Song of the Day #672: ‘Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)’ – Bob Dylan

Street Legal is only nine songs long, and five of those songs have quickly jumped up my list of favorites after just a few listens. The remaining four are solid as well, though their strength is hidden a bit beneath the distracting production. I believe if this same batch of songs were rerecorded with the band and production style Dylan used in the 00′s, this album would number among his very best.

It’s a pretty great thing to discover new music by an artist you already know so well. Dylan’s discography is so deep that I’ve been unable to unearth quite a few hidden gems (hidden to me, anyway) through writing these blog entries. My appreciation for his extraordinary career has only deepened through this process.

My favorites from Street Legal include album opener ‘Changing of the Guards,’ probably the best known track on the album; yesterday’s song, ‘New Pony’; the upbeat ‘We Better Talk This Over’; and album closer ‘Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat).’ That one, with a vocal performance that veers in the chorus toward the passionate delivery of his Highway 61 Revisited days, keeps up the amazing run of Dylan’s stellar final tracks.

But my favorite song on this album is the centerpiece, ‘Señor (Tales of Yankee Power).’ There’s no denying that Dylan’s voice is often the biggest obstacle to enjoying his music, but sometimes he delivers a vocal performance that erases all of that baggage and reveals him as not just a great songwriter but a truly great vocalist. This song does that for me.

As for its meaning, well, your guess is as good as mine (and probably better). I read this song as nothing more or less than a southwestern fever dream, more about mood than meaning. And oh what a mood it creates.

Señor, señor, do you know where we’re headin’?
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?
Seems like I been down this way before
Is there any truth in that, señor?

Señor, señor, do you know where she is hidin’?
How long are we gonna be ridin’?
How long must I keep my eyes glued to the door?
Will there be any comfort there, señor?

There’s a wicked wind still blowin’ on that upper deck
There’s an iron cross still hanging down from around her neck
There’s a marchin’ band still playin’ in that vacant lot
Where she held me in her arms one time and said, “Forget me not”

Señor, señor, I can see that painted wagon
I can smell the tail of the dragon
Can’t stand the suspense anymore
Can you tell me who to contact here, señor?

Well, the last thing I remember before I stripped and kneeled
Was that trainload of fools bogged down in a magnetic field
A gypsy with a broken flag and a flashing ring
Said, “Son, this ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing”

Señor, señor, you know their hearts is as hard as leather
Well, give me a minute, let me get it together
I just gotta pick myself up off the floor
I’m ready when you are, señor

Señor, señor, let’s disconnect these cables
Overturn these tables
This place don’t make sense to me no more
Can you tell me what we’re waiting for, señor?

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #672: ‘Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Street Legal has always been one of my favorite “overlooked” Dylan albums. Many people I meet that know of Dylan never listened much to it. Possibly because of the gospel backup singers it is associated with his gospel/spiritual/religious albums.

    My favorites are Where Are You Tonight, Senor and Changing of the Guards.

    However I also like Baby Stop Cryin’ and True Love Tends to Forget.
    I remember seeing this concert tour, the same one Live at Budokan was recorded, back at Madison Square Garden in the late seventies. I always loved the arrangements of his songs on that tour, and appreciated what the singers, horns, strings, percussion added to Bob’s songs.

    Thanks for the memories, and Happy Birthday Bob.

  2. randy brook says:

    “Senyor” is a word used by Spanish speaking people for Jesus. “pick myself up off the floor” – passing through death’s portal and finding Jesus waiting to escort you? The rest of the lyrics fit exactly into my subjective reality, but then…that’s what Dylan does. Objectively, a guy who’s disillusioned with life and people…who’s been through some heartbreak and is ready to get out of Dodge.

  3. randy brook says:

    PS – the album cover photo is Dylan standing in a doorway on the first street in front of the beach in Santa Monica (about a quarter block north of Pico), looking south. His studio at that time was a couple of blocks away.

  4. randy brook says:

    PPS – Of course, “the tail of the dragon” might be seen as an obvious reference to one of the BIble’s titles for Satan – “the dragon”.

  5. Charlieford says:

    Odd, I only put this on maybe 2 or 3 times a year, and last night was one. I had it (on cassette) way back when it was released, and listened a lot then, and while I understood why folk disliked it (on top of the production, the lyrics really rely on his recently discovered rhyming dictionary), still it has a lot of power. The re-mastered cd, turned up LOUD, is fantastic. Senor has always struck me as the strongest song, but Where Are You is also extraordinary, especially as you note for the vocal performance. Thanks for this!

  6. Kellenda says:

    I always thought this song was about US complicity, whether direct or indirect, in the atrocities in South America in and before the late 70′s. I think that fits with the subtitle (Tales of Yankee Power).

  7. Dana says:

    Great song. Clearly this album is wrongly overlooked by the more casual Dylan fan (and even the more passionate ones)

    I see the religious overtones, but also favor the political message that Kellenda references.

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