Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

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ordinaryperson
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Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby ordinaryperson » Sun Oct 21, 2018 3:20 am

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John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

AM Ranking: #504
Genre: Contemporary Folk, Folk Rock, Singer/Songwriter
Release: December 27th, 1967
Label: Columbia
Ranked Songs: All Along the Watchtower (#948), I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (#7254), I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (#9060)

WikipediaRYM

01 | John Wesley Harding
02 | As I Went Out One Morning
03 | I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
04 | All Along the Watchtower
05 | The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
06 | Drifter's Escape
07 | Dear Landlord
08 | I Am a Lonesome Hobo
09 | I Pity the Poor Immigrant
10 | The Wicked Messenger
11 | Down Along the Cove
12 | I'll Be Your Baby Tonight



Any type of opinion can be expressed on these discussion threads, you can post just a few words or a couple of paragraphs, you can even rank the tracks if you wanted to. New discussions will be posted on Fridays, so that users will have the time over the weekend to listen to the album and form their opinion on it.

HINT FOR NEXT WEEK'S ALBUM
We return to the top 1000 again for an album who's title contains the name of a real place.
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Safetycat
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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Safetycat » Tue Oct 23, 2018 12:25 am

Some of these tracks stand out, especially Watchtower, which was still an amazing tune before Hendrix transformed it. But most of this album gets lost in the haze of me not liking Dylan's music very much. I think I'm just bad at appreciating lyrics since I can't understand them well - I understand it's all quality stuff but I just can't get myself to appreciating his work.

Still, it was a pleasant listen, although The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest is weird to listen to since I kept imagining the entire band in the place of the character. 6/10 with bonus points for bringing All Along the Watchtower into the world.

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby FrankLotion » Tue Oct 23, 2018 2:40 am

I also have a hard time deciphering Dylan's lyrics most of the time but nonetheless I still find myself appreciating the moods he sets and the definitive sound he carved for himself in a lot of his best work. John Wesley Harding admittedly wasn't an album I'd listened to before but it's not hard to imagine why it's considered a moderate classic in its own right. The first half of the album in particular is a total knockout and sets the bar very high in my opinion, I feel like Dylan's ability to create a tuneful melody with his voice and instruments is a lot more understated here but pretty gorgeous with what sounds like more country influences? I'm still not sure how to wrap my head around it but it also sounds a little more direct and less sneering than the 3 or so albums before it, which is a really nice change of pace. Once again, really happy I finally listened to this, I'd say underrated for the most part.

Favorite Tracks:

As I Went Out One Morning
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
All Along the Watchtower
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby FrankLotion » Tue Oct 23, 2018 2:52 am

On a separate note, I was trying to figure out which album you were hinting at for next week and came to the realization that are a shocking amount of albums in the top 1000 that refer to real places! Crossing my fingers that you were being coy and chose Dark Side of the Moon, which is technically a real place but would be hilarious if that was the hint you settled on. ;)

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby ordinaryperson » Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:13 pm

FrankLotion wrote:On a separate note, I was trying to figure out which album you were hinting at for next week and came to the realization that are a shocking amount of albums in the top 1000 that refer to real places! Crossing my fingers that you were being coy and chose Dark Side of the Moon, which is technically a real place but would be hilarious if that was the hint you settled on. ;)

I'll give you another hint. It's not in the top 100, but it's very close to being in it.
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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby StevieFan13 » Tue Oct 23, 2018 11:53 pm

ordinaryperson wrote:
FrankLotion wrote:On a separate note, I was trying to figure out which album you were hinting at for next week and came to the realization that are a shocking amount of albums in the top 1000 that refer to real places! Crossing my fingers that you were being coy and chose Dark Side of the Moon, which is technically a real place but would be hilarious if that was the hint you settled on. ;)

I'll give you another hint. It's not in the top 100, but it's very close to being in it.

Trans-Europe Express?
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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby ordinaryperson » Wed Oct 24, 2018 12:19 am

StevieFan13 wrote:
ordinaryperson wrote:
FrankLotion wrote:On a separate note, I was trying to figure out which album you were hinting at for next week and came to the realization that are a shocking amount of albums in the top 1000 that refer to real places! Crossing my fingers that you were being coy and chose Dark Side of the Moon, which is technically a real place but would be hilarious if that was the hint you settled on. ;)

I'll give you another hint. It's not in the top 100, but it's very close to being in it.

Trans-Europe Express?

I'll give another hint, it's one of these albums:

Dusty in Memphis
Straight Outta Compton
Hotel California
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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby StevieFan13 » Wed Oct 24, 2018 1:34 am

ordinaryperson wrote:
StevieFan13 wrote:
ordinaryperson wrote:I'll give you another hint. It's not in the top 100, but it's very close to being in it.

Trans-Europe Express?

I'll give another hint, it's one of these albums:

Dusty in Memphis
Straight Outta Compton
Hotel California

I think Dusty in Memphis might be the closest to the top 100 of the three, but I don't know if that means much.
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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Weingarten » Wed Oct 24, 2018 10:09 am

This record felt kind of weak to me, to tell you the truth. Maybe my expectations were too great. It's Bob Dylan after all. It could also be that it'll grow on me after a few listenings. That's happened before.

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Krurze » Thu Oct 25, 2018 12:42 pm

First of all, sorry for not participating in the last few weeks. My university courses started again and it had more impact on my music listening time than I thought.

But right now I've got some spare time, so let's listen to Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding. Let's start with the usual disclaimer: I have not listened to a single full album by Bob Dylan, considered by many to be the single most influential figure in popular music. I know I'm writing this on a forum discussing popular music. It's about time, isn't it?

I think I listened to most of the very popular Dylan tracks, and the one I like the most is Subterranean Homesick Blues. Usually I don't lay too much emphasis on lyrics when listening to music, and as a non-native english speaker I can safely say that I don't get any of SHB's lyrics, but the song still oozes with an irresistible energy because of Dylan's rapid-fire delivery. I think it's comparable to another forum favourite, Jacques Brel's Vesoul, a song where I get even less of the lyrics, but that I still also love.

But enough of all that, let's start talking about John Wesley Harding. The first song, also titled John Wesley Harding, opens with an acoustic guitar, which is quickly joined by an electric bass, a drumbeat and Dylan's distinctive voice. Until now this seems to be a rather ordinary country rock song, but then another very important instrument joins in: the harmonica. This is a harmonica album if I've ever heard one. It dominates almost every single song. This is hardly surprising, I guess, being a Dylan album and all that, and it could probably be interpreted as a throwback to the original early 60's folk revival, if it weren't for the backing instruments.

I had made it to The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest when I first thought: Wow, is this a song without a harmonica? But, of course, I was wrong. Some four and a half minutes into the song, the inevitable happened. But, mind you, it turned out there actually is a harmonica-free song on the album: the piano ballad Dear Landlord. There are also some other songs that stand out: In Drifter's Escape, Dylan experiments with a higher singing voice, and Down Along the Cove is the most upbeat stomper of the album. Oh, and of course there is All Along the Watchtower. Most people are probably more familiar with Jimi Hendrix' version of the song, but the Dylan version is still a great track in its own right, although I was surprised just how short it felt compared to the famous cover.

But, other than that, most of the album kind of blended together into a murky, earthy, beige-coloured mess. A very harmonica-laden mess, that is. If that does not sound too grating for you, give this a spin.

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Live in Phoenix » Sat Oct 27, 2018 5:05 pm

This album has a good mood. I originally only wanted to listen to it on a rainy day. (In Phoenix? Good freakin' luck.) Oddly enough, "Dear Landlord" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" were featured in a 1970 play called Story Theatre, and I got to sing those songs when our community college did a production.

The tunes here are usually pretty minimal. If you've ever heard old folk music, it's just one melodic line over and over. Don't expect a chorus, pre-chorus, bridge, etc. So I'd say this is Dylan playing old folk music, in a way, though that's not what I usually prefer listening to. "All Along the Watchtower" is the famous track here, but Hendrix left Dylan's version in the dust. There's no comparing Dylan's harmonica with Jimi's guitar. I saw Dylan in concert in the mid-90s, and he rocked the fuck out of that song (my technical term for when a musician plays a song so much more loud and raw than their studio version of the song...or maybe their studio version of anything ). He had a folk section where he played "Mr. Tambourine Man," but he didn't try to put "Watchtower" there.

I'd call this good but not quite great Dylan. It's more memorable than most of his first several folky albums. It was a radical move to release this the same year that even the Rolling Stones were trying to make their own Sgt. Pepper's.

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Rob » Sun Oct 28, 2018 9:54 pm

John Wesley Harding doesn’t get the most ecstatic reviews here I see, mostly mild praise. I myself, however, am quite a fan of this album. If I rank quite a few albums of Dylan higher, than that is mostly because he has several 10 out of 10’s, while John Wesley Harding is “only” a 9/10.

Yes, this is traditional folk from a musical perspective. Dylan was never a virtuoso on instruments and his music doesn’t depend on it. Even so, this is one of his most simple sounding efforts. But that’s only when we are talking pure music, not lyrics. The lyrics here are some of the most complex and focussed he has written. And once you get the lyrics, the musical accompaniment seems almost inevitable.

Dylan’s massive discography only contains a few clear concept albums (and each one has at least a single song that breaks the concept, because that is who Bob Dylan is). The Times They Are A- Changin’ is the real protest album, Blood on the Tracks is the break-up one, there are three religious albums when the seventies went into the eighties and Time Out of Mind seems to be about being lost at an advanced age. John Wesley Harding joins these ranks, as it always seemed to me like having an unofficial concept.

The title is a dead give-away here. It is the name of some sort of western bandit, whose last name was actually Hardin, without the ‘g’. I’m not sure if the real guy deserved all the praise the song gives him, but that’s not the point. What this opening track does is make a legend out of John Wesley Hardin(g). With that it is in line with old folk songs which used to tell tales of great heroes and villains. Taken as such this one is spot on. And it sets the scene, because what we get here is a series of myths, legends, allegories and tall tales from 19th century America.

In fact, after the first song things get more interesting. John Wesley Harding is pretty straightforward, but the next few tracks are less clear in meaning. As I Went Out One Morning is about a mysterious meeting with an irresistible woman, who is dangerous in ways that the narrator can hardly explain. It also features founding father Tom Pain, who seems to have acquired mystical knowledge and powers. These are some strange lyrics, but Dylan’s talent as a writer makes it feel like an actual tale from the times. He knows that old stories tend to thrive on legend, that America from that time might be a legend in and of itself. Above all, the next few songs, starting with As I Went Out One Morning, have a feeling of hear-say, which makes them seem unfinished or opaque, but in a way that gives them a mysterious power. Our modern way of storytelling is more based on logic, while the stories of John Wesley Harding are based on a spirit that hangs around the country.

So what follows is the very haunting I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, the iconic All Along the Watchtower (I prefer Dylan’s version over the admittedly masterful Jimi Hendrix one; I could also probably write a small book on Dylan’s version alone) which features the best playing on the album, the old-fashioned parable The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest and finally the baffling yet captivating Drifter’s Escape. That last one along with All Along the Watchtower feels like Dylan wrote a longer song, but decided to just keep a couple of verses of them, selected at random.

The mystical quality of these first six songs might have made for a mini-album or an EP, perhaps titled Ghosts of the Old West. To get back to the music, how could Dylan have evoked the old-time quality of these songs without returning to the old approach of folk? Dylan always new that old folk was for the most part about telling tales. It is a way of sharing stories, far more than it is about guitar playing on itself. I can see how people who are not as focussed on lyrics might think of this as a lesser album, but if you can imagine yourself sitting along a campfire with Dylan whose sharing tales of old it becomes something special. That the tales have a range of moods is a special treat.

What is more stirring is that this was done in 1967, when psychedelia and the hippie era were in full swing and this harkening back to days of old was the last thing people thought they were looking for. Innovation of sound and content was the deal back then. There was always a traditional streak in Dylan, but on the last three albums he had moved more and more to modern themes, culminating in Blonde on Blonde, which could never have been considered by anyone in the 19th century, not even if they had albums back then. Still, this moving back to the spirit of the old west would lead to a new interest in this kind of storytelling. The Band basically one-upped Dylan here in their next two albums. Just take their two most famous songs, The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Both would fit amazingly well on John Wesley Harding. This album seemed to have paved the way for a renewed and refreshed Americana, that besides The Band quickly led to Creedence Clearwater Revival and holds strong today. Dylan essentially reintroduced the ghost back into the country.

Of course I only talked about the album up to first 6 songs here, but there are six more. Basically, the first half would be a 10/10 for me. What follows is still very good, but not as amazing. Dear Landlord, I Am a Lonesome Hobo, I Pity the Poor Immigrant and The Wicked Messenger still fit the 19th century setting, but somehow lack the myth. They are more straightforward (if still well-written) character pieces. I Pity the Poor Immigrant has never sat well with me, as it is a nasty piece and I wonder if Dylan had suddenly become xenophobic or if he just meant it as the portrait of a single guy. Anyway, these songs would be great for most artists, but the six that precede them are in another league.

The album closes with two love songs that abandon the old-west theme. They are simple, to-the-point and sweet. They mostly stand-out by how pleasant Dylan sounds here. The last one, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight was a small country hit back in the day and seems to belong to the more famous songs of Dylan in the mainstream. Most of all, these two seem to pave the way for Dylan’s next album, Nashville Skyline, which is full of these types of songs. They make for a nice ending of John Wesley Harding, but at the same time don’t add much to the appeal of the whole package for me.

So yeah, six great songs and six good ones. Not a bad count. John Wesley Harding is mostly dear to me for the feeling and imagery it evokes. It still feels unique, both in Dylan’s discography as well as in the musical world at large, even among those that tried to replicate it’s tricks. One criticism though: that album cover is ugly as sin.
9/10

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Honorio » Mon Oct 29, 2018 5:45 pm

Hey, Rob, thank you very much for giving the album its proper due. This album could well be considered the first Americana album even if this title should go to the Basement Tapes (recorded before but released years after "John Wesley Harding"). Dylan along with The Band made, during the height of the Psychedelia and other expansive (or should I say drug-induced) music movements, a conscious retreat to the American Root sounds and the "Ghost of the Old West" thematic (as you accurately described). It's still a mystery why Dylan decided to shelve all the material recorded with The Band and record quickly (only on three studio sessions) twelve new songs. Fortunately he followed with the new Americana concept, maybe even improved it.
"Woody and Leadbelly, and the Bristol sessions that revealed the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers as emerging artists, might stand as the original Americana wellspring as far as recorded music. The Basement Tapes may well represent one of the first times that legacy was consciously being built upon and expanded, where somebody was so consciously not only engaging a tradition but looking actively to expand upon it in a very conscious sort of a way." (John Henry for Jon Bream's "Dylan: Disc by Disc").
Agree with the ugliness of the album cover but let me add a side, lighter, note: Dylan wore the same brown leather jacket on three consecutive album covers ("Blonde on Blonde," "John Wesley Harding" and "Nashville Skyline").

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Re: Album Club Discussion #5: Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding

Postby Rob » Tue Oct 30, 2018 8:34 am

Thank you. It seems I forgot to mention The Basement Tapes, although I am aware of the fact that it lead to John Wesley Harding in a way. Though at large the latter album is more influential, simply because it is the album people knew eight years longer and was immediately followed by some other artist pulling in its direction. The Basement Tapes lead to other influences though, as a new appreciation for homespun music. By the way, despite some much named flaws The Basement Tapes is a 10/10 for me.


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