Song of the Day #594: ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ – Bob Dylan

In late August of 1965, five months after the release of Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan unleashed Highway 61 Revisited upon the world. Let me repeat that… five months after Bringing It All Back Home. Two of the finest albums not just in this man’s discography but in all of recorded musical history were released within a half year of each other.

That’s like if Steven Spielberg has released Jaws in July and Raiders of the Lost Ark in December. It almost doesn’t seem fair (and it gets even crazier, as I’ll point out next week).

Highway 61 Revisited is the third of my six transcendent Dylan albums and a strong candidate for his finest album ever. Spanning just nine songs (but 52 minutes, thanks to some real epics including his longest song to that point, the 11-minute ‘Desolation Row’), this album is the first Dylan recorded entirely with a “rock” band. Musically, the biggest revelation here is the pervasive use of piano and organ (the latter played by Al Kooper, who deserves more credit for this album’s success than anybody but Dylan himself).

Dylan’s lyrics on Highway 61 Revisited are surreal and apocalyptic, packed with Biblical allusions but very much about the here and now. Some of them are confusingly cryptic, noteworthy as beautiful collisions of words if not for any easily interpreted meaning. Others are disarmingly straight-forward, about as direct as a boot to the teeth.

‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ is one of the easier songs to decipher. It recounts a lost weekend in Juarez featuring run-ins with women of ill repute and corrupt law enforcement. Following a laundry list of ill-fated encounters, the narrator manages to escape, uttering the classic (and Beastie Boys-sampled) line, “I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough…”

Note: In my YouTube search for this song, I came across a sultry version by Nina Simone that’s worth a listen

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
And it’s Eastertime too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don’t pull you through
Don’t put on any airs
When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outa you

Now if you see Saint Annie
Please tell her thanks a lot
I cannot move
My fingers are all in a knot
I don’t have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor
Won’t even say what it is I’ve got

Sweet Melinda
The peasants call her the goddess of gloom
She speaks good English
And she invites you up into her room
And you’re so kind
And careful not to go to her too soon
And she takes your voice
And leaves you howling at the moon

Up on Housing Project Hill
It’s either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim
If you’re lookin’ to get silly
You better go back to from where you came
Because the cops don’t need you
And man they expect the same

Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost

I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff
I’m going back to New York City
I do believe I’ve had enough

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One thought on “Song of the Day #594: ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    This is certainly amongst Dylan’s finest albums, although I don’t hold this SOTD out as one of my personal favorites–it’s just a bit too redundant musically for my taste.

    My favorites from this album include “Like a Rolling Stone” and Highway 61 Revisited.”

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