Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Million Dollar Bash" - Bob Dylan and The Band

SONG: "Million Dollar Bash"


PERFORMED BY: Bob Dylan and the Band

APPEARS ON: "The Basement Tapes" (1975)

In 1966, 25 year-old Bob Dylan crashed his red and silver Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle outside of Woodstock, New York. His injuries were miraculously benign, but there was a marked change in the young singer-songwriter from that point forward. “When I had that motorcycle accident,” he recalls, “I woke up and caught my senses. I realized that I was just working for these leeches and I didn’t want to do that. Plus, I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids.” Dylan entered a period of seclusion that lasted for nearly seven years. During that time he continued to write and record some of his very best work. The material that formed “The Basement Tapes” came from this period.

“Million Dollar Bash” was first recorded in 1967 in the basement of a house in West Saugerties, New York. The house was, of course, the famous “Big Pink,” then occupied by Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson. As Robertson explains, “The Basement Tapes” started out as Dylan and The Band “just killing time”, but soon flourished into a creative outpouring of new material and inspired covers. The album was cobbled from these friendly jam sessions and officially released to the public on June 26, 1975. On “The Basement Tapes” Dylan sounds more playful and joyous then perhaps on any entry of his catalogue. It is an historical irony that this double LP ode to life’s simple pleasures came out just five months after his bleak divorce drama, “Blood on the Tracks”.

“Million Dollar Bash” stood out to me the very first time I heard “The Basement Tapes”. It seems like the spiritual summation of the entire affable affair. Dylan’s lyrics are as light-hearted as the tune is lovely. He sings as though he feels free for the first time in ages to revel in absurdity and humor just for the fun of it, as is only fitting for a song about the biggest party imaginable. But I see another side to the song that explains its curious and elusive poignancy. Over the course of two minutes and thirty-three seconds Dylan refers to no fewer than seven characters and two or three vaguely defined groups. He makes it clear that this isn’t just a big party it’s the biggest party to which “everybody from right now” is going. Near as I can tell, “Million Dollar Bash” is a little ditty about dying and heading off for a big party in the sky. It’s a song about resigning one’s self to fate, but enjoying the ride as you go and that’s what makes it so uplifting.

I suppose my theory is tenuous at best, but as such it reflects the key to Dylan’s staying power and that is his music’s tolerance for reinterpretation. Like many of his finest works, “Million Dollar Bash” stands as a blank slate for the listener’s imagination. The raw ingredients of a deeper meaning are temptingly displayed daring you to make something of them.


-Bob Dylan

Well, that big dumb blonde
with her wheel in the gorge
and turtle that friend of theirs
with his checks all forged,
and his cheeks in a chunk
with his cheese in the cash
they're all gonna be there
at that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Everybody from right now
to over there and back
the louder they come
the bigger they crack
come on now, sweet cream
don't forget to flash
we're all gonna meet
at that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Well, I took my counselor
out to the barn
Silly Nelly was there
she told him a yarn
then along came jones
emptied the trash
Everybody went down
to that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Well, I'm hitting it too hard
my stones won't take
I get up in the morning
but it's too early to wake
first it's hello, goodbye
then push and then crash
and we're all gonna make it
at that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Well, I looked at my watch
I looked at my wrist
I punched myself
in the face with my fist
I took my potatoes
down to be mashed
then I made it over
to that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash.

c. 1967


I could only find three covers of "Million Dollar Bash" on youtube and none of them satisfied, so I recorded my own version. In the original's absence, here is the best I can offer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Let It Be - The Beatles

SONG Let It Be

WRITTEN BY Paul McCartney

PERFORMED BY The Beatles, Carol Woods

APPEARS ON The Beatles Let It Be (1970), Across the Universe (movie, 2007)

I came across this old favorite in a new setting recently and thought I'd feature it here on Just A Song just to prove a point I've been making for years: that the songs of The Beatles are truly timeless and a gifted musician can create a brand new thing of beauty from them long after the original song hit the airwaves.

The original setting of the song takes place in the sad, bitter days of the Beatles falling apart, just after recording the White Album. McCartney says he sensed the break-up coming and was depressed by it all and having trouble sleeping. In his own words:

Then one night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother, who died when I was only 14. She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well-off family- we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television – so both of my parents went out to work, and Mum contributed a good half to the family income. At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. But she was just a very comforting presence in my life. And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily. That’s how it is for everyone, I think. As each day goes by, you just can’t bring their face into your mind, you have to use photographs and reminders like that.

So in this dream twelve years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: “Let it be.”

It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.

So, being a musician, I went right over to the piano and started writing a song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”… Mary was my mother’s name… “Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” There will be an answer, let it be.” It didn’t take long. I wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: “When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.”

And the rest is history. This went on to be one of the Beatles most popular songs, and in 2004 it was ranked #20 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It's an emotional, heartfelt cry for release from pain and turmoil, and offers a comforting image of peace; no wonder it went right to the hearts of the listening public!

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. let it be.

Let it be, let it be, .....

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, .....
Here's a video clip from the movie Let It Be, filmed in studio of the recording of the album:

A lot of musicians have recorded versions of this song, but there's only one that made me sit up and take notice. In 2007 filmmaker/artist Julie Taymor made the movie Across the Universe, taking 30 Beatles songs to make a musical about growing up in the turbulent late 1960s. "Let It Be" was used as the setting for two deaths and funerals, of a young soldier in Vietnam and a child killed in the 1968 Detroit riots. And if it were on stage it would have stopped the show! I don't know whose idea it was to set this song as a gospel tune, with full gospel choir and soloist, but whoever it was was a genius. It could have been one or both of the music producers on the crew - Matthias Gohl and Elliot Goldenthau - but I suspect it was Julie Taymor herself; this is just the kind of daring artistic decision she would make. The vocal begins with young Timothy T. Mitchum as the young boy killed in the Detroit riots, but switches to choir and Broadway/film actress and singer Carol Woods (who won a Grammy for this) in full gospel music mode for the funerals themselves. It cuts right to the heart - I don't know anybody who saw this movie who watched this with dry eyes. It's a brilliant interpretation and should stand side by side with the original Beatles version. Which, of course, is why I've included it here. Enjoy!