Sunday, November 11, 2012

Song #297 of 9999 - Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan

Song #297 of 9999 

Title: Positively 4th Street
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1965
Album: N/A - single release only

Didn't want to leave 1965 without including one of Bob Dylan's masterpieces. Bob Dylan was my father's favorite artist when I was growing up and, when asked, my father cited "Positively 4th Street" as his favorite Dylan song. I personally don't know how one makes such a choice, but his answer stuck with me and, in retrospect, it was a good one!

"Positively 4th Street" reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, yet I can hardly imagine the song being released as a single in today's music market. The song structure is strophic—verses only—like many of the folk songs Dylan wrote. With no chorus or even an instrumental break to provide some variation, the song can seem repetitive and long, clocking in at nearly four minutes.

But the repetition doesn't really matter, because the song is not about the music or the melody or the harmony or the beat—it's about the words. And they are vicious. No one expresses anger as concisely and directly as Dylan and this is one of his most scathing efforts. Thankfully, Dylan has remained extraordinarily vague about the meaning of his songs so no single person has ever had to be sure these words were written for him/her:

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment, I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time, you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you


1 comment:

  1. Intrigued by the origin of contempt. I found this presumed explanation from a website called EDLIS, which also has sub links to other sites thus becoming excessive with the multi-threaded discussions;
    Positively 4th Street, which had a working title of Black Dalli Rue, was recorded in New York City on July 29, 1965 - 4 days after the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.The specific target of the song is generally thought to be Dylan's critics in the Greenwich Village folk scene, especially Irwin Silber (the then editor of Sing Out!), who were down on Dylan for going electric and abandoning the protest song movement. Many other possibilities have been suggested ranging from Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs to Suze Rotolo. Positively 4th Street functions as a kind of universal put-down and, like other great songs, it transcends any specifics to offer multiple meanings to listeners. And as with some other his songs, it might even have application to Dylan himself. The 4th Street of the song title most likely refers to West 4th Street in Greenwich Village, where Dylan had an apartment during his folk days. But 4th Street in Minneapolis is fraterity row at the University of Minnesota, which Dylan "attended" for some six months. And then there is the famous Fourth Street Drug Store in Clarksdale, Mississippi.