“My dreams are made of iron and steel, with a big bouquet of roses hanging down, from the heavens to the ground.”
Released on January 17th 1974, Planet Waves, Bob Dylan’s fourteenth album, was his first to hit #1 on the US Billboard Chart (#7 in the UK). It was also his first ‘proper’ album for over three years and had cover artwork by Dylan himself.
As well as the title, the cover has “Cast-iron songs & torch ballads” written in his own handwriting. On the left side is written “Moonglow“.
This was the first time that Dylan and The Band had made an album together – although they had recorded what would be known as The Basement Tapes and had played live together many times – the 1965 and 1966 tours, the Woody Guthrie tribute in January 1968 and Dylan’s appearance at The Isle Of Wight Festival in 1969.
The Recording Sessions
“The room is another member of the band, actually” – Rob Fraboni interviewed by Eric Francis, March 25th 2012 on Planet Waves FM.
In June 1973, Dylan copyrighted three new songs – ‘Forever Young’, ‘Nobody ‘Cept You’ and ‘Never Say Goodbye’. The version of ‘Forever Young’ that closes 1985’s ‘Biograph’ collection was recorded on a reel-to-reel tape in the offices of Ram’s Horn Music publishers in New York.
According to various sources, including Planet Waves producer, Rob Fraboni, the rest of the songs for the album were composed over two weeks in October 1973.
“A few weeks before we started the album, Bob went to Now York by himself. He stayed there for two to two and a half weeks and wrote most all the songs…He gets an idea for a song sometimes, he said, and he’s not ready to write it down. So he just keeps it with him and eventually it comes out.”
At around 12 noon on 2nd November 1973, Bob Dylan and The Band (minus Levon Helm who hadn’t arrived yet), Rob Fraboni and assistant engineer Nat Jeffrey began recording songs at The Village Recorder studio, 1616 Butler Ave, Los Angeles, for an album – first titled ‘Love Songs’, then ‘Ceremonies Of The Horsemen’ and, eventually, ‘Planet Waves’.
One of the 14 takes from that first session, ‘Never Say Goodbye’ made it onto the final master.
The version of ‘Nobody ‘Cept You’ released on THE BOOTLEG SERIES (RARE & UNRELEASED) VOL 1 – 3, 1961-1991, was also recorded at this session.
When asked if there were any fixed ideas about how the album should be made, Rob Fraboni had this to say:
“[The Band] only knew two of the songs on the album before coming in. The balance of the songs on the album they never heard until they were right here in the studio.
The record was really a performance, as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t like we were “making a record.”…and Bob wanted it to sound right, to come across.
Bob would just run it down, and they’d play it once. Then they’d come in to the control room and listen.
That’s another thing that really astounded me…nobody was saying, “You ought to be doing this,” or “You ought to be playing that.”
They just all came in and listened to hear what they should do, and then they’d go out into the studio. That would usually be the take, or the one following. That was pretty much the way it went.”
On 5th and 6th of November, they recorded again, and managed to produce master takes of ‘You Angel You’, ‘Going, Going, Gone’, ‘Hazel’, ‘Something There Is About You’ and ‘Tough Mama’.
The session on 8th November produced final versions of ‘On A Night Like This’ and (probably) ‘Forever Young’.
Fraboni was impressed by their work rate and versatility as musicians:
“Almost all of [the takes] were complete. The other thing was, if that wasn’t the take, they’d do a few more. Sometimes, they would change the arrangements from take to take because it was still so fresh. Then they’d choose the one that felt best.”
On 9th November, Dylan recorded the album’s final song in his usual, spontaneous fashion:
“…around noon, Bob said, “I’ve got a song I want to record later,” and I said fine.
He said, “I’m not ready right now. I’ll tell you when.”
We were doing what we were doing, and all of a sudden he came up and said, “Let’s record.”
So he went out in the studio, and that was “Wedding Song” – the cut that ends the album.
He just went out and played it. It was astounding. I hadn’t heard him do anything that sounded like his early records.
If you listen to the record, you can hear noises from the buttons on his jacket. But he didn’t seem to care…and there was no way in the world I could have stopped him to say, ‘Go back to the top.’ It was such an intense performance.” – Rob Fraboni.
After recording a final, album-worthy take of ‘Forever Young’, Fraboni, Jeffrey and Robbie Robertson were mixing tracks on 14th November when Dylan decided to record a second version of ‘Dirge’:
“We had mixed about two or three songs, and…Bob went out and played the piano while we were mixing. All of a sudden, he came in and said, “I’d like to try ‘Dirge’ on the piano.”
We had recorded a version with only acoustic guitar and vocal a few days earlier.
We weren’t ready at all, we were mixing – but we put up a tape and he said to Robbie, “Maybe you could play guitar on this.”
They did it once, Bob playing piano and singing, and Robbie playing acoustic guitar. The second time was the take. It was another one of those incredible, one-time performances.
When he starts playing, there’s nothing else happening but that, as far as he’s concerned. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone who performs with such conviction.”
Review by Patti Smith, 1974.
“God-bye baby. See I was hoping this one would be the work that severed me off. I been following him like some good dog too long. Trying not to be ashamed, as it does not seem to please him — this admiration. But you know I never looked on him as my messiah. I don’t need no messiah. And no protest singer neither. To me he was always a sex symbol. Positive energy behind a negative mask. Like a full basket beneath straining pants. It wasn’t the world he saved, in my dreams, it was me.
At school dances I was a perpetual wallflower. Not the kind that’s lucky enough to blend with the walls. I stuck out like a boil on a bareback. I lurk about in limp taffeta and dream of him. My James Dean, my knight. He’d walk across the dance floor, take me in his arms and we’d do the strand to “A Million to One.”
He articulated every unuttered cry. He played with such urgency. As if he had a stilted lifeline. As if he had a pain in the nerves. Him in his plaid jumpsuit. It hit me then. How a guitar rests so completely on a man’s cock. I embraced every word. I walked his walk. I followed no parking meters. When he broke down I waited patiently for his return. I never waltzed in his garbage. I know he’s human. He’s simply human. I think of him often but I’d just as soon forget him. Let the planet have him.
Planet Waves. I like the cover. Mostly cause it’s black and white. Like Baudelaire’s dress suit. And his handwriting: “. . . space guys . . .big dicks and ducktails . . . searching thru the ruins for a glimpse of buddah . . . long insomnia.” Two cuts (side 2) make it completely worth it. One black one white. One that swan dives and one that transcends. The death of friendship the birth of love.
It’s a thin line between love and hate. Genet and Motown know all about it. “Dirge” is a love song Burroughs could get into. Amphetamine IBM. Masculine honor broken on low streets. Corrupt and beautiful. Man to man.
“. . . can’t recall a useful thing/ you ever done for me/ except to pat me on the back/ when I was on my knees/ we stared into each others eyes/ neither one of us would break/ no use to apologize/ what difference would it make.”
Moth wings flapping. Very Lorca-esque guitar and the way he plays piano. A style second only to Oscar Levant’s. Insistent plodding chords drenched in “ballad in plain-D” guilt. There’s something so delicious about repentance; so seductive about shame. The maze you enter — his brain and spleen. The dark alley where “angels play with sin.” It’s very moving. A man lost in the barracks of any city cold and dead as crystal.
“Wedding Song” is the white one. The hero is bleeding is tracked thru the snow. He sings it with the bitterness of one who’s forced to tell the truth. His Hattie Carroll voice. He’s such a handsome singer. And he sings like there’s no where else. A wilderness arcade at 4 a.m. He sings to her “I love you more than madness.” There’s nothing more a man could say to a woman. To love her more than art, than himself. Peace coming from liquid fusion. Nothing more perfect than the perfect union.
I don’t care for the rest of the album. There’s no balance. The Band makes me nervous. Like a bumblebee in the face. But I’m no hipster putting down the prince. “Going, Going, Going” has fine lyrics and stand waiting to be covered by Mick Jagger or Chuck Jackson. And for me “Dirge” and “Wedding Song” are enough. Beyond any other. Relentless as one determined to walk very fast thru the faint night. Hard and manhead. Sex symbol songs. The ones that never let me down.
Oh I been sick see. Victim of a bandanna wrapped too tight. Lying in bed and my vision been bad. Playing “Dirge” over and over. Drawing a picture. I though it was Rimbaud but it was Dylan. I thought it was Dylan but it was me I was making. Sooner or later all of us must know. It comes on like a weeping revelation. It grips like a claw in the main. Everyman has got to do his own work. But when you get down to pure self portrait it’s just the end of the line.
Copyright © Patti Smith 1974
Dylan’s original liner notes, which were later removed:
“Back to the Starting Point! The Kickoff, Hebrew Letters on the wall, Victor Hugo’shouse in Paris, NYC in early autumn, leaves flying in the park, the clock strikes Eight. Bong – I dropped a double brandy & tried to recall the events…
beer halls & pin balls, polka bands, barbwire
& thrashing clowns, objects, headwinds &
Snowstorms, family outings with strangers –
Furious gals with garters & Smeared Lips
on bar stools that stank from sweating
pussy – doing the Hula – perfect,
priests in OVERhauls, glassy eyed,
Insomnia! Space guys off duty with
big dicks & ducktails All wired up &
voting for Eisenhower, waving flags &
jumping off of fire engines, getting
killed on motorcycles whatever –
We sensed each other beneath
the mask, pitched a tent in the
Street & joined the traveling circus,
Love at first sight! History
became a Lie! The sideshow took
over – what a sight…the thresh-
hold of the Modern Bomb,
Temples of the Pawhee, the
Cowboy Saint, the Arapahoe,
snapshots of – Apache poets
searching thru the ruins for a
glimpse of Buddah – I lit out
for parts unknown. found Jacob’s
Ladder up Against An adobe wall &
bought A serpent from a passing Angel –
Yeah the ole days Are gone
forever And the new ones Aint far behind, the
Laughter is fading away, echos of a star,
of Energy Vampires in the Gone World going
Wild! Drinking the blood of innocent people,
Innocent Lambs! The Wretched of the Earth,
My brothers of the flood, Cities of the flesh –
Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Bismarck, South
Dakota, Duluth! Duluth – where Baudelaire Lived
& Goya cashed in his Chips, where Joshua brought
the house down! From there, it was straight up – a Little
jolt of Mexico, and some good LUCK, a
Little power over the Grave, some
more brandy & the teeth of
a Lion & a compass”
The Songs – A Personal View
On A Night Like This
“Let it burn, burn, burn, burn, on a night like this”
That jittery, mischievous acoustic guitar that starts this album is a sign. There is nervous energy all over it. Like lovers, alone together at last, you can hear the anticipation of what is to follow. The windows are all steamed up, instinct and chemistry are taking over – none of this is orchestrated, it is free and intense.
Funky as a George Clinton convention, with accordion, this song really moves. There’s a descending organ riff under the harp break that is fair-ground whirly and works so well. It’s about good, old-fashioned sex.
This song is great fun. It makes me want to play music and take my woman to a log cabin for the weekend.
“I wrote this in New York. Sometimes you’re affected by people thinking you’re too heavy… I think it comes off as sort of like a drunk man who’s temporarily sober. This is not my type of song. I think I just did it to do it.” – Bob Dylan, Biograph 1985.
I actually think he has written plenty of great songs with a similar central theme or feel – One More Weekend, Lay Lady Lay, Spanish Harlem Incident, New Pony, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, Please Mrs Henry, Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance…to name but a few.
Going, Going Gone
That creaking, strangled opening is a hanging rope if ever I heard one. The shadow of the gallows is all over this song.
I’ve just reached a place where the willow don’t bend/Not much more to be said, it’s the top of the end.
Those choppy, whammy-bar spikes that Robbie Robertson throws at the ends of the verses are perfect and help create the ominous sense of forboding, tension and regret that stalk these 3 minutes.
Dylan’s lyrics and vocals are perfect twins – resigned, economical and evocative. I see a man searching – for a way out, for redemption, for an escape from guilt? I don’t care what the answers might be, I just love the questions this song poses.
Like the first song, there is great drama created, from that throttled start to the very last piano note and long, Hammond fade.
The early acoustic demo is equally haunting and moving but I prefer the textures of the released, full band take.
“I ain’t a-haulin’ any of my lambs to the marketplace anymore…I’ve gained some recognition but I lost my appetite”
The truly great sounding drums that kick this song into life are not only beautifully played by Levon Helm but really well recorded. Whoever miked up this kit did an excellent job – they sound un-effected and genuine. A lot like this song.
It’s a very loose, dirty, sexy song. Not manicured, anti-bacterial, choreographed porno-sex, but sweaty, aching, skin on skin, real sex. From those urgent drum shots to the gritty organ blasts at the end, this is lust.
With the badge of the lonesome road written on your sleeve
I’d be grateful if this golden ring you’d receive
Today on the countryside it was a hotter than a crotch
I stood alone upon the ridge and all I did was watch
Must be time to carve another notch.
Dylan’s vocals are raw and earthy, which suits this track perfectly.
It is this song, in particular, that benefits from the CBS/Sony re-master – it really brings out some hidden sparkle.
“You got somethin’ I want plenty of…”
Here is another superb beginning, with sweet guitar, bass, and harmonica, then Dylan’s smoky, boozy drawl comes in, full of desire. You can hear the longing in the sound of his voice, in the phrasing and long, held vowels. He really wants this woman. The vocals and musical frame are so right that the lyrics are virtually irrelevant. Like a dancing bar-room courtship, it’s the space around the words where the real communication lies.
There is footage of Dylan and his touring band trying this song at the MTV Unplugged rehearsals. Even though they only get a third of the way through it, it’s well worth a look.
Something There Is About You
I’ve never liked this version of the song. On CD or iPod, I always skip it.
Alas, Bob Dylan feels differently: “I particularly like the song ‘Something There Is About You’,….. It completes a circle for me, about certain things running through my pattern.” Bob Dylan (John Rockwell Interview, Jan 1974)
I want to like it, but, for me, it is musically and lyrically uninspired, which is a rarity with Bob Dylan. Even when he is covering someone else’s songs or working within a recognised musical framework, (be it folk, gospel, country, rock, swing or blues), he always seems to bring something fresh and invigorating to the mix. This song is a rare exception.
The guitar sound, harmonica and vocals don’t gel and Dylan’s voice sounds…uncomfortable, like it’s in the wrong key. I like that he mentions ‘old Duluth’ but that’s where my enjoyment ends.
It does have a couple of brilliant lines: “I could say that I’d be faithful, I could say it in one sweet, easy breath/But to you that would be cruelty and to me it surely would be death.”
Still, we can’t all love the same songs.
Forever Young (Slow Version)
“One of the classic songs, “Forever Young,” he told me he had carried around in his head for about three years” – Rob Fraboni, 1974.
“Forever Young I wrote in Tuscon. I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental. The lines came to me, they were done in a minute. I certainly didn’t intend to write it – I was going for something else, the song wrote itself.” – Bob Dylan to Cameron Crowe, 1985.
I can’t even pretend to be remotely objective about this. It’s part of my life. As with so many Bob Dylan songs, it has meant different things to me at different times of my journey.
When I was a kid, it made me feel hopeful for the future and now, as the father of a seven year-old daughter, it is a beautiful thing to hear another man say these words – a father’s prayer. I always read it as a prayer – along with 1983’s ‘Lord, Protect My Child’.
I love the arrangement, sound, the playing, the words and the singing.
The reel-to-reel recording from ‘Biograph’, though plain, simple and hissy, is great too. You can’t hide a really good song.
Forever Young (Fast Version)
As a musician, I can understand why they may have had a hard time choosing which version to go with, as they are both brilliantly performed. The ‘fast’ version has a real joie de vivre, a youthful exuberance that is infectious but…I still think the hymnal Hammond-bathed take is the best.
Either way, using the same song twice on a single, 40 minute album (actually 42:12), though showing extreme confidence in the composition, does suggest a lack of material.
“Dylan is a songwriter of unparalleled talent, so why is he producing lyrics that read like a Hallmark card?” – Claire Suddath, Time Magazine, May 23rd 2011.
“It’s all in the heart, whatever keeps you that way. Keeps you forever young. Forever young doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t grow old, but you just have some contact with what put you where you are. You know, keep some type of contact.” – Dylan to Marc Rowland, Sept 1978.
“This song should be sung every morning by every child in every school in every country”- Allen Ginsberg
“’May God bless and keep you’ are the words by which the kohanim – the Jewish priests – bless the Jewish congregation, in the time of Moses and today. The words have been incorporated into every daily worship service. An amulet with these words has been found from the time of the First Temple. And they are used by parents to bless their children.” – Larry Yudelson
“The two versions of “Forever Young”: the country-and-western version is Dylan’s version, and the slow version is Robbie Robertson’s version.” – Jerry Garcia – Excerpt from Jerry Garcia interview w/ Blair Jackson and David Gans, 28th April 1981
Dirge (or “Dirge For Martha” as it was marked on the studio tape box.)
I hate myself for lovin’ you and the weakness that it showed
You were just a painted face on a trip down Suicide Road
The stage was set, the lights went out all around the old hotel
I hate myself for lovin’ you and I’m glad the curtain fell.
I vividly recall hearing this for the first time. I was an awkward teenager, wholly inexperienced in matters of the heart or flesh, but I could still recognise its brilliance and its darkness. It scared me.
Thirty five years later, I have a better understanding of ‘love’ and all its various colours…and it still scares me. I understand it now, but the venom in the vocal delivery and lyrics remain startling.
‘Idiot Wind’ is a lullaby compared to this seething, hydrochloric ‘fuck you’ and self-addressed letter of loathing. It is a perfect song for those dark times when anger and vengeance fill the void left by a lost love. It is vile, yet fantastic.
To assume it is about his (then) wife – or a woman at all – is a limiting exercise. It could be about anyone, but I recognise the emotions as being related to a male/female relationship.
This song still has the power to shock, but sits perfectly in the album as a whole. It’s the dark colours in the painting, the hidden, boiling resentment in a relationship. The whole performance is stunning – Dylan’s unorthodox rhythmic piano, the acoustic embellishments by Robbie Robertson and the raging glory of the vocals. The tone and sarcasm of that last line is perfect. It sounds like the aftermath of a particularly bad argument.
I hate myself for loving you but I should get over that.
You Angel You
“I might have written this at one of the (Planet Waves) sessions probably, you know, on the spot, standing in front of the mike…it sounds to me like dummy lyrics.” – Bob Dylan (Biograph notes, 1985).
Lightweight this one certainly is, but it is perfectly executed and catchy as a small-pox lab.
Never Say Goodbye
Once again, I am drawn in by a great beginning – strummed acoustic, chorus’d Robbie Robertson arpeggios, big, bold bass and then Richard Manuel on drums.
An upright piano adds another rhythm as Dylan’s voice starts painting the scene:
Twilight on the frozen lake
North wind about to break
On footprints in the snow
Silence down below…
The acoustic guitar at the start even sounds like creaking ice!
I hear it as a simple love song, a man gazing out to sea, reflecting on the happiness he feels – before turning his gaze back to the woman who has brought him such comfort:
You’ve turned your hair to brown / Love to see it hangin’ down
And the song then simply drifts away…
I have tried and tried to hear this song as a spontaneous flash of genius, but I don’t think it is. It is simply a last-minute attempt to close the album with a love song, after they didn’t have a good enough recording of ‘Nobody ‘Cept You’ – hence it being written and recorded at the last minute.
Lyrically, most of the song feels clumsy and forced, even though the references to his own career and myth make it interesting in a voyeuristic way. The repeated, corny statements of eternal ‘love’ seem desperate and sound, to me, like ‘dummy’ lyrics – a bit like McCartney singing “scrambled eggs” as he wrote the words to ‘Yesterday’. The lines are not up to his usual high standard – ‘courtyards and jesters’ and ‘stand by my side/bride’ with ‘missing piece/love that doesn’t cease’ and ‘if there is eternity, I’ll love you there again’ for example.
The whole song feels like a hurried bunch of flowers from a guilty husband, the day after the night before. It seems over-blown and self-convincing, as if the singer is trying too hard to make it real, which isn’t helped by the use of hollow, ‘love song’ cliches. Dylan is generally a master at turning cliches upside down and reinvesting them with wit and fresh irony – but not on this one.
Dylan himself only performed it a few times on the 1974 tour before it dropped onto the list of ‘Never Performed Live’ songs, along with the equally awkward ‘Ballad In Plain D’
I have read many reviews of this record, and the consensus seems to be that it doesn’t hold up as a unified whole – that it’s bitty and a hotch-potch thrown together and grounded only by the repeated ‘Forever Young’.
The only song that seems out of place, musically, sonically, lyrically or vocally is ‘Wedding Song’. Every other song stands up and links arms with its neighbour.
It seems as much a collage of a male/female relationship as Blood On The Tracks and feels – at least lyrically if not sonically – like the first part of a 4 album cycle that ended with the brilliant Street Legal.
It is a rewarding album that has some superb playing, writing and singing.
It sounds rough, spontaneous and adrenaline-fuelled, but if Dylan’s aim was to make a ‘live’ album of performances (which Robbie Robertson says it was), then he succeeded completely. It is a rush from start to finish.
If you want to hear Bob Dylan & The Band in a small club, playing songs that are fresh and just learnt – then this is it.
In 2003, Columbia/Legacy reissued 15 selected titles from Dylan’s catalog as hybrid SACDs, playable in both regular CD players and Super Audio CD players.
In 2004, a non-SACD remaster was released and in 2009, a Blu-Spec CD was released. However, it wasn’t a Blu-ray disc, as the label states, but was made using Blu-ray technology.
Copyright changes for ‘Planet Waves’
The recordings, as the album 7E-1003, were copyrighted by Asylum Records on 18th Jan 1974.
On 5th June 1981 the album copyright was transferred to Bob Dylan from Asylum/Warners.
On 22nd December 1987 it was copyrighted by CBS.
On 5th August 2004 it was copyrighted to Sony/BMG/USCO.
Rob Fraboni quotes are taken from Recording Engineer/Producer magazine, March/April issue, 1974.
PHOTOS – Bob Dylan, outside Village Recorder, Los Angeles, November 1973 – Photos by Ed Caraeff
Lyrics from ‘Planet Waves’ Copyright Ram’s Horn Music, 1974; 1991.
Searching For A Gem, bjorner.com – Still On The Road 1973 Recording Sessions, Dag Braathen, Clinton Heylin: Bob Dylan. The Recording Sessions [1960 – 1994] and Planet Waves FM.