trapped between two worlds; the gentler stuff of New Morning and the more intense nature of Blood On The Tracks. I knew “Tough Mama”‘s low rating would rile some people, but I stand by my opinion that the music and Dylan’s lyrics are not a good match. “Hazel” is a little trite to me, and “Never Say Goodbye” needed more time to come together and sounds unfinished. Those, alone with the goofy country rock “Forever Young” are the ones that I’m not over the moon for and would rate as just average. The rest I like or love. It’s just that when you take it apart song by song like I’ve been doing, the not-so-good appears to weigh down the great, when, actually listening to the album, the great stuff easily carries the day. If that makes any sense.

      • hans altena says:

        Outside of my appraissal for Tough Mama, that I wil stick to, and the higher rating I would give to Dirge, Forever Young no 1, and Wedding Song (all five stars too), I must gove you credit for your remark that when you take the album apart song by song it seems to pale compared to how it works as a whole, and I think the sound of the Band contributes a lot to its final victory, even if it is a transitional and partly ‘unfinished’ one.

  2. hans altena says:

    ps and yes. side two should never have opened with Forever young no. 2

  3. Shabtai says:

    Agree with every word in Hans Altena post.
    In particular ,the outrageous “average” ranking of “Dirge” makes me more than – ” scratching my chin in mild disgust” .
    To me it is one of the picks in the whole Dylan catalog ( and thus everybody’s catalog).
    It is on par with BOTT highlights – “You are big girl now”, ” Simple twist of fate ” and “Tangled up with blue”.
    Of course it seems less “sophisticated” , because of its directness , exposed emotions and raw anger. But to me those are exactly the features which make it one of the strongest breakup songs I know.

  4. Shabtai says:

    Agree with every word in Hans Altena post.
    In particular ,the outrageous “average” ranking of “Dirge” makes me more than – ” scratching my chin in mild disgust” .
    To me it is one of the picks in the whole Dylan catalog ( and thus everybody’s catalog).
    It is on par with BOTT highlights – “You are big girl now”, ” Simple twist of fate ” and “Tangled up in blue”.
    Of course it seems less “sophisticated” , because of its directness , exposed emotions and raw anger. But to me those are exactly the features which make it one of the strongest breakup songs I know.

    • countdownkid says:

      I’m not sure that four stars is average; in my book four stars is a great song. I would say two stars is merely average. And I did say that the lyrics showed the first glimpse of the kind of songwriting we would see on Blood On The Tracks. I really love the song, but I would rate it just shy (and I do mean barely shy) of five stars. Same with “Forever Young.”

  5. Baggy says:

    I’m pretty happy with the rankings at the top of your list here CK. Agree that Going, Going, Gone, is a good song and a great performance.

    But the number of 2 star rankings is a bit of a surprise. Tough Mama does have that clunker of a line, but I have gotten into it more as it has been featured in the NeverEnding tour. Hazel is, I think, a real joy – I’d rate this song higher than almost all your 3 star rankings on Nashville Skyline, to which the same comment on lyrics would apply. The Band and Bob all deliver on Hazel, and we even get a nailed right-on harmonica at the end.

  6. Jacek says:

    I can’t be the only one who loves the crotch line in Tough Mama. Who else would’ve had the balls (heh heh) to throw that in there?

  7. John says:

    I’ve been wanting to respond to qualify your ratings…based on this discussion, this appears to be a good time. Based on my observation of your reviews thus far, my take is as follows:

    5 – Classic
    4 – Very Good
    3 – Good
    2 – Fair/Average
    1 – Poor

    That said, there are inherent weaknesses with this. Dylan has a high number of songs that fall between the 4 and 5, 3 and 4 ranges. In other words, there are a lot of songs given 4s and 3s that are not close to being equals. However, having a 5 point scale does make it easier for you to determine which “bins” each song belongs in as there are only 5 to choose from.

    From an album comparison standpoint it does make for a good way to relatively compare albums.

    A 5 star album with 10 songs may have the following breakdown:

    4 Classic
    4 Very Good
    2 Good

    • countdownkid says:

      I agree with you that the system has inherent weaknesses. The star-ratings are just to provide a little context between albums, not to put too fine a point on the songs. In other words, by using the stars, you can make a rough comparison between the best song on Street Legal and the best song on Knocked Out Loaded, or whatever. The book obviously gives a finer distinction between songs by ranking them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s