Bob Dylan: Dirge (1974)

 |   |  1 min read

Bob Dylan: Dirge (1974)

While flicking the pages of a rock magazine the other day I came on an interview with a young musician who cited among his current favourite listening Bob Dylan's Planet Waves.

When that album was released it was met with polite but hardly laudatory reviews, and even the enormously successful and highly profitable tour with the Band (Dylan's first since '66 during which many of the albums songs were featured) didn't push along sales. At the end of '74, despite it topping the charts on advance orders, it had barely sold 600,000 copies in the US, an alarmingly small figure given applications had been received for around 10 million concert tickets which showed "an explosion of feeling" towards Dylan, as Playboy wrote in its review of this album.

But at this distance it is understandable why a young musician might find the album more interesting than it seemed for those who were there for Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding.

The songs are spare and taut, melodically interesting with sometimes angular arrangements, and many offer flashes of the deeply personal. Some are dark, others -- like the hugely popular Forever Young -- seem sentimental, warm and domestic. It is an album where a relationship (Dylan was separating from his wife Sara) is sometimes being viewed through a fractured prism.

Dirge is a difficult and uncomfortable song, seen in the light of that marriage breakdown.

It is, according to Clinton Heylin, "an astonishing catharsis of years of seething resentment, seemingly directed at an ex-lover but surely one of that small body of songs in his oeuvre directed as much at his audience as some disembodied lover".

Heylin puts it alongside It Ain't Me Babe and What Was it That You Wanted in that regard . . . and he might have mentioned Positively 4th Street and even Like a Rolling Stone also.

Dylan, playing piano, and Robbie Robertson on guitar nailed it on the second take. It was the last song to be recorded for the album.

Even though the context has faded and the circumstances which prompted it have disappeared into the fog of time, Dirge -- the name given to a song written for a funeral, lest we forget -- stands as one of Dyan's most commanding studio performances.

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.

Share It

Your Comments

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - Jul 18, 2011

Hi Graham

I loved this album when it hit the streets in 1974 (not my best year ever): it caught something I haven't found elsewhere. I love Wedding Song too - but Dirge is unforgettable (except by Bob, who never plays it). I rank it with Idiot Winds as one of his most excoriating and bitter pieces, which both sound as if he's taking aim at American Emptiness, more than any one person.
Such great musicianship. Thanks.
Jeffrey

Music of Bob Dylan - Aug 14, 2020

We are actively promoting a link to this interesting topic on The Bob Dylan Project at:
https://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/153/Dirge

If you are interested, we are a portal to all the great information related to this topic.

Join us inside Bob Dylan Music Box.

post a comment

More from this section   From the Vaults articles index

Richard Hell and the Voidoids: (I Belong to) The Blank Generation (1976)

Richard Hell and the Voidoids: (I Belong to) The Blank Generation (1976)

Some generations get labels foisted on them – Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y etc – but Richard Hell (born Richard Meyers) offered this exciting, self-defining statement of a generation... > Read more

Johnny Cash: Understand Your Man (1964)

Johnny Cash: Understand Your Man (1964)

The friendship and mutual admiration in the late Sixties between Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan has been well documented: they did some sessions together in '69 (their duet on Girl From the North... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Various: Big Blue Ball (Real World/Southbound)

Various: Big Blue Ball (Real World/Southbound)

Fifteen or more years ago -- when most of these recordings were made -- this might have been a Big Deal: world music artists in Peter Gabriel's studio exchanging ideas with the likes of Karl... > Read more

SCOTT MANNION INTERVIEWED (2019): El grand jefe of Lil' Chief

SCOTT MANNION INTERVIEWED (2019): El grand jefe of Lil' Chief

It's a Sunday night in the mountain village of Chelva, about an hour from Valencia on Spain's Mediterranean coast. And Scott Mannion has spent some time today in the garden.... > Read more