Monday, September 15, 2008

Bob Dylan - Positively 4th Street

(Columbia, 1965)

This is Dylan gone pop. Bye-bye to the instrumental heaviness, vocal fire, and numbing length of preceding “sell-out” single “Like a Rolling Stone,” hello to cheerful organ-burble and a deceptively soothing croon spread over a sprightly 3:50 clock-time. There’s no proper chorus here, true, but the repeating musical phrases and warm midtempo mellowness leave plenty for radio listeners to latch onto – hence its deserved top-10 charting. And yet, the lyrics manage to out-nasty even “Rolling Stone,” climaxing with the rarely-topped knife-twist punchline of “I wish that for just one time / You could stand inside my shoes / You’d know what a drag it is to see you.” Ouch! So “Positively 4th Street” is a definite success as a single, both in terms of its commercial performance and Dylan’s demonstration of his popsmanship, but as a total package it can’t quite stand up next to the better album tracks from Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, its comparatively squishy band performance being inferior to the lean, tough playing on those records. This is all vinegar, no piss. Now, would the song’s contemptuous words be as jarring if the music had more of that edge to it? Perhaps not. Still… while I’d never trade the dead-perfect lyrics, gimme the instro bite of “From a Buick 6” (this single’s B-side) or any of Blonde on Blonde’s ragged, uptempo rockers if I want to hear Dylan actually fronting a rock ’n’ roll group.

1 comment:

Donald Brown said...

I gotta say you nailed this one! Much as I like the lyrics (how can you go wrong with that opening and closing?), I always find the song itself a bit boring. It seems wayyyy longer than "Rolling Stone" or "Rainy Day Women" just because it almost drones. And a chorus would only drag it out more. It's one of the few songs from that peak era of Dylan's music that I always wanted to hear done over, with more bite in the music. For more fun, go to the other put-down single that barely made a blip: "Could You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" which is loose and jangly and ready to jump out the window. And which, in one version, ends with the throwaway line: "you've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend if you won't crawl out your window..."