Bob Dylan: If Dogs Run Free (1970)

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Bob Dylan: If Dogs Run Free (1970)

Given that Bob Dylan has long been considered the greatest poet in rock, it seems a little surprising he never published a volume of verse or recorded some poems.

But as he noted in his autobiography Chronicles, "For sure, my lyrics had struck nerves that had never been struck before, but if my songs were just about words, then what was Duane Eddy, the great rock'n'roll guitarist doing recording an album full of instrumental melodies of my songs? Musicians have always known that my songs were about more than just words, but most people are not musicians".

Even so, you might have expected some spoken word or poetry pieces to appear, especially during his first decade.

But this piece from the New Morning album is rarity in Dylan's vast canon.

It was done in one take and as Dylan notes, "[Al] Kooper played some Teddy Wilson riffs on the piano. There were three girl singers in the room who sounded like they'd been plucked from a choir and one of them [Maeretha Stewart] did some improvisational scat singing".

Stewart later said, "It was very unusual. It was really a fun thing".

Curiously Dylan -- after a gap of 30 years in which he seemed to have forgotten all about it -- began to include it, in a very different treatment, in his shows in the 2000s.

The jury has always been divided on If Dogs Run Free.

In '72, the literary critics Frank Kermode and Stephen Spender in Esquire magazine said Dylan used "the delicious wordless vocal scribble of a black scat-singer to render mysterious a rather empty lyric" and Clinton Heylin in Behind the Shades includes it as one of "a not-so-healthy handful of real clunkers" on New Morning alongside Three Angels and Father of Night noting they were seen as "audacious attempts to work in new forms".

Howard Sounes in Down the Highway; The Life of Bob Dylan however considered it "charming". It certainly isn't too far from Jack Kerouac reading On the Road with Steve Allen on piano

Whatever your verdict, if you close your eyes you can almost picture a beatnik coffee house with candles shoved into wine bottles, and at the end instead of applauding the hep cat hipsters snap their fingers in cool approval and say "Far out, man" and "Like, yeah daddy-o". 

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory use the RSS feed for daily updates, and check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.

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