T for Tom

Day 8 – John Wesley Harding – 1967

Posted in A Dylan A Day, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on June 30, 2016



I’ve never listened to John Welsey Harding in full. It’s the first along this journey I can say that for, and won’t be the last. But I’m already learning why this is an important turning point – goddamn, what a good record.

It is from the beginning, at the last note of the opening and eponymous track on into the hanging but equal opening note of “As I Went Out Into The Morning,” a piece of work unequal. For the first time, Dylan’s music seems in sync – it isn’t his best or strongest by a single tune, but the whole achieves something beyond ornamental. We’re 18 months on from his rock’n’roll years and even though it’s a return to form, outdated as it was at the time, the act of returning itself is an act of forward progression. When Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and His Satanic Majesties Request were the top albums ruling with psychedelia and things unexpected, Dylan did something bold – he gave the people something they’ve already known for years, but in its best form. Recorded at the same time as the now legendary and vaunted Basement Tapes that would surface 10 years later (and upcoming in my retrospective), it’s no wonder that it sounds so good.

The content isn’t as much important. We are listening to a man whose life was changed by a motorcycle accident. For as folkloric as the event has become, its possible that the mere fact of living was inspiration enough.

And if so, it would make sense that his first effort since – his first attempt at making his living again – would be safe, close, at home, and sophomoric. But it was the 60s, and the violent, protestant, changing 60s. Dylan knew this, and creating an album of relatable, passionate frontier music would be the boldest move.

For a man who made an impression so quickly for always changing the game and there forward seeing the game always becoming one of change, he would be the first to strongly step outward by changing not at all.

And I’ll be damned if it isn’t his most enjoyable work to date.

Song: The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

It’s at times sweet, friendly, funny, and prophetic. For all the times he tried to be Homeric, this was his best attempt, and the tune is so delightful.


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