Song of the Day #92: ‘Blind Willie McTell’ – Bob Dylan

Dylan put out some great albums in the mid-70s but then hit a long dry spell that didn’t really end until Oh Mercy in 1989. One semi-bright spot was 1983’s Infidels, best known for its lead-off song ‘Jokerman.’ I don’t own Infidels, or anything from that 1975-89 period, because there are literally 20+ other Dylan albums I own that I find far superior.

However, Infidels could have been just as worthy an album had Dylan included two songs originally slated for the album but cut for reasons nobody has ever figured out.

Those songs — ‘Foot of Pride’ and ‘Blind Willie McTell’ — languished in obscurity until they were released on the Bootleg Series in ’91. Without a doubt they would have been the best thing on Infidels and as it is they’re two of the better songs Dylan has written in the past 33 years.

‘Blind Willie McTell,’ in particular, is a stunning piece of work. It’s an apocalyptic tone poem along the lines of some of his great early work like ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ and perhaps the single greatest gem unearthed in the Bootleg Series.

Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, “This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem.”
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
(I can) hear the undertaker’s bell
(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There’s a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He’s dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There’s a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what’s his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I’m gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #92: ‘Blind Willie McTell’ – Bob Dylan

  1. rahan says:

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH !

    FINALLY I HAVE FOUND IT !

  2. Dana says:

    I often wonder if I have ever failed to comment on a song of the day. Guess this is one that got away. Remedied now! Beautiful song as well.

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