T for Tom

Day 14 – Planet Waves – 1974

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 5, 2016



Now this feels right. It may have taken a bit of fate, but Bob Dylan made right in 1974 with Planet Waves, his first record in full with The Band, as they are known now following their independent departure after years of recording, uncredited, with Dylan as The Hawks.

Mostly electric but all in tune, the album soars. I mean really soars, from the first tip of “One A Night Like This” all the way through revival balladry of “Wedding Song” at the end. But it’s what happens along the way that proves why Dylan was so eternal in the first place.

This whole project came about nearly four years after Dylan’s last true LP and some eight years since he quit touring because one of the old band members, lead singer Robbie Robertson moved into his neighborhood in California, sparking a nostalgic trip into the recording studio. For good old times’ sake. Once the studio was booked, Dylan flew off to New York to spend some time writing, coming back to Malibu with a book of songs that would eventually complete Planet Waves.

Anyone will immediately notice an oddity present in the middle of the record, an oddity that would go on to become Dylan’s most endearing musical charge – that being “Forever Young.” The song is present in two forms, titled the same on the album jacket but loosely published as “Slow Version” and “Fast Version,” giving the listener exactly what each promise. The song had been around a few years now and Dylan demoed it numerous times without settling on a version he liked best. It’s no wonder then that two versions appear, and without seeming incorrect or heavy handed at all. Everyone should know exactly why that is, or learn now if you don’t already.

“May you grow up to be righteous / May you grow up to be true / May you always know the truth / And see the lights surrounding you / May you always be courageous / Stand upright and be strong / May you stay forever young.”

After trying out about a dozen different versions, the slow version was included at the insistence of album producer Rob Frabroni, while the fast version, the last recorded on an extra day when Dylan thought he finally had it, made the record on Dylan’s. Each have their merits, each are timeless.

In its slow form, “Forever Young” is a cry for peace, a hymn for the forlorn and a prayer to the heavens. It hangs with the most important of American ballads, folk songs, and fairy tales. It’s imploring, wishful, and comes off as a beggar on the streets would at the doors of a church. Dylan seems to be singing for the whole world, like a plea, and the audience is urged to fulfill its promises.

In its fast form, “Forever Young” is a celebration. A rejuvenation, a tent revival for one. It comes off as cannon fire celebrating the battle won, or the sight of a single person dancing down a busy sidewalk. It seems like that the misery of the world is a wash to the man whose head is held high, and that infinite youth isn’t just for Neverland. Dylan seems to be singing to an individual, and we could all only hope it was us he had in mind.

Whichever the case, it taps into something real, fruitful, and joyous. Spread the joy.

Song: “Forever Young” both versions

Because one isn’t great without the other, and they were meant to be heard in order.


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