If Dylan had his voice from 1966 (hell, I’ll even take 1997), Tempest would be considered a late-career classic.
If Dylan had his voice from 1966 (hell, I’ll even take 1997), Tempest would be considered a late-career classic.
Welcome to the first installment of the ‘Sounds Like’ series, in which I travel back to a particular era or genre that is often neglected or misunderstood and try to make sense of it.
Dylan ended the 70’s with a prayer to Jesus and a big Fuck You to his fans who stuck around after Street Legal hoping for another Blood On The Tracks. Instead they got Slow Train Coming, a good album everyone hated because the prophet who once mocked all the men With God On Their Side now had God on his side. But hey, this is Bob Dylan. He’s just going through another phase and he’ll be back to his good old self and the 80’s are gonna be groovy man.
No man, not groovy.
Saved was Dylan’s second religious album in a row and his first for the new decade.
“Two religious Bob Dylan albums in a row? Nice knowing ya Bob.” – said every disgruntled person ever.
But here’s the thing – the album’s biggest sin is that the music is actually pretty good. Nothing particularly stands out, but taken as a whole this album manages to make sense as one entire unit instead of all of Dylan’s albums in the 70’s not named Blood On The Tracks (Yes, this means I don’t like Desire, but that’s for another day). It won’t rock your soul or get in you more in touch with Jesus, but you can do worse than spend 43 minutes of your time here.
Shot of Love (1981)
The third and last of the Christian trilogy, but at the time no one knew this would just be a trilogy. Maybe Dylan didn’t even know this would be his last Christian album. Or maybe he did. Either way it’s the same case here as it was with Saved; it’s pretty good music bogged down by an off-putting message. The music is less gospel and more rock & roll, but Jesus is still alright in these songs. However, unlike Saved, there is one standout song: “Every Grain of Sand.”
“No more songs about Jesus? The first song sounds like Jimmy Buffett? Mark Knopfler produced it? Hallelujah!” – said every disgruntled person ever.
Empire Burlesque (1985)
Confession: I’ve never been able to sit through all of Empire Burlesque. It’s that bad.
Ok it’s not that bad. It’s just the most 80’s album you could possibly make. Which is pretty bad.
Is there any sort of redemption for this album? Yes, it’s called “Dark Eyes,” my favorite 80’s Dylan song. This could have been on Freewheelin’ all those years ago, and his voice and acoustic guitar has never sounded better.
Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
Right when this album was released it earned the high distinction of being the most universally hated Bob Dylan album ever released. Every single critic except Robert Christgau hated it. And almost 30 years later not much has changed. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing really offensive or funny about how bad this music is. When Dylan was bad before, the music was intentionally bad or the music was so brilliant that it required decades of listening to be understood (Self-Portrait). Album cover aside, this album doesn’t seem like it’s trying to make any statement or to piss anyone off. It’s just boring.
But hey, “Brownsville Girl” ain’t so bad right?
Down in the Groove (1988)
“Wait, this album also sucks? And Mark Knopfler produced this shit too? Gah, just give me ‘Silvio’ and leave me alone.” – said every disgruntled person ever.
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)
In which Dylan teamed up with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne to record an album scientifically engineered for the sole purpose of selling a million records to fund everyone’s solo albums.
Dylan & The Dead (1989)
Bob Dylan playing a show with the Grateful Dead might have sounded cool in 1966, but in 1989 it sounded like the cash-grab it was meant to be. Not terrible, but not essential.
Oh Mercy (1989)
It was clear by the end of the 80’s that Dylan had created a habit of ending each decade with a huge curveball for his fans and critics. In 1969 he had become a country singer. In 1979 he was a born-again Christian. In 1989 he made a U2 record. Of course by U2 I mean Daniel Lanois, the mastermind who produced most of U2’s albums and Oh Mercy, the last 80’s Dylan album and by far the best one.
If you’re wondering what a U2-produced Bob Dylan album sounds like, it sounds nothing like U2. The music is dark in a literal sense; this is music you listen to alone at night in the back of a bar or outside under the stars, wishfully thinking and feeling both happy and sad about life and love. Dylan has made better music, but few albums sound anything like Oh Mercy.
Note: this album sounds much better after reading Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One and watching High Fidelity.
There are tons of famous people on what might be the most famous album cover of pop music. Some of them you already know (Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, etc), but for the longest time I had no idea who most of these people were.
There are plenty of lists throughout the internet that tell you who these people are, but I didn’t really find a list that explained why these people are famous or why the Beatles might have chosen them to put on their album cover. That’s where I come in.
Of course I don’t know any of the Beatles personally, so I can’t ask them why they chose all these people, but I can at least explain what these people did.
Thank you 94.5 Kool FM for providing this chart and the names.
1. Sri Yukteswar Giri
A famous Hindu guru. There are many Hindi gurus on this album cover, since this was during the Beatles’ India phase.
2. Aleister Crowley
An English occultist who founded the religion and/or philosophy of Thelema. Crowley believed that he was a prophet who would guide mankind into the Aeon of Horus, his form of Nirvana.
3. Mae West
An American actress and sex symbol. She was essentially the original Marilyn Monroe, even though she was born 33 years before Monroe and died 18 years after.
4. Lenny Bruce
The famous American comedian and social satirist whose posthumous pardon from a notorious obscenity trial was a landmark achievement for American freedom of speech.
5. Karlheinz Stockhausen
Groundbreaking German composer who helped popularize electronic music and aleatory in serial composition. He also composed music with helicopters.
6. W.C. Fields
American comedian who helped popularize the “lovable egotist” persona.
7. Carl Gustav Jung
Swiss psychiatrist who defined many well known psychological concepts, including the idea of extraverts and introverts.
8. Edgar Allen Poe
9. Fred Astaire
Arguably the greatest and most important American film dancer.
10. Richard Merkin
American painter and illustrator who had an eccentric personality and fashion sense, almost like an American Salvador Dali.
11. The Vargas girl
A famous pin-up illustration designed by the most famous pin-up artist, Peruvian painter Alberto Vargas.
12. Huntz Hall
American actor who was famous for his roles in the “Dead End Kids” and “Bowery Boys” movies from the late 30s till the early 50s.
13. Simon Rodia
The designer and builder of the Watts Towers.
14. Bob Dylan
15. Aubrey Beardsley
English illustrator who was influenced by Japanese woodcuts and was a major player of the Aesthetic movement along with Oscar Wilde. He’s one of my favorite illustrators – very dark but gorgeous illustrations with lots of attention to detail. Check out some of his work here.
16. Sir Robert Peel
British Prime Minister who served two terms in 1834-1835 and 1841-1846. He’s credited with creating the modern English police force and the “bobbies”.
17. Aldous Huxley
Author of Brave New World, a book that you should read.
18. Dylan Thomas
Welsh poet from whom Bob Dylan got his last name.
19. Terry Southern
American Beat writer who co-wrote the script for Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider.
American singer-songwriter who was a popular rock & roll performer before the British Invasion.
21. Tony Curtis
American actor who in many popular films including Some Like It Hot. Father to Jamie Lee Curtis.
22. Wallace Berman
American visual artist who pioneered the Assemblage form.
23. Tommy Handley
British comedian famous for his role in the BBC radio program ITMA (“It’s That Man Again”).
24. Marilyn Monroe
25. William S. Burroughs
Beat writer and author of Naked Lunch, a book you should (try to) read.
26. Sri Mahavatar Babaji
Indian saint who was also on the cover of George Harrison’s 1974 album Dark Horse.
27. Stan Laurel
English comic actor and one half of famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.
28. Richard Lindner
German-American painter known for his abstract urban paintings.
29. Oliver Hardy
The American half of Laurel and Hardy.
30. Karl Marx
Author of The Communist Manifesto and the father of Marxism.
31. H.G. Wells
English science fiction author who wrote The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.
32. Sri Paramhansa Yogananda
Indian guru who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi, which introduced the idea of meditation to mass Western culture.
33. Stuart Sutcliffe
The original Beatles’ bassist who helped come up with the band’s name (Sutcliffe and Lennon came up with the “Beetles”, but Lennon later changed the spelling to “Beatles” to match the word “Beat”).
34. “Petty Girl”
A design of a pin-up girl by George Petty. These are the images that you think of when you see women on fighter planes.
35. Max Miller
Famous British comedian known as “The Cheeky Chappie”.
36. Another “Petty Girl” by George Petty
37. Marlon Brando
American actor who starred in On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Apocalypse Now. He was also Vito Corleone. Do you need more?
38. Tom Mix
American actor who helped define western films and was one of the first major cowboy actors.
39. Oscar Wilde
Irish author and playwright most famous for The Picture of Dorian Gray.
40. Tyrone Power
American film and stage actor who played many popular swashbuckler and romantic leads.
41. Larry Bell
American abstract artist and sculptor.
42. David Livingstone
Scottish missionary and explorer who traveled extensively throughout Africa.
43. Johnny Weissmuller
American swimmer who won several Olympic gold medals and who played Tarzan in the 30s and 40s film versions.
44. Stephen Crane
American author who wrote The Red Badge of Courage.
45. Issy Bonn
British actor and comedian most famous for “My Yiddishe Momme”
46. George Bernard Shaw
Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics.
47. Albert Stubbins
English footballer who won the League Championship for Liverpool in 1947.
48. H.C. Westermann
American abstract printmaker and sculptor.
49. Sri Lahiri Mahasaya
Indian yogi who was one of the few Indian holy men who was also married and worked as an accountant for the British Indian government.
50. Lewis Caroll
English writer most famous for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
51. Sonny Liston
American professional boxer who became the World Heavyweight Champion in 1962 but then was beaten by Muhammad Ali in that one photo you know.
52 – 55. Wax figure of The Beatles
George, John, Ringo, and Paul.
56. Shirley Temple (1st)
American actress known for her early roles as a child. She would later become the United States Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
57. Marlene Dietrich
Famous German-American actress who was a high-profile WWII frontline entertainer. Supposedly Madeline Kahn from Blazing Saddles was based on Dietrich.
58. Diana Dors
English actress who was pinned as the English Marilyn Monroe.
59. Shirley Temple (2nd)
60. Bobby Breen
Canadian singer and child star from the 30s.
61. T.E. Lawrence
The Lawrence of Arabia.
Other interesting things in the album cover:
-The other famous people on this album cover include James Joyce (right under Bob Dylan) and Bette Davis (right above George Harrison’s shoulder)
-Shirley Temple is actually on this album for a third time a cloth doll wearing a sweater that reads “Welcome The Rolling Stones Good Guys”
-Other random things found on the album cover include a stone figure of Snow White, a garden gnome, a doll of the Hindu goddess Lakeshmi, a Fukusuke figure, and more.
-Apparently some people who were originally planned to be on the cover but were excluded include Leo Gorcey, Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler, and Timothy Carey.
-I triple checked to make sure this list is accurate, but if I messed up anything let me know via Twitter @BradyWGerber
Cheers to 19-year-old Zak Abel, who is already making a splash in the UK.
Actually this time it’s Mavis Staples’s project finishing the many demos of her late father, the great Pops Staples. Tweedy is just helping out on this track. That’s also his son Spencer Tweedy on drums!
Oh yeah, Missy Elliott, Lenny Kravitz, and Katy Perry were there too.
In honor of the one year anniversary of the late actor’s death. Listen here via Stereogum.
Some are calling it the next Boyhood.
And his voice actually sounds good here!
Garage rock never gets old.
The new Pokémon?
Reminds me of Chance The Rapper with a different voice. Good stuff.
Photo by Alex Doane
Very few 23-year-old folk singers are ever compared to Bill Callahan, but Peter Oren is not like most folk singers.
With a calming, deep voice that reminds me of Callahan but matched by more observant and direct lyrics, Oren follows in the footsteps of the politically minded protest folk singer-songwriters who came before him (Dylan in his Greenwich days, Phil Ochs, etc) while making his own way with his atmospheric singing and songwriting. Unlike most folk performers these days, whom would rather be Marcus Mumford than Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger, Oren actually has something to say and a powerful voice to say it, and that makes this young singer-songwriter someone to look out for.
I had the chance to talk with Peter about his songwriting and of the many people and places that have inspired his music and lookout on life. Below is our conversation:
Does songwriting for you have a particular structure (lyrics first then music or vice versa) or do you find that songs come out of nowhere and the lyrics and music come together at the same time?
“I definitely don’t have a formula for songwriting. I have a pocket-sized notebook and pen on me at (almost) all times to catch whatever thoughts or phrases come my way. Musical phrases come on their own as well, and I collect those with my phone’s recording device.
Sometimes everything comes at once. Sometimes I mix and match, or begin and leave it open for a while. I try to keep the idea/ lyrics at the forefront of whatever song I’m writing. I slip up on occasion and write a song that doesn’t really mean anything to me, but usually lyrics are the top priority. I think a clever or powerful line can make all the difference in a song.”
Some of the best moments of songwriting are those first few times you play your new song and it sounds amazing and it’s the greatest song ever written and you’re going to change the world with your new, totally unique song.
But when you step away from the music and try to go back to it to fix a section or to record it, it’s easy to only look at all the things wrong with the song – the lyrics are bad, it’s a bland chord progression, this song sounds too much like this song, etc. How do you keep that songwriting mentality strong? It’s easy to forget that songwriting is actually hard work.
“I feel it’s important to let everything out of your system, whether it’s good or bad songwriting, and deal with figuring out what’s good after. I’m sure every excellent songwriter has dozens of bad songs they’ve written and forgotten about. The trick is to trust yourself fully as an artist and always go with what your passion is.
I’ve got bits and pieces of over a hundred songs floating around here and there, but not many are likely to hear any of it. The good stuff floats to the top, whether it’s because you know it’s good and love to play it (even before anyone’s heard it yet) or because you play it for others and most everyone agrees it’s a keeper.”
Jack White has this idea of creativity and inspiration that he works best by figuratively putting himself in a box and trying to come up with songs when he’s forced to only use certain instruments or record something in a very short timeframe. Do you agree or disagree that setting some sort of restriction can enhance creativity?
“There’s definitely something to be said for Jack White’s approach. Whether it’s writing or improvising on stage, Need can force creativity out of people. However, I feel that Need that arises organically (often internally) can be more fruitful and artistically valuable than Need created artificially.
For example, I have (on at least one occasion) written something that helped release me from a period of depression and gain perspective. This feels more artistically fulfilling to me than coming up with a new guitar riff because the tape is rolling or because a crowd is watching. I also have a tendency to quit or leave town without a concrete plan, and I take pride in this because it’s under such circumstances that one enters the unknown and has to deal with it.
So if you’re asking me if I find it better to do something than sit and wait, I say yes, do something. But I prefer to align such efforts with real Need rather than artificial need because I’d rather hear a song written by someone with an existential crisis than a song written under pressure just because that artist felt it was time to put out a new record. Hope that makes sense.”
Who are your literary (or just non-musical) heroes and how do they influence the way you write your songs?
“Wendell Berry and Scott Russell Sanders. Ross Gay is a local favorite. Peter Gelderloos is a really talented anarchist writer who always seems to give me a new and powerful take on the world today. He is super eloquent and thought-provoking. Hermann Hesse for Beneath the Wheel and Siddhartha. Hemingway, Albert Camus, and William Faulkner for various reasons. Vonnegut is incredible. David Berman is both a songwriter and a poet I love. Aldous Huxely for Brave New World in particular. Kerouac.
These writers have all influenced my world view in various ways. Some, such as Berman, Hemingway, and Faulkner all influenced my style as a writer whether by encouraging simple, declarative sentences (Hemingway), using run-on stream-of-consciousness, big-picture existential passages (Faulkner), or maneuvering abstract metaphors and descriptions that seem to add up to feelings more than ideas (Berman).”
Do you remember the first song you wrote and what inspired you to write it?
“I think the first song I wrote was actually “Try Hell,” which is online at swales.bandcamp.com. I adjusted parts of the lyrics between writing it at 18 and recording it at 21, but it’s basically all there. I was caught up with (and still am) a feeling of nausea and absurdity which stemmed from being born into a day and age where we burn fossil fuels despite the fact we are changing the climate, grow vast fields of soy and corn in a monoculture, and remain rooted in institutional religions, where we look for answers.
Obviously the “we” in the previous sentence is loose. The chorus in that song, “If you think it’s hot here, try hell,” was borrowed from a church sign in Paoli when my friends and I passed through in the summer after our senior year. It was a hot day. My friend Nick Greven spotted it and suggested I put it in the song I was writing that night around the campfire. It fit the theme perfectly.”
It’s easy to throw a Bob Dylan comparison at you, but what other major musical influences are in your life? Your music reminds me a lot of Bill Callahan in the way that you approach singing and writing, and I’m sure people want to hear about other good folk artists.
“Yeah yeah Bob Dylan. Hell of a songwriter. Bill Callahan is definitely the bomb, you’re spot on there–I’m definitely a big fan. As far as older stuff goes, I love Townes Van Zandt, Nick Drake, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Blaze Foley, Arthur Russell, and John Prine. Artists making music now who I love include Bonnie Prince Billy, AA Bondy, and Blake Mills.”
What is your secret music guilty pleasure? Like, are you a closet Spice Girls fan or do you have every single Shakira bootleg? Don’t be ashamed!
“Die Antwoord? Does that count? “Drunk in Love” by Beyonce?”
Who is an artist who you wish more people knew about?
“The Weather Station. Tamara Lindeman writes super beautiful songs. They’re simple and elegant–delicate and personal.”
Just like I made a playlist for the 60s, the good old 1970s gets its own spotify playlist.
I’ve tried to cover as much ground as I could – from disco (Bee Gees, ABBA), Heavy Metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin), R&B, funk, and soul (Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye), lo-fi and punk (Buzzcocks, The Clash, New York Dolls), soft rock (Fleetwood Mac, Elton John), singer-songwriter (Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor), to good old rock & roll (Bowie, Springsteen, Aerosmith). I also tried to throw in some deep tracks, including songs from Ann Peebles, Candi Staton, The Damned, David Essex, Dr. John, Fela Kuti, Freda Payne, Jorge Ben Jor, The Osmonds, Richard Hell, Rodriquez, The Slits, and more.
And yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dazed and Confused soundtracks are on here too.
In 1988 Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne formed the Traveling Wilburys and released their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The first song off the album is “Handle with Care” and it became one their most popular songs in their short career (Orbison died right before a proper follow up could be recorded).
In 2006, Jenny Lewis recorded her own cover of “Handle with Care” for her album Rabbit Fur Coat with The Watson Twins, Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard, and M. Ward. These are two very different music supergroups from different eras, yet each version is great.
I made for y’all a Spotify playlist of my greatest hits of the 60s, which includes Aretha Franklin, The Byrds, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Sly & The Family Stone, The Velvet Underground, The Who, and many more. I’ve also included some deeper tracks from the likes of The Bobby Fuller Four, John Leyton, The Zombies, and more.
And yes, Bob Dylan is on here.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find The Beatles on Spotify, but I think there are plenty of great songs on here to make up for that.