Song of the Day #658: ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ – Bob Dylan

As befits an album called The Basement Tapes, pulled together as a collection of odds and ends recorded by friends who didn’t know if they’d ever see the light of day, the songs on this double album are all over the place.

About a quarter of the tracks are written and performed by The Band, and recorded apart from the Dylan tracks, but those songs maintain the same vibe as the rest. I’ve read some negative comments about The Band’s material on the bobdylan.com message boards but I’ve always been a fan of their work on this album. I see the mix of sounds and styles as appropriate for a collection like this.

The Dylan songs are a mix of playful weirdness and more serious fare. Representing the former, you have such gems as ‘Clothes Line Saga,’ ‘Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread’ and ‘Million Dollar Bash.’

Well, that big dumb blonde
With her wheel in the gorge
And Turtle, that friend of theirs
With his checks all forged
And his cheeks in a chunk
With his cheese in the cash
They’re all gonna be there
At that million dollar bash

A pure delight, every one of them.

And among the heavier songs you’ll find such classics as ‘Tears of Rage,’ ‘Too Much of Nothing’ and ‘Goin’ to Acupulco’ (which was beautifully covered by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James in the film I’m Not There.

My favorite of the serious songs on The Basement Tapes is ‘This Wheel’s On Fire.’ Years ago when I was in film school I started a screenplay with that as its title, and the plan was for the film to culminate in a gut-wrenching final scene which would fade to black as this song started.

A word of advice to wannabe filmmakers: When your whole movie is based on finding a scene to feature a song you love, just skip the screenplay and listen to the song some more. It never works out.

If your mem’ry serves you well,
We were goin’ to meet again and wait,
So I’m goin’ to unpack all my things
And sit before it gets too late.
No man alive will come to you
With another tale to tell,
But you know that we shall meet again
If your mem’ry serves you well.
This wheel’s on fire,
Rolling down the road,
Best notify my next of kin,
This wheel shall explode!

If your mem’ry serves you well,
I was goin’ to confiscate your lace,
And wrap it up in a sailor’s knot
And hide it in your case.
If I knew for sure that it was yours . . .
But it was oh so hard to tell.
But you knew that we would meet again,
If your mem’ry serves you well.
This wheel’s on fire,
Rolling down the road,
Best notify my next of kin,
This wheel shall explode!

If your mem’ry serves you well,
You’ll remember you’re the one
That called on me to call on them
To get you your favors done.
And after ev’ry plan had failed
And there was nothing more to tell,
You knew that we would meet again,
If your mem’ry served you well.
This wheel’s on fire,
Rolling down the road,
Best notify my next of kin,
This wheel shall explode!

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One thought on “Song of the Day #658: ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Dana says:

    This song is a bit too lavish instrument-wise for my personal taste. Still, I definitely need to give more attention to this album.

    Oh, and way to discourage other film makers!:)

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